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Shane Mosley could do it all until he turned 45 and the trigger could no longer be pulled

Shane Mosley Miguel Cotto
A pro for 23 years, and world champion at three weights. There's much more to Shane Mosley than wobbling Mayweather

This feature was originally published in the October 10 issue of Boxing News

A boxer’s goals tend to evolve once their career gets under way and the original fantasy, like an opponent, starts to move, cover up and become increasingly tougher to hit. In time, it goes by the name of reality and starts to hit back. It will, in doing so, remind the boxer no one is invincible, everyone has an equal, and everything must slow down and come to an end. For Shane Mosley, one of the modern greats, it was no different. When he started boxing in 1979, his goals were to win fights, excite fans and become an Olympic champion. Known as ‘Sugar’ Shane, he wanted to be like Robinson and Leonard and do the nickname justice. After the ’92 Olympics went ahead without him, he wanted to turn professional. He wanted to make a living from the sport and win a world lightweight title. Beyond that he wanted life-changing money from a superfight against Oscar De La Hoya, a former training partner on the US Olympic team.

Years later he suffered his first pro defeat and wanted revenge. He then suffered another defeat, forgot all about perfection and now wanted nothing more than to be challenged. He wanted to keep fighting for as long as his body would allow him to keep fighting. He wanted to win as many titles as he could.

Finally, at 45 years of age, having achieved all there was to achieve in the sport, Mosley’s love affair left him wanting more. He wanted to confound those who said he couldn’t and shouldn’t, and he wanted to confound the limitations of his own body. His focus now was not on a ‘Sugar’ but Bernard Hopkins, a world champion at 49, whom he wanted to outlast.

Alas, Shane Mosley, in the end, fell short. He retired two years ago because of an arm injury and recently celebrated his 48th birthday. “Man, don’t remind me,” he said. “Time goes by too fast.”

For a while everything about ‘Sugar’ Shane moved fast. Time, yes, but also feet, hands, eyes and thoughts. It validated his nickname, this speed, and only when it deserted him did he notice time, too, was in short supply. 

“Oh, it’s hard,” he said. “If I hadn’t hurt my arm, and if the doctor hadn’t messed up my arm in surgery, I would probably still be boxing now.

“Since my arm got hurt, I can’t be like Bernard. That could have been a goal of mine had it not been for the injury.

“I feel pretty good, though. I still go to the gym and hit the bags and just kind of move around a little bit.”

Once a pound-for-pound superstar, Mosley has, like so many great champions who faded in full view of the public, become more relatable over time. His face lost some of its freshness, his nose endured 445 pro rounds, yet never did the Californian, despite the ups and downs, look to cheat on his first love for a cheap thrill. Nor did he ever stop smiling.

“I couldn’t believe it was going to go the way it did, or for as long as it did, but I have always been obsessed with boxing,” he explained. “I started doing it at eight and eventually I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to box until the wheels fall off and I can’t do it no more.’

“I just loved boxing. I was in love with it. It didn’t matter about the purse. It was just all about that feeling of getting in the ring and knowing I could beat up somebody who thought they were better than me. I loved being able to make them submit or knock them out. That was a great feeling.

“If I was in a boring fight, I would want to mix it up because I would become tired of us poking around or moving too much. I would be like, ‘Come on, let’s both get into this fight now.’ That’s why I fought so hard. If I ever felt like the fans were bored, nine times out of ten I was bored, too.

“When I first turned pro the idea was to knock everybody out because I didn’t want to leave any fight in the hands of the judges. That was my mentality. I wanted the people watching to feel what I felt. I wanted them to experience that same energy I had inside me.”

The approach served Mosley well. He took it from the amateur ranks into his pro career, which began the night of February 11, 1993, and he took it into intense sparring sessions with world champions Genaro Hernandez and Zack Padilla, a pair he hated at the time but later thanked for teaching him lessons and keeping his ego in check.

“I kind of felt invincible as far as fighting was concerned,” said Mosley, who raced to 23-0 before his first world title shot. “But when I sparred those two they would cut me down to size and let me know I still needed to work hard.

“Those sparring sessions were way harder than any fights I had coming up. I was just going to fights to pick up a cheque. My sparring sessions, on the other hand, were like real fights. They were legendary.

“There was one time I didn’t fight for almost a year and all I was doing was sparring with those two. I got so much experience from that and have to thank them for it. I was still good, but I don’t know if I would have been as good or ring savvy as I was if it wasn’t for them helping me like that.”

Mosley’s plan upon turning pro was to compete at 135 pounds, four pounds lighter than his weight as an amateur, and to later move up to welterweight in pursuit of Oscar De La Hoya. He targeted the ‘Golden Boy’ not because he deemed him an easy touch but because the two of them had sparred on the US Olympic team and, more importantly, Mosley understood pots of gold were to be found wherever Oscar happened to be.

Time was of the essence then.

“I was trying to get to the title as fast as I could, but it was hard because I didn’t have a big promoter at the time,” Mosley said. “When I got with Cedric Kushner, I was able to fight Philip Holiday in my first title shot.

