Which famous fighters maintained lifelong good health, and which didn't?

Bogotazo

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I've been taking an interest lately in the genetic components of head trauma in combat sports. A common topic is how certain fighters age with no issue, while others deteriorate and age prematurely. A lot of this has to do with certain inherited alleles that compound the risk for neuro-degenerative diseases. There's also the type of trauma suffered as well.

So if we were to categorize famous world champions into 2 or 3 categories-those who lived to old age virtually unchanged, maybe a middle category for those in between, and those who were transformed into basically disabled people, what do you think the breakdown looks like?

Let's take famous fighters who have lived to old age or passed away.

Those who are just fine:

The Fab 4 are averaging about 60. None of them seem to have any symptoms of brain damage. Hearns kind of slurs but he sounds like I'd expect a 60 year old dude to sound.

Joe Frazier slurred his words a bit but from what I know his health was fine before he died at 67. Although that is kind of early.

JCC is 53 and doesn't show any signs of damage at all.

Hopkins is a freak obviously at 50 still fighting and still sharp of mind.

George Chavulo is 78 and seems totally normal.

George Foreman is 73 and also seems totally normal.

Those who have deteriorated:

Roger Mayweather now gets lost, forgets things, and has mood swings. He seems to still be able to hold a conversation. He's 54.

Meldrick Taylor slurs his words really bad and shows signs of pugilistic dementia. He's 49.

Ali famously developed Parkinson's, as did Freddie Roach.

In Between:

James Toney seems okay in the head but he slurs his words noticeably. He's 47.

Antonio Cervantes (Kid Pambele) used to be institutionalized and had drug problems but he seems fairly lucid and speaks well now.

Joe Louis also had complications later in his life but they were largely due to cocaine use. Strokes, aneurysm, etc.


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Phantom

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I've been taking an interest lately in the genetic components of head trauma in combat sports. A common topic is how certain fighters age with no issue, while others deteriorate and age prematurely. A lot of this has to do with certain inherited alleles that compound the risk for neuro-degenerative diseases. There's also the type of trauma suffered as well.

So if we were to categorize famous world champions into 2 or 3 categories-those who lived to old age virtually unchanged, maybe a middle category for those in between, and those who were transformed into basically disabled people, what do you think the breakdown looks like?

Let's take famous fighters who have lived to old age or passed away.

Those who are just fine:

The Fab 4 are averaging about 60. None of them seem to have any symptoms of brain damage. Hearns kind of slurs but he sounds like I'd expect a 60 year old dude to sound.

Joe Frazier slurred his words a bit but from what I know his health was fine before he died at 67. Although that is kind of early.

JCC is 53 and doesn't show any signs of damage at all.

Hopkins is a freak obviously at 50 still fighting and still sharp of mind.

George Chavulo is 78 and seems totally normal.

George Foreman is 73 and also seems totally normal.

Those who have deteriorated:

Roger Mayweather now gets lost, forgets things, and has mood swings. He seems to still be able to hold a conversation. He's 54.

Meldrick Taylor slurs his words really bad and shows signs of pugilistic dementia. He's 49.

Ali famously developed Parkinson's, as did Freddie Roach.

In Between:

James Toney seems okay in the head but he slurs his words noticeably. He's 47.

Antonio Cervantes (Kid Pambele) used to be institutionalized and had drug problems but he seems fairly lucid and speaks well now.

Joe Louis also had complications later in his life but they were largely due to cocaine use. Strokes, aneurysm, etc.


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Great post!
 

Trail

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Joe Frazier

Marvin Hagler

Floyd Mayweather

Frank Bruno (despite mental health issues)

Bernard Hopkins

Julio Cesar Chavez Snr.

Ali was shot come Berbick and Holmes.

Shane Mosley is trundling on to a good old age.

Archie Moore was good until his late career.

Evander Holyfield

Roberto Duran
 

Phantom

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Carlos Monzon....maybe too healthy...maybe with an infirmity, he wouldn't have been such a pathological predator.
 

