Open Thread: Paddy Barnes and boxing's other late bloomers

Barnes signed his first professional contract this week at the age of 29, which got us thinking of other professionals who started late

BY Newstalk 16:00 Tuesday 20 September 2016, 16:00 20 Sep 2016

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Two of Ireland's Olympic boxing heroes traded the amateur ranks for the professional leagues over the past seven days.

Belfast boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes opted to sign professional contracts after a disappointing Olympic Games in Rio.

Conlan flew to Las Vegas to sign with Bob Arum's 'Top Rank Promotions' Manny Pacquiao, Timothy Bradley and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Barnes, meanwhile, penned a deal with Matthew Macklin's MGM Marbella just hours earlier the same day. And while Conlan will be beginning his career as a world champion and 24 years of age, Barnes begins his foray into the professional ranks as a seasoned 29-year-old.

That got us thinking about some other boxers who began their career late in their career:

1) Dewey Bozella 

This has quite the pub quiz feel about it. Born in 1959, the boxer spent 26 years in prison before eventually being released. Bozella was wrongfully convicted of murder and was later proven innocent in 2009. 

He began training before he was imprisoned and while behind bars studied for a bachelors and Masters degree.

After being released from prison began working with youths at a local gym in Newburgh, New York. Boxer Bernard Hopkins heard his story and gave him an opportunity to fight 30-year-old Larry Hopkins on the undercard of his own championship bout.

Bozella, aged 52 at the time, accepted the fight.

"I didn't merely want to survive, I wanted to thrive," he told ESPN earlier that year. "Boxing awakened me. I felt free during my workouts for the first time. I was no longer a prisoner."

He defeated Hopkins via unanimous decision to record a victory in his one and only professional bout.

2) Audley Harrison

Audley "A-Force" Harrison is a British boxer who has contested 38 professional fights holding a record of 31-7.

Standing at 6ft 51in he represented Team GB at the Olympic Games in 2000, where he won gold in the super heavyweight division.

After his victory at the Games in 2000, he decided to go down the professional route and set up his own promotion, 'A-Force Promotions'.  

In May 2001, aged 29, he had his first fight as a professional in front of six million viewers at home and in front of a packed Wembley crowd. He made light work of American counterpart Michael Middleton - a first round knockout - and recorded his first victory.

He signed a £1 million deal with the BBC to show his first ten professional fights, all of which he won - six via TKO/KO and four on points.

Three years later, and after injury, he won the WBF heavyweight title against Richel Hersisia.

In 2010, he lost his bout for the WBA heavyweight title against David Haye. 

3) Nate Campbell 

Nate Campbell is an American boxer and former unified WBA, IBF and WBO lightweight champion.

Born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1944, Campbell amassed an impressive amateur record and fought 35 times before trying to make the American Olympic boxing team. 

He turned professional in 2000 and won an astonishing five fights over the space of 10 months.

Scoey Fields was the first victory on course to a 23-fight win streak for Campbell. The Moon was the venue for his first fight. That of Tallahassee, Florida of course, and not as cosmic bout to launch a dazzling early career.

In 2008, Campbell beat Juan Diaz to win the WBO, IBF and WBA Super World Lightweight titles via split decision in a bruising 12-round bout.

He was then stripped of his titles less than a year later for failing to make the weight limit.

4) James Smith

Nicknamed the 'Bonecrusher', there was more to the American than just brawn. In fact, Smith was the first heavyweight champion with a college degree.

Born April 3, 1953, Smith began his professional career at 28-years-old. A career which would span 66 fights and include winning the WBA heavyweight champion, Smith suffered defeat in his opening bout against James "Broad Axe" Broad.

Not one to be discouraged, he would go on to win his following 14 fights but lost his IBF world heavyweight title fight to Larry "Easton Assassin" Holmes.

His next title fight - for the NABF heavyweight title - would end in similar fashion with defeat to "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon.

Smith would exact revenge on Witherspoon 18 months later with a first round KO of his compatriot to claim the WBA world heavyweight title.

His reign didn't last long and he was beaten by Mike Tyson in the Spring of '87.

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