By artist Tyler Streeter
Wins and losses have never really mattered to people who truly admire the sport of boxing. What really matters is that a fighter who enters the ring is willing to do whatever it takes to win against the best opposition available. This is what makes Shane Mosley such an inspirational subject to paint.
LAS VEGAS – The first time television analyst Larry Merchant saw a tape of Shane Mosley fighting was in 1997, before he fought Philip Holiday for the world lightweight championship on HBO.
Merchant was so impressed that he could not have been much more effusive in his praise.
“I said, ‘I just watched a tape of this guy and I’m telling myself that my eyes don’t lie: This guy can do everything,’” Merchant said. “I said, ‘I saw flashes of Sugar Ray Robinson but obviously only time will tell if he’s anywhere near that good.’
“Of course, I got beat upside the head because everybody wrote that I said Mosley was as good as Sugar Ray Robinson. I did recognize his talent early, though.”
Mosley wasn’t the next Sugar Ray Robinson, putting him in a club composed of every other fighter who ever lived. He was worthy of the accolades, though.
When we think of Mosley today, we might think of his anemic performance against Floyd Mayweather Jr. last year. Or his subsequent head-scratching draw with Sergio Mora.
We might forget how remarkably good he was in his prime, how his rare combination of speed, power, all-around ability and uncommon fire engendered many comments similar to those of Merchant.
“Shane is right up there with the great fighters,” said Joe Goossen, who has followed Mosley’s career since he was a teenager and trained him for one fight. “When you say (Roberto) Duran, when you say (Sugar Ray) Leonard, when you say (Marvin) Hagler, you have to say Shane Mosley.”
That might or might not be the case depending on your personal perceptions. Mosley, now 39, has had many highs and many lows over a 20-year professional career.
His years as a lightweight alone are worthy of the International Hall of Fame, though. Consider the facts about his tenure at 135 pounds:
— He was 32-0, with 30 knockouts.
— He defeated Philip Holiday by a unanimous decision to win the lightweight title and held it from August 1997 to April 1999.
— He had eight successful defenses – all by knockout.
— He was never knocked down at lightweight.
The only gap in his lightweight resume is that he never faced a Hall of Fame-caliber opponent, James Leija and John John Molina possibly being his most-talented victims at that weight.
He didn’t avoid anyone, though. The most-notable opponent he didn’t face was Stevie Johnston, a talented southpaw. Otherwise, he ruled the division in a similar manner to that of all-time great Roberto Duran.
His opponents simply couldn’t cope with his physical attributes.
“I was a very big lightweight,” said Mosley, who fights Manny Pacquiao on Saturday. “It didn’t matter who they put in front of me, especially because of my determination to become a world champion at that time. My hunger was too great for any of those lightweights.”
Trainer Rudy Hernandez, who also crossed paths with Mosley when he was a young fighter, said you should’ve seen him in the gym between fights.
Mosley sparred with then-junior lightweight world titleholder Genaro Hernandez, Rudy’s brother, shortly after turning pro in 1993. The young prospect was a 135-pounder but weighed closer to 147 at the time.
“Shane was like 2-0 and he was in there competing against a world champion, a tall world champion,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes Shane even got the better of Genaro. You just had to have been there. He was just a little sluggish after he lost weight. When weight wasn’t an issue, he was strong, quick and had the heart of a lion.
“Right now I can’t think of any (lightweight) who could’ve beaten him in his prime.”
Mosley had a very difficult time making the lightweight limit by the end of his run.
He said he didn’t eat for two days before he stopped capable John Brown in the eighth round in April 1999, a crystal-clear sign that it was time to move up in weight. And he didn’t mess around when he took the leap.
Mosley was largely overlooked in spite of his success at lightweight, in part because he didn’t have a world-class promoter until 1997. He desperately needed a victory over a big-name opponent on a big stage to establish himself as a star.
Enter Oscar De La Hoya, a longtime acquaintance from the amateurs who had become the No. 1 attraction in the boxing world.
De La Hoya, determined to demonstrate his willingness to fight anyone, agreed to meet Mosley in June 2000 in their hometown of Los Angeles. The fight would be at 147 pounds, meaning Mosley would have to leap frog over 140 pounds.
No problem. He was such a big lightweight that he actually believed he would have trouble making 140. Thus, this opportunity was an absolute no-brainer.
And, as we know, it turned out well for Mosley: He defeated De La Hoya by a split decision to win the WBC welterweight title, which turned out to be the biggest victory in his career.
“Think about this,” Goossen said. “He bypassed 140 and made the quantum leap to welterweight. That’s 12 pounds in weight. And not only did he move up two divisions, he fought the best guy at 147 … and beat him!
“That’s the type of talent he was capable of laying on you in the ring.”
Mosley ultimately ran his record to 38-0 (with 35 knockouts), one of greatest runs in recent years, before he turned out to be human: He is only 8-6-1 since.
Amateur nemesis Vernon Forrest and talented Winky Wright, who was much bigger than Mosley, handed him four losses in a span of six fights, which included an important victory over De La Hoya in a rematch for which he years later admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Mosley seemed to be finished as one of the sport’s biggest stars when he was outpointed by then-unbeaten Miguel Cotto in 2007, when Mosley was 36.
However, he had one more great performance left in him. He agreed to face one of the most-feared fighters in the world in January 2009, Antonio Margarito.
Many observers feared for Mosley’s safety, saying a slower, faded version of the old champion would be eaten alive by a monster like Margarito. Mosley stopped Ricardo Mayorga in his previous fight but looked sluggish, which fed the criticism.
Mosley’s response was an emphatic beat down that ended with Margarito on the canvas in the ninth round, which resurrected Mosley’s image as one of the most-important fighters on earth.
That Margarito was the perfect foil for him – slow, aggressive and perhaps off-kilter after he was caught with illegal pads in his gloves – didn’t matter. Mosley was great again.
The question now, though, is this: Was that his last hurrah?
Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KOs) was able to hurt Mayweather with a single punch in the second round but lost a near-shutout decision in May of last year, the worst performance of his career. And then he drew with Mora, a mover who could make most fighters look bad.
And on Saturday he’ll be face to face with the No. 1 fighter in the world, a fighter presumed to be much faster and much better than him at this point in time.
Of course, an upset would lift Mosley to mythic status. And a loss probably wouldn’t have a great bearing on his legacy. Shane Mosley is one of the best fighters of his time, probably any time.
And he entertained us along the way.
“For 20 years, he was a guy who not only didn’t duck people but a guy who also fought exciting fights,” Merchant said. "How many bad fights was he in? He was never a pure boxer, never a guy who didn’t try to knock you out. For that style of a fighter to have such a long career is really something.
“He made exciting, crowd-pleasing fights. He fought everyone. He’s had a great career.”