Duo

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Jack Sharkey was the first nonagenarian former HW Champion. Through retirement, he was an avid outdoors-man and master fly fisherman who held public competitions with buddy Ted Williams. To support his sportsman lifestyle, he jogged three miles daily, long before Ken Cooper adopted the same regimen for himself and coined the term, "Aerobics." Sharkey wasn't concerned with his weight or physical appearance, just maintaining his body's ability to continue his active backwoods hiking to prime fishing spots. That payoff is most evident in his masterful refereeing of Moore-Durelle I & II, where he never stops moving around the ring, reacts quickly and correctly when knockdowns occur and the crowd gets hysterical, and steps in immediately when the bell sounds to halt action when the participants continue punching. Put Sharkey in place of JJW for Ali-Liston II, he would have remained in charge and never lost control. Moore-Durelle I & II are his only bouts as a referee listed on boxWRECK, but it's obvious he was far, far, far more experienced a third man than that. His constant movement and fluidity is a stunning contrast to how frozen Joe Louis was for Frazier-JQ II.

Corbett sparred with Tunney on film at age 60, and as a professional actor seems to have maintained good fitness until cancer nailed him at 67. Jeffries got quite heavy, but did hang on until 77. We don't know how much longer Jack Johnson would have lived out a natural life span when he was killed, but his condition at age 67 for his War Bond exhibition with Joe Jeannette seems quite reasonable. Jess Willard set the longevity record for former HW Champions which Dempsey broke, and in a photograph taken of him standing and smiling the year he died shows Big Jess looking good at 86. He does not appear to have been in precipitous deterioration prior to the heart attack and cerebral hemorrhage which took him at the end of the year, just two weeks short of 87.

Dempsey needed a pacemaker and other medical attention in his last years, but died with all his marbles, having participated in few protracted wars. In 1977 he published a very good autobiography with his daughter which he originally intended to be posthumous. He lived a retirement of moderation in his personal habits, and got substantial media attention for his longevity. Some basic good advice was not to eat like a pig or drink like a fish.

Tunney did let himself go, freely indulging in drink, and did well to reach 81, but Dempsey preceded him by about two years in birth and also overlapped him by nearly five years in death.

Everybody knows Max Schmeling wanted to be the first centenarian former champion, and didn't quite make it, but remained trim as a beekeeper, always enjoyed discussing boxing, and lived long enough to befriend the Klitschkos.

What both Chuvalo and Jake LaMotta have emphasized is ridiculously important for self-preservation and longevity of brain function. Just because a punch looks like a scoring blow doesn't mean it's a damaging shot, if you see it coming and move that fraction of an inch to diffuse the impact. That they practiced and mastered legitimate self-defense is self evident in their current condition. (At 94, Jake gets a free pass anyway.)

From a volitional fitness perspective, Jack Sharkey would be my first choice. He practiced a targeted and sustainable regimen of moderate exercise, not to look good or live longer, but merely to enable his body to continue allowing him to do the things he enjoyed in life, and that happened to be a healthy year round outdoor existence of fly fishing, ice fishing and other recreational activities in fresh rural air.

Patterson maintained excellent fitness through his retirement, but there's no correlation between health and fitness. He still got nailed by prostate cancer and Alzheimer's at 71. Ingo ran marathons from some time after his retirement until the mid 1980's, but that was not Sharkey's sustainable level of moderation, and like Floyd, he had an awfully short career to have contracted Alzheimer's from.


Joe Frazier died of rapidly metastasizing liver cancer at age 67. I think he's actually a success story in terms of lifespan in boxing annals. He did not win any kind of genetic lottery when he was born. He first took up boxing to lose weight because his legs were getting too big to fit into his pants. He outlived amateur nemesis and professional opponent Buster Mathis by over 16 years, and may not have even reached his 40's if he'd never been an athlete. He had kidney problems, high blood pressure, arthritis and diabetes. Like Marciano overcoming a bad back, Smoke's arduous training regimen against the ravages of early onset arthritis alone shows his heart. Where Sharkey spent his retirement hiking around to choice fishing locations, the mechanically inclined Frazier was always crawling underneath cars in junkyards to check them out.

