Commentary

Retired -- and stayed retired

Graham Houston lists seven fighters that walked away from boxing while at the peek of their powers and never looked back.

Originally Published: June 7, 2008
By Graham Houston | Special to ESPN.com

Rocky MarcianoAP PhotoThe lure of of the ring is a hard one to walk away from -- and stay away from -- but that's exactly what Rocky Marciano did in 1956.
So, Floyd Mayweather has announced his retirement, again, and this time he says he will stick to his decision. We will see. Skepticism is understandable. Mayweather had announced his retirement before, but this time he has issued an official statement. He is 31, undefeated and has made tens of millions.

Maybe Mayweather will be one of the few to walk away and stay away. He doesn't need the money and he has accomplished much. Will he, though, miss the thrill of competition? Being center stage in a major fight is one of sport's biggest highs. Mayweather has a lot of expensive toys and there are many things he can do with his life, but boxing's one-on-one test of will and skill is something that has a magnetic pull to those who have excelled at the top level. As Lennox Lewis said when announcing his retirement in 2004: "For such a long time I was thinking, shall I go in there and have one last fight? But this is the drug of the sport. There's always somebody to fight."

If Mayweather can do as Lewis has done and resist the drug that is boxing he will be part of a select group. Here are some fighters who quit at the top and never came back.

Jimmy McLarnin

Jimmy McLarnin
AP PhotoJimmy McLarnin, left, made as much money in the ring as possible -- then walked away while still a major attraction at the box office.
The Irish-born, Canadian-raised former welterweight champion McLarnin was one of boxing's biggest attractions when he retired after defeating lightweight champion Lou Ambers in a non-title bout at Madison Square Garden in November 1936. He was one month away from his 29th birthday. McLarnin's British-born manager and father figure, a colorful old-timer named Pop Foster, always had it in mind for McLarnin to make as much money as possible and retire while at his peak. The two left boxing together, with McLarnin's financial well-being assured, and they were said to have had a coffee and chat on nearly a daily basis until the old manager's death 21 years later.

Masamori Tokuyama

Born in Japan to North Korean parents, Tokuyama (real name Changsoo Hong) officially retired last year, but he had been inactive for a year after retaining his WBC 115-pound title against Jose Navarro in February 2006. It had been thought that Tokuyama, who had struggled to make weight, would return in the bantam division. However, he was unable to secure a match with the 118-pound champion, Hozumi Hasegawa, and, now 32, he told the Japanese press that he had lost his motivation.

Khaosai Galaxy

Thailand's Galaxy retired in December 1991 after 19 successful defenses of the 115-pound title. He was 32 and felt he had achieved all he wanted to achieve. It seems he was never tempted to come back.

Lennox Lewis

[+] EnlargeLewis v Klitschko
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesLennox Lewis, right, hung up the gloves and has not returned since stopping Vitali Klitschko in June 2003.
Lewis retired not only as the heavyweight champion, but also after one of the most dramatic fights of his career, when he stopped Vitali Klitschko in June 2003. Klitschko eagerly sought a rematch, but Lewis was 37 and the signs were evident that he was a fighter in decline. Klitschko had been leading on points when stopped, due to an ugly cut over the Ukrainian's eye, after six rounds.

Reporter James Lawton of Britain's The Independent newspaper noted that Lewis was "blowing harder than a harpooned whale" when the fight ended. Michael Rosenthal of the Los Angeles Daily News reported scathingly of Lewis's performance: "Out of shape or old -- or both -- he looked nothing like the fighter who has dominated the division much of the past decade. Instead, he was the awkward, plodding fighter Klitschko was supposed to be." Lewis recognized the danger signals all too well and announced his retirement at a press conference in London eight months later.

Carlos Monzon

[+] EnlargeCarlos Monzon
AFP/AFP/Getty ImagesCarlos Monzon, right, defeated all comers during his reign as middleweight champion.
The great Argentinian Carlos Monzon set a middleweight record of 14 title defenses before retiring in August 1977, a month after defeating Colombian Rodrigo Valdes for the second time in a championship fight in Monte Carlo. Monzon left boxing as the undisputed middleweight champion -- he held the belts of the only two sanctioning bodies at the time, the WBC and WBA.

I liked the way that Monzon delayed retiring until he had given Valdes a rematch. Although Monzon won the first fight by unanimous decision, it had been a tough, competitive contest between two champions. When Monzon departed the sport it was with the satisfaction of knowing that he had taken on all the top middleweights, and beaten them, in a seven-year reign as champion.

Gene Tunney

Gene Tunney was always a cerebral sort, and an attractive life in high society, plus business opportunities, awaited him when he retired as heavyweight champion after stopping Tom Heeney, the "Hard Rock" from New Zealand, in July 1928 in his second title defense. The perception of Tunney was that he was never very much in love with boxing and thus would have found it easier than most to retire while still on top. The boxing public of the day preferred the rough, tough Jack Dempsey, whom Tunney twice defeated. Tunney had shown himself to be a real fighter, however, when going the distance despite suffering severe punishment in his only loss, against the great middleweight champion Harry Greb.

Rocky Marciano

Marciano is the name that everyone thinks of first as a fighter who retired at the top and never came back -- the only heavyweight champion to have gone through his entire career undefeated. Marciano was 32 when he symbolically hung up a pair of boxing gloves at a news conference in April 1956. He had made six successful championship defenses and had started to grow weary of the long training camps and monk-like dedication that his attrition method of fighting required him to undergo.

There were no real challenges for Marciano when he retired -- apart from a rematch with Archie Moore, whom he had just knocked out in an exciting fight, or a bout with the young Floyd Patterson. He decided that it was as good a time as any to leave the sport -- although there was a comeback of sorts in his much-hyped "computer" bout with Muhammad Ali.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.