Along cauliflower row, they say the hardest thing to do is for a boxer to hang up his gloves. When to retire is a tough call because in a fighter’s mind, he’s never washed up for one last payday, one last win or one last shot at the title.
Sometimes, a fighter retires too late to enjoy what he earned in the ring. Muhammad Ali was 39 when he fought his last bout, losing to Trevor Berbick in 1981. He ended his illustrious career dropping three of his last four to Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes and Berbick. Ali should’ve walked away in a blaze of glory. Instead, he was humbled in defeat and today, suffers from Parkinson’s syndrome, a result of too many blows in too many fights over a career that began in 1960. Ali had a 3 1/2 year break due to his protest over the military draft but when he came back, there was just no stopping his desire to display his wares. He fought four fights in 1975 and another four in 1976 when maybe, he should’ve slowed down.
Freddie Roach was only 26 when he retired as a fighter in 1986 after losing five of his last six bouts. Roach was a give-and-take, blood-and-guts slugger. It didn’t matter how many shots he took. His concern was offense, not defense, because that’s how old-school fighters were taught to focus. Roach was 18 when he turned pro. Today, like Ali, Roach is battling Parkinson’s syndrome, the consequence of absorbing too many punches in the head in an eight-year career that should’ve ended before it actually did. Fortunately, Roach has rediscovered life as a trainer. His story is an inspiration as despite his affliction, Roach keeps busy molding fighters into champions. Manny Pacquiao, of course, is the best example of a Roach finished product.
Roach’s last bout was a loss on points to David Rivello in Lowell, Massachusetts, in October 1986. Two months before, he registered his last career win over Filipino Arnel Arrozal on a fifth round retirement in Lynnwood, Washington. Nobody imagined that in beating Arrozal, Roach would later find another Filipino to pave the way for his life of fame and fortune.
Former IBF superfeatherweight champion Robert Garcia retired from the ring at 26 in 2001 and like Roach, became a successful trainer of champions. His stable includes Nonito Donaire, Brandon Rios, Evgeny Gradovich, Mikey Garcia and Kelly Pavlik. He has also worked with Steve Luevano and Brian Viloria. Garcia knew when to call it quits and bit the bullet before he was struck down.
Garcia ended his career on a positive note, halting John Trigg in Las Vegas in September 2001. He started his career at 17 and was 31-0 before suffering his first loss to Diego Corrales. He outpointed Harold Warren for the vacant IBF superfeatherweight throne in 1998 and after two successful defenses over Ramon Ledon and John-John Molina, was defrocked by Corrales. Garcia was knocked out by Ben Tackie and Joel Casamayor on the way to closing out his career with the win over Trigg. Today, Garcia’s faculties are intact. He didn’t push himself to the limit in the ring. When the writing on the wall was evident, he chose to walk away.
Rey (Boom Boom) Bautista is only 26. The Candijay, Bohol, turned pro a week before he celebrated his 17th birthday. Last April, he lost a split decision to Mexico’s Jose Ramirez in Davao City and announced his retirement. Bautista, a crowd-pleasing brawler, ended his career with a 34-3 record, 25 KOs. In a remarkable coincidence, Garcia retired with the same record – 34-3, 25 KOs – at the same age.
Bautista never saw his dream of becoming a world champion turn into reality. In 2007, he was 23-0 when he challenged WBO superbantamweight titlist Daniel Ponce de Leon of Mexico in Sacramento. Alas, Bautista was stopped in the first round, a casualty of his reckless, devil-may-care style. Before bowing to Ramirez, he had scored eight wins in a row coming back from a loss by decision to Mexico’s Heriberto Ruiz in Las Vegas in 2008.
Surviving surgery to repair a fracture in his left hand, Bautista got perfect care from his promoter Michael Aldeguer who provided every opportunity for Boom Boom to reach the top of his game. He fought 12 fights overseas, eight in the US and once each in Dubai, Japan, Korea and Indonesia. Of his 37 bouts, 27 were against foreigners. In May 2005, Bautista made his US debut by stopping Thailand’s Aree Phosuwang Gym in the fifth round in Honolulu. He fought twice in Las Vegas and twice in Los Angeles, once each in Tampa, Sacramento, El Cajon and Honolulu.
Two of Bautista’s most memorable wins were over Argentina’s Sergio Medina in 2007 and Mexico’s Gerardo Espinoza in 2005. Bautista dropped Medina in the sixth round but took a standing eight-count in the 11th and bucked a pair of point deductions for low blows to score a unanimous decision. Against Espinoza, Bautista was decked in the second but roared back to win on points in a brutal eight-rounder.
Aldeguer said while Bautista retired without a world title, he will not be forgotten by fans for his courage in the ring. “He discussed his retirement with his father who has handled his career from the start,” said Aldeguer. “They both know with his trainer Edito (Villamor) what is best for now. He has gone through major injuries in the past and it has taken a toll on him, not to mention the never-ending emotional scar from the first round knockout loss to Ponce de Leon.”
Aldeguer said although Bautista is only 26, the decision to retire appears final. “If you ask me, he may or may not come back but he is sure of his decision as of now as he is focused with his rent-a-car business and his wife and new-born baby,” said Aldeguer. “He has two houses and four cars and savings in the bank. My only wish is for the public to remember Boom Boom as one of the most exciting Filipino fighters ever as he always cared to entertain the fans. Anyone who watched him fight always went home satisfied whether he won or lost.”