Health wise, a good natured temperament doesn't seem to hurt. There are exceptions like Max Baer (who I suspect was born with an as yet undiagnosable heart defect) and the acromegaly afflicted Carnera who did not live long, and mean nasty characters like Jake (who Heaven doesn't want, and Satan fears), but for brain preservation, an effective defense rather than a flamboyant one is crucial. Vito Antuofermo, despite all his butt induced bleeding, was something of a defender along the lines of Chuvalo and LaMotta, much more difficult to connect solidly on than he appeared to observers. (I'll mention here though that Vito himself used his exposed forehead as a weapon to his detriment. Neither Marciano or Chuvalo led with their heads, and butt induced bleeding was not a major factor in their careers. Don Curry responsibly emphasized after his second straight DQ win on a head butt (against Carlos Santos), that protecting one's head from butts is very much a part of self defense. (That absence of butt induced stoppages on Locche's record demonstrates what a ridiculous defensive wizard he was. Cervantes stopped him on a cut over his left eye in their rematch. While it slowed Locche down a bit, I can't buy the decision to stop it. Granted, it's inferior B&W television footage, but he looks good to go to the final bell at the time the halt is called over his furious protests.)
 

Bogotazo

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Thanks a lot [MENTION=290]Duo[/MENTION], greatly detailed accounts on some great historical fighters. And great point on Chavulo and LaMotta, Chavulo made this point himself in "After the Last Round" where he talks about rolling with shots.
 

Duo

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Thanks a lot [MENTION=290]Duo[/MENTION], greatly detailed accounts on some great historical fighters. And great point on Chavulo and LaMotta, Chavulo made this point himself in "After the Last Round" where he talks about rolling with shots.
There wasn't a lot of what we call pugilistica dementia from the days of fights to a finish or no-decision bouts. Judges didn't have to be impressed, only opponents, to be beaten down, discouraged with power, volume or difficulty connecting cleanly on.

For me, loading up with power was more depleting and draining when that power was deflected and redirected by my target, not if I whiffed air completely. It might be counted as a scoring blow by a judge, but discouraging to not connect solidly with. (Of course a wild miss can open one up to a deadly counter, but here I'm discussing effort expended and wasted.)

Guys like Loughran and Joey Archer were beneficiaries of a new era where decisions were rendered. As great a boxer as Tommy was though, he also benefited from the novelty of that change. By the time Joey came along, Emile Griffith understood full well that he couldn't just take those jabs or subtly neutralize them, but make a grand show for the judges of slipping, ducking and dodging to make them miss so completely that everybody scoring could see they were not making contact. Arguello also had to do this with Busceme, knowing full well that Bubba was trying to steal a hometown decision in Beaumont, Texas with right jabs flicking from the elbow. (In fact, Flash Gordon, scoring at home, recorded a shutout for Busceme in his Tonight's Boxing Program newsletter at the time Alexis caught up to him, but I think the judges scoring live were giving rounds to Arguello because Busceme's show of powerless aggression was not effective aggression making contact. Anybody wanting to see Alexis evasive on defense needs to watch his application of bent knees to move his upper body under and away, rather than fancy footwork. He had pretty strong wiry legs with terrific muscular endurance.)
 
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As far as pugilistic dementia goes...it often seems to happen to fighters who drank allot/did drugs.

Now does the substance abuse help cause the dementia. ...or do earlt symptoms of dementia lead to substance abuse...or is it simply that folks who have brains pron to substance abuse are also more damaged by micro and macro head traumas

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Duo

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Jerry Quarry died of pugilistic dementia at 53.
It's not a terrific thing that Howard Cosell was already identifying him as having "a granite-like chin" during his first bout with Frazier the month after JQ turned 24. That's something which shouldn't have yet been known. Mike Quarry (who had never been down in his life until Bob Foster nearly decapitated him) died of the same condition at 55. Jerry surprises a lot of viewers with his defensive elusiveness when he dominates Thad Spencer in 1968, but against the monstrous punching Mac Foster in 1970, he'd already deteriorated from slipping and countering to getting hit then countering. I suspect that win over Mac damaged him more than some of his defeats.

The Quarry family has speculated that there may be a genetic predisposition to this, but it's long been my contention that little children with developing brains and developing coordination are simply not old enough to consent to being punched in the head, and with insufficient reflexes to protect themselves properly.

