‘Age is just a number’ is how the old adage goes.
Probably in no sport has that phrase been used to justify a comeback more so than in boxing.
It’s a violent sport with potentially severe consequences and yet a fighter returning way past their prime is not uncommon.
Former world champion Mike Tyson is planning to make a boxing comeback at the age of 53
Mike Tyson is the latest big name to contemplate a return at the age of 53 – 15 years since he last stepped through the ropes.
Another heavyweight icon in Evander Holyfield, who has retired and returned before, is also talking about fighting again.
Whether it happens or not, Tyson and Holyfield won’t be the first – or the last – former boxers to lace up the gloves one last time. Here are 10 fighters to have attempted a comeback despite their advancing years – some successfully, others far from it.
September 14, 2012 – the night the Hitman put away his weapons for the final time. Ricky Hatton had walked away from boxing three years earlier after being brutally knocked out by Manny Pacquiao.
Now there is no shame in being beaten by Pacquiao, or Floyd Mayweather – as Hatton had done – but his ego was badly bruised from these defeats and no plaster nor substance could heal it.
A truly magnificent fighter inside the ring, outside it Hatton struggled to tackle problems with drink, drugs and depression.
Ricky Hatton was knocked out in his final fight against Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012
After spending some time in rehabilitation, Hatton announced two years later that he would be making a comeback at 33 against Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Hatton had ballooned up to 15 stone and had to shed almost half of his fighting weight (67kg) in the months before the fight. Despite starting strong, the Manchester fighter was counted out in the ninth round after a sickening body shot – one which he had been used to putting people away with during his career.
A former unified world champion, Hatton went into the fight with nothing to prove but conceded afterwards: ‘I needed one more fight to see if I had still got it – and I haven’t. I found out tonight it isn’t there no more.’
The oldest man to ever do it.
Although George Foreman’s return appeared more driven by the need to replenish the pile of millions which had disappeared a decade after his career, it will forever be seen as one of the few comebacks to go right.
At 38, Foreman stepped through the ring for the first time in 10 years to defeat Steve Zouski in California. He racked up 23 more victories on the bounce before losing against Evander Holyfield in 1991 for the undisputed heavyweight championship.
George Foreman became the oldest heavyweight world champion by beating Michael Moorer
Two years later, Foreman again failed to reclaim the heavyweight title, being outpointed by Tommy Morrison for the WBO strap.
But the following year, at the age of 45, Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer to capture the WBA and IBF belts and did so wearing the same red trunks he had worn during his historic fight with Muhammad Ali in Zaire 20 years earlier.
Foreman won three more fights before calling it quits aged 48 following a defeat against Shannon Briggs.
Sugar Ray Leonard
Sugar Ray Leonard is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers to ever lace up a pair of gloves, but even he could not defeat Father Time.
He is the one opponent that every boxer falls victim to eventually.
Leonard had made two returns to boxing before he attempted to roll back the clock in 1997 aged 40 against Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho – who was also considered past his sell-by date.
Sugar Ray Leonard was stopped for the first time in last fight aged 40 against Hector Camacho
The fires had been stoked a year earlier when Leonard described Camacho’s contentious points win over his former foe Roberto Duran as ‘an early Christmas gift’.
Leonard had not fought for six years – his last fight ending in a defeat against Terry Norris – but was determined to box again and met Camacho in Atlantic City for his fateful swansong.
Camacho was on the front foot from the opening bell and dropped Leonard in the fifth round with a spiteful combination. Leonard beat the count but was stopped moments later with Camacho teeing off at will with his opponent pinned on the ropes. It was the only time Leonard had been stopped in his career – a sad and sorry way for a legend to bow out.
Nigel Benn has found solace in faith but has never truly found closure after his boxing career.
The Dark Destroyer will always be remembered as one of Britain’s best ever champions, winning world titles in both the middleweight and super-middleweight divisions.
He was one half of the Benn-Eubank rivalry which captured the imagination and attention of the nation in the early 1990s.
Nigel Benn attempted a comeback last September but had to abandon plans due to an injury
Benn lost their first brutal encounter and earned a draw in their underwhelming rematch. He has attempted to coax Chris Eubank out of retirement for years for a trilogy fight but his rival has largely turned a blind eye to the suggestions.
Last September, Benn announced he would be returning to boxing at the age of 55 – 23 years after his last fight – as he sought to put right the unsatisfactory end to his career.
He was set to face former WBC super-middleweight world champion Sakio Bika in November – a fight which was sanctioned by the British and Irish Boxing Authority after the BBBoC refused to do so. Benn was however forced to pull out after suffering a shoulder injury in sparring and abandoned his planned comeback. Probably just as well.
Floyd Mayweather made two comebacks before his third and final hurrah.
Mayweather said he had retired for good after easily defeating Andre Berto in 2015 but the lure of a money-spinning crossover fight with MMA superstar Conor McGregor could not be ignored.
After months of speculation, the two superstars finally agreed to fight on August 26, 2017. UFC fighter McGregor actually managed to win the majority of the early rounds but began to fade and was eventually stopped on his feet exhausted in the 10th round.
Floyd Mayweather returned to defeat Conor McGregor to extend his flawless record to 50-0
The victory saw Mayweather surpass Rocky Marciano and set the record for the longest active unbeaten streak in a professional career at 50–0.
