It’s enough to request early entry into the Denny’s senior menu club, this list of health issues that doctors suggest accelerate around age 40.
Some of the lowlights: Decrease in lean muscle mass (can you miss what you never had?); slower metabolism; higher cholesterol and blood pressure; organ shrinkage (mostly the brain and kidneys … whew); drier skin and more wrinkles; an increase in lipofuscin, which dulls the memory.
Kevin Kelley doesn’t buy the aging process, at least not for professional boxers who embrace his contemporary form of training like the average 40-something might a day with no back pain.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there,” Kelley insists. “People who have never boxed a day seem to have all the answers about how age affects the athlete. My body has changed for the better with age.”
Kelley has his 70th professional fight tonight when boxing returns to the Las Vegas Hilton for the first time in nearly seven years. He engages Jaime Palma for the Boxing Illustrated lightweight championship, which I’m guessing rewards the winner a shiny belt, a six-month subscription at a cut rate and a free fleece jacket embroidered with his favorite NFL team’s logo.
Kelley turned 41 last month and says he is in better shape than many fighters decades younger. He says through a modern approach of organic nutrition and blood analysis and trading concrete for water tanks and wind tunnels when running, he has sculpted a physique more fit to compete than one he used to win WBC and WBU featherweight titles.
“I made a lot of mistakes training when I was younger,” he said. “I ate the wrong things. I don’t train harder now. I train smarter and train all the time. I don’t take breaks. I don’t wait until three months out from a fight to get back at it. I’m always ready. I burn out younger kids in the gym all the time.
“I’ve compiled 25 years worth of information and learned from it. More and more now, great athletes are at their best in their 40s.”
More and more now, we mistrust every successful result they post. A 41-year-old mother steals the show at the U.S. Olympic swimming trials and it’s impossible not to question if hers is a completely clean pursuit. She can thank a few lying baseball icons for that.
But post-40 boxers have been around forever. Bob Fitzsimmons won a title at 40 in 1897 and kept trudging back into the ring until age 51. Archie Moore fought 50 times after the Big Four-Oh and won 44 of them. Ray Robinson fought 44 times past his 40th birthday.
Just last month in Australia, 44-year-old Jeff Fenech earned a majority junior middleweight decision over 49-year-old Azumah Nelson, 16 years after the two fought to a controversial draw here.
There is Jack Johnson and Roberto Duran and Larry Holmes and George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins. There is Julio Cesar Chavez, although I’m not sure a guy whose first pro fight was made during kindergarten recess counts.
There is this truth: The last thing to go in a fighter is his power, which is why heavyweights have historically found more success in their 40s than lighter frames.
Kelley might be an expert on the healthy soil produced by organic farmers and at what level one’s thyroid should be, but he isn’t quicker now than he was in his 20s. His instincts and timing aren’t as sharp. They physically can’t be.
It’s why the Nevada Athletic Commission demands a more comprehensive physical and interview process for fighters 36 and older, why it often limits them to just a one-fight license at a time, hoping to avoid anyone going by the way of an early lifetime diet of rice pudding and jarred carrots or, God forbid, that of Jerry Quarry.
“You have to be careful with these guys,” said Keith Kizer, executive director of the commission. “You want to give credit to exceptional athletes who can do this in their 40s and yet also realize they are an exception. We keep a close eye on them and make sure they are matched in a fight that at least on paper seems like a good opponent.
“The limited license makes it easier to see how a guy does. If he looks bad, we can say, ‘We gave you a chance, but it didn’t work out and now it’s time to move on.’ “
Kevin Kelley isn’t ready, and who can blame him? You figure each punch he throws at Palma tonight, there will be a little extra something for Father Time, as well.
After all, shrinkage of any kind is best avoided as long as possible.
Ed Graney can be reached at 702-383-4618 or firstname.lastname@example.org.