“But for that fight I took too much creatine and got sick. I then went to the ring weighing 137 pounds and he was 147. He was 10 pounds heavier than me. I was like, ‘Oh, man, I’ve made this hard on myself.’ But I still outboxed him, moved around and fiddled my way to my first world title. Later on, I was able to showcase my power.”

Mosley stops Eduardo Morales in defence of his IBF lightweight title (BR/CM/WS)

He calls the lightweight reign his “most complete days” and it’s easy to see why. Unlike in future fights, at higher weights, Mosley was never undersized, never overpowered and never forced to use his speed and timing to counteract an opponent’s physical advantages. He could simply be himself, let it all hang out, get creative, relax.

“I showed my full arsenal in those [IBF title] fights,” he said. “I showed I could go forwards, backwards, side-to-side and toe-to-toe. Whatever you wanted to do, I would beat you at it. Welterweight was really good, too, and I was fast there, but at lightweight I was really big and strong.”

There were masterpieces to be painted at lightweight but the real popular and commercial work was to be found at welterweight. Mosley knew this the moment he saw De La Hoya advance to 147 pounds, and eight defences (all won via stoppage) into his lightweight reign decided the time was right to do the same, skipping junior-welterweight altogether.

“I actually fought bigger than Oscar as an amateur,” Mosley said. “He fought at 132 and I fought at 139. Even when he turned pro, he fought lighter than me. He fought at 130, 135, 140, then 147. I had to stay at 135 to prove myself whereas he was already the ‘Golden Boy’.

“I knew the big money was fighting Oscar at 147. Also, not many people jump a weight class like that, so I wanted to make a bit of history.”

In June 2000 at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, Mosley challenged De La Hoya in his natural habitat. He scrapped energetically for 12 rounds and came away with the WBC welterweight title. And money. Lots of it.

“People think I won that fight on hand speed but what really paid dividends was my foot speed and the fact he got tired trying to keep up with my intensity,” Mosley said. “The first six rounds were close and then in the second half of the fight I blew him away.

“He spent all his energy trying to stay with me and my feet were a little too fast for him. Our hand speed was actually similar, but my feet were quicker, and my intensity meant he couldn’t match the tempo.

“I had an advantage because I had sparred him in the amateurs and lived in the same area. We knew each other. I knew if you didn’t anticipate that left hook landing on your chin, you’d be out of there. A lot of people didn’t know that. They would walk into it and be like, ‘Oh, s**t, he f**king knocked me out.’”

Mosley fought Oscar De La Hoya at welterweight and super-welterweight (MB/HB)

With the win Mosley moved to 35-0 and became a two-weight world champion. Best of all, he had outshone the ‘Golden Boy’ and was being heralded in some quarters as a new star of American boxing. In his company, also-rans, the likes of Antonio Diaz, Shannan Taylor and Adrian Stone, weren’t just beaten, they were run over.

But then, in January 2002, along came Vernon Forrest, a former IBF champion who had defeated Mosley in the 1992 Olympic trials and whose 6-1 odds only served to rile and motivate him. He would in fact use these odds and this familiarity to trump Mosley in the same way Mosley trumped De La Hoya.

“It wasn’t so much that he was wrong for me,” Mosley said. “Vernon was a very good fighter in his own right and had worked with me on the Olympic team. There were things I did in the ring he knew about and could take advantage of. And he did.

“The big thing with me and Vernon was Vernon’s height and him being able to go over the top of my jab. Usually, when I fought guys at lightweight, they were shorter than me or the same size. I then go to welterweight and the guys are taller than me and Vernon had a really good long right hand.

“He took after Tommy Hearns and Mark Breland. He was long and lanky and could counteract speed the right way and let that right hand go.

“The way I threw my jab, I guess I brought it back low and he just came right over the top and caught me. I guess you could say it was a style thing but nevertheless he was a great fighter and world champion. Maybe he had my number and was able to slow me down and stop me getting off the way I wanted to.”

Mosley met his match in the form of Vernon Forrest (REUTERS/Brent Smith BS/SV)

That a decision victory for an Olympian with a 33-0 pro record was considered a monumental upset says everything about ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley’s air of invincibility in the early noughties. The shock of it softened, and Mosley will be the first to explain how it happened, but its impact at the time left many stunned and hit shuffle on boxing’s pound-for-pound list.

“In the amateur programme you win some and you lose some,” Mosley said. “Even after I got knocked down and went down again, I was still trying to win.

“Also, the fight, when I watched it maybe a year ago, was still really exciting to me. We were going back and forth and he dropped me and that was exciting. I get back up and I’m banging away and I’m trying to make a comeback and he hits me with a good body shot. I stay in there and fight the whole fight.

“That fight showed not only can I punch hard and have speed, but I can also take a good punch. As much as I can dish it out, I can get it, too. I showed my character, I think. I was no longer a champion, but I showed a champion’s heart.”

Sure enough, Mosley went back for more. He went back for more during what turned out to be his first pro loss and he went back for more six months later, when meeting Forrest for a second time in the hope of retrieving all he surrendered in New York.