Although McGregor was clearly out of his depth, he found a home for 111 punches of the 430 he threw, more than what Pacquiao or any of Mayweather’s previous nine opponents had been able to land.
The fight did over a million pay-per-view buys in the UK and grossed in excess of £20million – eclipsing the record set by Anthony Joshua’s victory over Wladimir Klitschko in 2017. Mayweather reportedly walked away with $300m in his back pocket all for a relatively easy night’s work.
The former undisputed heavyweight champion’s life turned upside down after his rematch with Andrew Golota in 1996.
Bowe was convicted of kidnapping his estranged wife and their five children two years later after going to her home in North Carolina and threatening her with a knife, handcuffs and pepper spray.
The heavyweight boxer bundled them into his car and set out for his home in Fort Washington before police captured him in South Hill, Virginia.
Riddick Bowe had money issues and returned seven years after retiring for a brief foray
During the kidnapping, Bowe had stabbed his wife in the chest and was charged with interstate domestic violence. He spent 17 months in prison after his initial defence of having brain damage was overturned.
Years after his release, Bowe made his boxing comeback with a second-round knockout against Marcus Rhode. In his next outing in April 2005, a grossly out of shape Bowe narrowly defeated journeyman Billy Zumbrun.
He was declared bankrupt in 2005 and won his last fight in 2008 on the undercard of Wladimir Klitschko vs Hasim Rahman in Germany before closing the curtain on his 19-year career.
After avenging his defeat against Leon Spinks, Muhammad Ali was supposed to be done with boxing.
But as fate would have it, Ali decided to return for two more rolls of the dice. First in 1980 against Larry Holmes – after two years of inactivity – and then a year later to take on Trevor Berbick.
Both ended in defeat. Why either was ever allowed to happen is beyond the realms of morality. Ali had began struggling with vocal stutters and trembling hands in the months leading up to the fight with Holmes but was cleared to compete by Mayo Clinic.
Muhammad Ali was battered into submission by Larry Holmes in his comeback fight
A 38-year-old Ali, who was weakened from thyroid medication he had taken to lose weight, was dominated and battered into submission by Holmes in the 11th round – it was the first time he had ever been stopped.
Sylvester Stallone, who watched the fight ringside, later said: ‘It was like watching an autopsy on a man who’s still alive.’
Ali, who would later suffer with Parkinson’s disease, was begged to retire but fought on one more time, losing a 10-round decision against Berbick in 1981.
Larry Holmes made multiple U-turns on his decisions to retire, starting in 1988 when he was lured back by a $2.8m purse to take on the reigning undisputed world champion Mike Tyson.
A 39-year-old Holmes was put down three times before the referee waved off the fight in the fourth round.
Holmes announced his retirement after the fight but returned again in 1991 and reinvigorated his career with six consecutive victories – notably one over Ray Mercer – to regain a shot at the undisputed crown.
Larry Holmes lost all his world title fights in his comeback – including against Evander Holyfield
Evander Holyfield was the champion and eased to a unanimous points win to leave Holmes at a crossroad.
Holmes decided to fight on and won his next seven fights before losing again in a world title tilt against Oliver McCall in 1995. He challenged for the IBO world title two years later but was again beaten, this time against Brian Nielsen.
He won his next two fights – rematches against old foes Maurice Harris and James ‘Bonecrusher Smith’. In 2000, he defeated Mike Weaver in six rounds and finished his career by outpointing Eric ‘Butterbean’ Esch over 10 rounds at the age of 52.
Four years after his knockout victory in the grudge match with Dereck Chisora – who he now manages – former heavyweight champion David Haye returned to the ring against Mark de Mori in 2016.
Despite a long lay-off, Haye came out all guns blazing and made light work of De Mori, stopping him in the first round.
Haye then blitzed Arnold Gjergjaj out in two rounds the same year before starting a fierce rivalry with Tony Bellew.
David Haye went out on his shield in his last hurrah against Tony Bellew back in 2018
WBC cruiserweight champion Bellew moved up to heavyweight to face his adversary and dropped him multiple times to win via an 11th round stoppage in 2017.
Haye had fought much of the fight with one leg, having ruptured his Achilles tendon. After reconstructing his body and overcoming several more injuries, Haye came to the 02 Arena a year later for one final fight.
Bellew was again his dance partner and demolished Haye in brutal fashion in five rounds. By this point, time, and the labours of a 16-year professional career had caught up with Haye.
In his heyday, Donovan Ruddock was a respected heavyweight challenger.
He had once gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson and shared the ring with Lennox Lewis and Tommy Morrison.
At the age of 51, Ruddock decided to make a comeback 14 years after his last fight. He had gone vegan, rediscovered his hunger for the sport and felt stronger than he did when he was 20.
Donovan Ruddock was brutally knocked out in his final fight against a man 22 years his junior
The Canadian heavyweight won his first two returning fights in 2015 – though he was dropped by 44-year-old Raymond Olubowale before stopping him in the fifth.
Later that same year he challenged Dillon Carman, a man 22 years his junior, for the Canadian title.
It ended in disaster with Ruddock suffering a horrible knockout defeat in three rounds. He has since come out and admitted his comeback was a huge mistake.