In light of Iron Mike’s slated return to exhibition boxing, we take a look at the history of fighters past the age of 50.
In April, Mike Tyson announced his intent to return to the boxing ring at the ripe age of 53. To be clear, it will not be any sort of actual sanctioned competition. Instead, the plan for “Iron” Mike is to take four-round exhibition bouts with the proceeds going toward charity.
Training footage that was subsequently released shows Tyson hitting pads and looking stunningly fast for the age of 53. Some questioned Tyson’s decision to pick up the gloves again, however seeing as it would be an exhibition, it would mostly be for show. In other words, it would not pose too much of a threat to Tyson’s health.
It’s also worth noting, however, that Tyson hasn’t fought since 2005, in a loss to Kevin McBride.
However there have been fighters even older than Tyson that have stepped into combat, and in an actual professional competition too. We’ll be taking a look at some of the most notable middle-aged fighters to compete. Fighters such as Dan Henderson and Randy Couture just missed out on the list due to them not competing until their 50’s, coming up short by a couple of years.
Ken Shamrock, 52 years old in last fight.
Ken Shamrock is one of MMA’s most notable pioneers. He fought at UFC 1, and in Pancrase prior to that. Shamrock made a name for himself as “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” and proved to be one of MMA’s best fighters in the late 90s and early 2000s. Shamrock would go on to become a UFC SuperFight champion, a Pancrase champion, and a UFC Hall of Famer. Shamrock was one of the most important fighters in the history of the UFC, as his rivalry with Tito Ortiz helped bring the promotion back to life at UFC 40. He would end up fighting Ortiz two more times in the promotion, losing both times and being released following his third straight TKO loss in 2006.
Following his release from the UFC, Shamrock would go 2-3 over the next four years. Fighting entirely on the regional and independent scene, Shamrock would seemingly go into retirement following a loss to Mike Bourke in 2010. However, five years later, Shamrock would come out of retirement for a Bellator-headliner against former UFC veteran Kimbo Slice. The two were originally slated to fight in EliteXC in 2008, however, Shamrock suffered an injury on fight day and was pulled from the fight. Seth Petruzelli would replace Shamrock and would go onto knockout Slice in round one, leading to the downfall of EliteXC.
Many questioned Shamrock’s decision to return so far past his prime, however, he was still slated for the Bellator 138 main event in June of 2015. At the ripe old age of 51, Shamrock started off the fight against Slice with a quick takedown and transition to the back. Despite seemingly having a rear-naked-choke in on the larger opponent, things took a downturn for Shamrock. Slice battled out of the submission and quickly began teeing off on the middle-aged Shamrock. Slice landed a big combination punctuated by a huge right hand that split open Shamrock and sent him to the canvas. The fight would then be waved off, with Kimbo Slice being the victor. The fight was so strange, the outcome so bizarre, that many thought the fight was fixed. Regardless, Shamrock vowed to fight on following the loss.
So fight on he did. He was next matched up against a former foe of his, that being former UFC champion Royce Gracie. Gracie — who just missed out being on this list by a few months — was 49 on fight night. Ken Shamrock was 52 years old. The two had fought twice previously, with Gracie submitting Shamrock at UFC 1, and the two fighting to a draw at UFC 5 after 36 minutes. So 21 years after their second encounter, they were set for a trilogy bout at Bellator 149. The long illustrious career of Ken Shamrock would come to a close that fateful night in February of 2016. After clinching with Gracie and being kneed in the groin, he would fall to the canvas and following some strikes by Gracie, the fight would be called for the Brazilian. The referee didn’t see the illegal strike, and the win was called for Gracie. Shamrock would retire after the bout.
Bernard Hopkins, 51 years old in last fight.
Bernard Hopkins is the rare great late-age fighter. B-Hop was a living legend throughout his career, earning various championships throughout. Arguably, he really didn’t start to hit his stride until his mid-thirties. Hopkins at the age of 36 defeated Felix Trinidad to become undisputed middleweight champion of the world, capturing all of the sanctioning bodies championships in the process.
Hopkins would then defeat the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, and others en route to 46-2-1 and record at the age of 40. His only losses were the first fight of his boxing career, and to an up-and-coming Roy Jones Jr, who would go on to become one of the greatest boxers of all time. However, after Hopkins hit 40 he would start to go on the downturn. Losing twice to Jermain Taylor, Hopkins would go 2-3 from the age of 40 to 43.
It was then that Hopkins began refining his style to be more defense-oriented, which spawned one of the greatest late-age fighting stories of all-time.
Following his loss to Joe Calzaghe in 2008, Hopkins would go on a tear. Over the next six years, Hopkins would avenge his defeat to Roy Jones Jr, and become the undisputed light heavyweight champion not once, but twice. After defeating Jean Pascal at the age of 46 in 2011, Hopkins was the WBC, Ring, and lineal light-heavyweight champion of the world. Following a series of bouts with Chad Dawson, Hopkins would lose his belts. Hopkins was undeterred however, and would become the light heavyweight champion once again after defeating Beibut Shumenov at the age of 49 in 2014. Hopkins would lose his belts next time out to Sergey Kovalev, but he wasn’t done fighting.
At the age of 51, Bernard Hopkins stepped into the ring one final time against Joe Smith Jr. Smith Jr was coming off of one of the biggest boxing upsets of all-time in his previous bout, knocking out WBC light heavyweight champion Andrzej Fonfara inside of one round in what was a showcase of things to come for Hopkins. After outboxing Hopkins for the majority of eight rounds, Smith Jr landed a brutal combination against the ropes that sent Hopkins outside of the ring. Dazed and confused, Hopkins attempted to get into the ring to beat the count, but couldn’t. That would be the final fight of the illustrious career of Bernard Hopkins.
Oliver McCall, 54 years old in last fight.
Oliver McCall was a strange boxer in his prime, and his post-prime career is almost as interesting. The heavyweight boxer is most known for knocking out Lennox Lewis in 1994, handing the British-Canadian fighter his first loss. McCall would go on to defeat one of the heavyweight greats in Larry Holmes next time out, before losing his heavyweight title to Frank Bruno in September of 1995. McCall would go on to win his next two fights to get a rematch against Lennox Lewis, and what ensued would be one of the most bizarre fights in boxing history.
McCall would seemingly have a mental breakdown in the rematch against Lewis in 1997. Following three rounds of struggling to get by Lewis’s jab, McCall would spend the next two rounds ignoring his corner’s advice, turning his back and walking away from Lewis multiple times, refusing to fight, and even crying during the fight. The fifth round would be the final as Lewis would land a few shots and McCall would once again walk away, prompting the referee to wave off the bout.
The 1997 bout against Lewis would be the last big fight of McCall’s career, however he never stopped fighting. He would never earn another title shot, but McCall would become a journeyman of sorts and continue fighting all the way up to 2019. McCall would seemingly retire in 2014 following a loss to Marcin Rekowski, however he made a return in 2018 against Larry Knight. At the age of 53, Oliver McCall would pick up a decision victory over the 26 year old Knight. It’s worth noting that like Shamrock’s final bout, this fight took place in Texas. Further proving that Texas would sanction a duel if it was financially viable.
McCall would then return again at the age of 54, this time against Hugo Lomeli in Mexico. McCall would pick up his second-straight victory post the age of 50, defeating Lomeli via TKO inside of three rounds. McCall at the age of 55 has yet to retire, and has stated he would like to fight again in 2020. When it comes to McCall, he may just be another sad tale of a boxer hanging on too long. That said, he is currently on a winning-streak. Which will likely spur him on to fight even longer.