“The second fight with Vernon was better,” he said. “I mean, it was the most boring fight I ever had because there was a lot of holding and stuff, but it was still better than the first one.

“Well, the first one was better in terms of excitement, but it was better for me than the first one. It was a lot closer and some people even thought… Man, it was so boring, it doesn’t even matter.”

Mosley’s recollection ended with a belly laugh. The fight, though, no laughing matter, ended in a unanimous decision defeat, his second on the bounce.

From there, like a kid’s party, ‘Sugar’ was everywhere. He ventured to junior-middleweight, then back to welterweight. He beat De La Hoya again at 154 and stuck around to box Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright and Fernando Vargas twice apiece. “Junior-middleweight was so tough,” he conceded. “I was never a junior-middleweight. But there were fights you have to take.” Incredibly, he also went 12 rounds with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez – now a light-heavyweight – during his stay at 154 pounds.

“It’s crazy,” Mosley added. “I’ve literally fought everybody. Or at least tried to fight everybody.

“I was a warrior. I wasn’t the type to wait for somebody to get old or show signs of weakness before fighting them. I’d be more like, ‘You’re looking good, let’s do this.’ I challenged myself. Maybe I could have padded my record a little more, but I just wanted to fight. I’m a fighter.”

In 2007, Mosley, back at welterweight, boxed a likeminded soul in the form of Miguel Cotto. As well as attitudes, they shared 12 rounds inside Madison Square Garden and Cotto, undefeated in 30 fights at the time, edged a close one.

“I could have beaten Cotto,” Mosley recalled. “But he did land some good shots at the end that could have given it to him. Maybe. I don’t know. If you look at the punch stats, I threw more punches and landed more power shots. He landed more jabs than me. I think I won that fight.

“Even though I thought I beat him, I was impressed with Cotto. He had a pretty good jab and kept catching me with it. I thought he was going to be slow. I knew he would have good power, but his timing and accuracy was pretty good.”

After Cotto came the first of two fights against chain-smoking Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga – won by Mosley with one second remaining in the 12th round – and arguably the finest performance of his career against relentless Mexican Antonio Margarito. That one, a ninth-round stoppage win, was a shock to all but Mosley. “I wasn’t shocked because I had trained so hard,” he said. “Even though I had personal problems at the time, I trained so hard.”

Before heading to the ring that night, Mosley grabbed his son, Shane Jnr, and demanded he look him in the eyes.

“Do you see my eyes?” he then asked him. “Do you see the way I look?”

“Yeah, Dad, I see you,” replied Shane Jnr.

“Good. This is the way you’re supposed to look when you walk to the ring. I’m going to knock him out. Watch this.”

He left on that note, marching away from his son and towards Margarito.  

“It was a great fight, a great memory, and I love every bit of it,” Mosley said 10 years later. “Everything we worked on as far as jabbing to the body and going over the top to the head, the left hooks… all my hard work manifested right there.

“Even to this day Margarito has never been properly knocked out. [Manny] Pacquiao hit him and broke his eye socket but didn’t knock him down or knock him out. Who’s knocked out Margarito? Nobody. Nobody has got him off his feet.

“I think that was probably one of my top performances. It might be the best. I was getting into being the older fighter and Margarito was the younger fighter who can walk you down and bang you out of there. He had a great chin and people were almost afraid of him.

“But he barely touched me. He wasn’t hitting me with anything, and I was scoring shots and breaking him down all the way around. I beat him on the outside and on the inside. Everywhere.”

Mosley dazzles against Margarito (Chris Farina – Top Rank)

That was the last time Shane Mosley performed as Shane Mosley in a boxing ring. There were subsequent cameos, flashes of the old genius at work, but never again did he put it all together the way he did against Margarito in 2009.

The last time any version of Mosley boxed competitively was May 28, 2016, and the opponent was David Avanesyan. Still a way off being a tribute act, that night in Glendale he would feel the loss of his speed, his accuracy, his timing and the necessary delusion that fuels all professional fighters long before three scorecards confirmed the 10th loss of his career.  

“I felt good, but I was frustrated the whole damn fight,” Mosley said. “I was almost knocking him out a couple of times but couldn’t. How come I’m hitting him with these shots, but I can’t knock him out? Also, how come he’s hitting me with these stupid shots, and I know he’s getting ready to do it, and I know they’re coming, but I’m still getting hit? Why?

“Those thoughts shouldn’t be going through your head when you’re fighting. But they were going through mine that night. He would turn southpaw and throw a stupid right hook and catch me with it. I knew exactly what he was going to do but couldn’t do anything about it.”

Now able to see the funny side of it, Mosley, 49-10-1 (41), laughed at his own ineptitude and offered a reminder that this laugh, hearty and childlike, is one of the few things unaffected by the ageing process. “Sometimes you can be like Bernard [Hopkins],” he added, getting serious again. “You can get in there, hit them on the hip a couple of times, do some smart stuff, and get the knockout. But sometimes you can’t.”

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