Emile Griffith (whose deterioration was due to a back alley gang mugging he never recovered from after he retired) emphasized that while he didn't want to box, nor was he a little kid when Gil Clancy started teaching him, "not how to fight, but how to move." (Hank Armstrong was also the victim of a mugging when elderly, while Ken Norton was screwed up in a car crash in 1986. Kenny actually did well to reach 70 over a quarter century later.)

Mature volitional decisions to take up boxing with mature brains and reflexes tend to result in greater longevity and neurological preservation.
Conditioning methods for boxing are terrific physical training techniques for children and females, with one exception. Getting punched in the head offers no health benefits. The male-female equivalent of this is everything BUT what can result in pregnancy. Likewise, anything in boxing training BUT what can result in brain damage until reaching the age of consent.

RJJ's getting slammed for his inability to take a punch. I can be safely included among those critics. At the same time, Ali had it right in the mid 1960's when he said, "I hope they're still asking those questions after I'm gone. If I do this the way I should, nobody should ever have any idea if I could take it or not." In the long run, Roy's tendency to crumble when clobbered may be a good deal more beneficial than Ali standing up to head shot after head shot from Shavers.

During the bare knuckle era, with no headgear or mouthpieces, even a light swipe across the mouth could shred the lips against the teeth, the chief reason why the snaggle toothed Kid Lewis innovated a then innovative and widely protested mouthpiece. "You're NOT supposed to get HIT!," repeated an animated Billy Conn as a ringside guest on an ESPN Top Rank Boxing card when Sal Marciano and Al Bernstein asked him about differences between his era and the 1980's.

Stallone helped revive boxing with "Rocky," but while inspiring many kids to take up boxing, he didn't do the evolution of the sport any favors by depicting demonstrations of toughness by deliberately taking shots. Headgear and mouth-guards in amateur competition and training don't exactly inspire concentration on more active defense. Protecting the head means protecting it from head butts, elbows and thumbs, as well as scoring blows. Max Baer had a remarkable chin, but also an underrated defense which allowed him to neutralize Galento's foul tactics, and he seldom looked like he'd been in a fight until Lou Nova ended his career. (Unlike Maxie though, Nova couldn't defend himself effectively against Two-Ton's mugging.)

Watch the conclusion of Jack Johnson-Fireman Flynn to see how a genuine defensive master deals with deliberate head butt attempts. It's a jungle in there, something Dempsey and Foreman among others also understood. "We're in there to raise hell, and the referee's only job is to count to ten!"-Tex Cobb
 
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TBH I think its extremely hard to attribute boxing to later life ailments with any real sort of evidence. This is because you get lots of perfectly healthy people who didn't go through loads of head trauma, draining their body etc who still get the same ailments.

Also you have boxers like Jake La Motta going strong at 94 despite being a plonky and his fighting style saw him take mass punishment from huge punchers for a lot more fights than they do in the modern era.

Michael J Fox has Parkinsons and he hasn't taken a competitive punch in his life.

Obviously, taking punches for a living is likely going to have physical effects on a person but humans are so diverse theres no formular to say whats going to happen to a person or not later in life depending on what they do.
 

Bogotazo

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TBH I think its extremely hard to attribute boxing to later life ailments with any real sort of evidence. This is because you get lots of perfectly healthy people who didn't go through loads of head trauma, draining their body etc who still get the same ailments.

Also you have boxers like Jake La Motta going strong at 94 despite being a plonky and his fighting style saw him take mass punishment from huge punchers for a lot more fights than they do in the modern era.

Michael J Fox has Parkinsons and he hasn't taken a competitive punch in his life.

Obviously, taking punches for a living is likely going to have physical effects on a person but humans are so diverse theres no formular to say whats going to happen to a person or not later in life depending on what they do.
Well they are discovering how traumatic brain injury can shorten one's lifespan by accelerating cell death, and how the presence of genes such as apoe4 increases someone's risk of alzheimer's many times over, which is only accelerated by the cell death that occurs during brain injury. So the genetic component is huge. Same with Parkinson's.

A lot of fighters develop illnesses far earlier than the normal population. As you say, things like drugs and alcohol muddy the waters.
 
