Note: This story appears in the September 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands or in our new digital format.
Being a boxer is a bit like being a contestant on Wheel Of Fortune, where you can build up thousands and thousands of dollars, but until you solve the puzzle, all the money can disappear with one bad spin. No lead in boxing is ever insurmountable. In any fight that doesn’t go the distance, the way it ends is all that really matters.
But that’s all in the short term. In the long term, the way it ends hardly matters at all. In the long term, whatever rounds you put in the bank during your prime are forever in the bank. If you spin the wheel and land on “bankrupt,” all the wins on your record stay on your record. Whether you get out after one bad spin or a dozen bad spins makes no difference.
A fighter might lose his money and land on “bankrupt” in the literal sense. He might lose his health. But he can’t lose his legacy.
In the spring of 2011, two all-time greats, two guaranteed first-ballot Hall of Famers, Roy Jones and Shane Mosley, suffered embarrassing defeats. And it wasn’t the first such occurrence for either.
The 42-year-old Jones has been a shot fighter for a long time, with a record of 5-7 over the last seven years, four of those losses coming by way of violent knockout. On May 21, Russian cruiserweight contender Denis Lebedev, a solid fighter but one who would have been an underdog to win a single round against a prime Jones, brought what had been a close fight to a horrifying conclusion, knocking Jones unconscious with two seconds left in the 10th round.
The 39-year-old Mosley hasn’t been on the skids for nearly as long as Jones. He wasn’t glaringly over the hill until a winless two-fight campaign in 2010. But his loss to Floyd Mayweather and draw against Sergio Mora provided ample proof that the Sugar bowl was empty, and a shot Shane was hopelessly outclassed on May 7 by Manny Pacquiao. That Mosley didn’t win was predictable; that he didn’t try to win was somewhat surprising.
In some regards, Jones’ loss to Lebedev and Mosley’s dud against Pacquiao had little in common. They differed in terms of the quality of the opposition, the significance of the fight, the competitiveness of the contest, whether the final bell was heard, etc. But what the two defeats shared was the public’s pleas afterward to the beaten fighters. Fans and journalists alike urged both Jones and Mosley to retire. They expressed their sadness over seeing these former pound-for-pound kings in this sorry state. They worried for their health. And they warned the fighters that they were sullying their reputations.
It’s on that last count that history suggests the fans and journalists were wrong. In the moment, we hold the ineptitude of these legends’ performances against them. But as soon as they announce their retirements, we’ll forgive them. When assessing each fighter’s greatness, we’ll more or less pretend that the post-prime losses never happened.
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