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Well they are discovering how traumatic brain injury can shorten one's lifespan by accelerating cell death, and how the presence of genes such as apoe4 increases someone's risk of alzheimer's many times over, which is only accelerated by the cell death that occurs during brain injury. So the genetic component is huge. Same with Parkinson's.

A lot of fighters develop illnesses far earlier than the normal population. As you say, things like drugs and alcohol muddy the waters.
No doubt but each human is unique to themselves. I know people fit as a lop their whole lives, never had any injuries, bumps etc and get alzeimers then I know people who have fought their whole lives and are sane as hell in old age.

Trauma can accelerate cell death but so can many other things, food (even more so in the chemical age), drink, narcotics (not just illegal ones), stress, bad genetics etc.

I think every single case has to be judged on its own merit and can't really be attributed to one thing or another.
 

Bogotazo

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No doubt but each human is unique to themselves. I know people fit as a lop their whole lives, never had any injuries, bumps etc and get alzeimers then I know people who have fought their whole lives and are sane as hell in old age.

Trauma can accelerate cell death but so can many other things, food (even more so in the chemical age), drink, narcotics (not just illegal ones), stress, bad genetics etc.

I think every single case has to be judged on its own merit and can't really be attributed to one thing or another.
Of course, but those things are indeed identifiable. Genetics is the predominant factor. Then you have environmental factors such as brain trauma, diet, sleep, exercise. If you have two apoe4 alleles, you're 10 times as likely to get alzheimer's. So a fighter with that gene is at huge risk because it's only compounded with brain trauma, which is inevitable in boxing. Commissions should screen for it.
 

Duo

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About the Quarry brothers, would like to mention here that their father Jack lived to be 83 (1922-2006), their mother Arwanda Marie 84 (1926-2011). Their brother Bobby was an unsuccessful 9-12-2 HW who at 53 has been diagnosed with Parkinson's. The lifespan of their parents is only one indicator, but it does suggest Jerry and Mike had a dramatically shortened life expectancy through boxing. Ali is 74, and his parents both died at 77, so Muhammad's gotten within the age range of his mother and father. (It probably doesn't hurt that he wasn't forced into boxing like the Quarry brothers were by their father Jack, but made a volitional choice, however young he was at age 12, and underwent supervised training and tutelage with Joe Martin and Fred Stoner.)
 
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Duo

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The 3 Fullmer brothers all seemed pretty with it in later years, and all lived to decent ages
Which brings up comments from previous posts on this thread:

Antonio Cervantes (Kid Pambele) used to be institutionalized and had drug problems but he seems fairly lucid and speaks well now.

Joe Louis also had complications later in his life but they were largely due to cocaine use.
As far as pugilistic dementia goes...it often seems to happen to fighters who drank a lot/did drugs.

Now does the substance abuse help cause the dementia. ...or do earlt symptoms of dementia lead to substance abuse...or is it simply that folks who have brains prone to substance abuse are also more damaged by micro and macro head traumas?
A valid question...

A lot of fighters develop illnesses far earlier than the normal population. As you say, things like drugs and alcohol muddy the waters.
Okay. Reportedly, the Fullmer brothers did die with dementia/Alzheimer's, but at an age where that remains a pretty normal development. What does make them noteworthy however is the fact they were Utah Mormons, so drink and drugs were not likely going to be a factor hindering their aging process and longevity. (Dempsey ruefully described himself as a "Jack Mormon," but he did seem to be affected somewhat by the environment he spent his developmental years as a child in following the conversion of his parents and his own baptism as a Latter Day Saint at age eight, and he lived to 88 with a lifestyle of some self restraint and moderation, not self indulgent excess like the gluttony and alcohol consumption of others. In fact, Willard reportedly hydrated on at least a quart of gin the night before their title bout in Toledo, but he did go on to set the former HW Champion longevity record Dempsey broke.)
 
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As far as pugilistic dementia goes...it often seems to happen to fighters who drank allot/did drugs.

Now does the substance abuse help cause the dementia. ...or do earlt symptoms of dementia lead to substance abuse...or is it simply that folks who have brains pron to substance abuse are also more damaged by micro and macro head traumas

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They're also just beginning to find a link between those who were on steroids when they received their trama with these brain conditions.