No Mora Waiting; this is it for “The Latin Snake” By Steve Kim, MaxBoxing (Sept 16, 2010) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Despite having starred on a reality show that was viewed by millions on NBC and having been featured on Showtime and other pay-per-view undercards, Sergio Mora’s showdown with Shane Mosley next Saturday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is by far the biggest moment of his career.
And it’s not even a debate. Because this time around, he isn’t just a supporting piece; his name is on the marquee.
"Absolutely, 100-percent," said Mora, a couple of weeks ago at his gym in Montebello, California, which he has dubbed “The Snake Pit.” "I’m headlining in my hometown, the Staples Center, and it’s finally ’Mosley-Mora’; it’s not on the undercard; it’s not anything else. It’s just a beautiful site and it’s one of many."
Mora figured he’d get here a lot sooner. That was the plan after winning the inaugural season of “The Contender” after defeating Peter Manfredo Jr. in May of 2005 and picking up the grand prize of a million dollars. More than that, what came was fame and notoriety. The type that could get him prime opportunities and make him one of boxing’s biggest names. But in signing on with the “Tournament of Contenders,” he found that while it held a certain cache, they simply could not- or would not- live up to their contractual obligations.
"It took awhile; it took almost three years to realize that whenever you’re a part of a television show, you’re going to be in a contract with a television show," explained Mora, of his association with the T.O.C. that eventually ended last year, as he inked a deal with Golden Boy Promotions. "Yeah, they gave you everything; they gave me great paydays and everything but little by little, I was noticing that they were keeping me inactive and I’m a fighter. I need to fight at least two times, three times a year and I was only fighting once a year and it was a bit of a no-no. It was totally detrimental towards my career.
"But I don’t regret it. I don’t regret being on ‘The Contender.’ I just regret the fact that I didn’t get out of the contract sooner."
No matter who you are, being on TV has its privileges. You get into clubs, where otherwise you’re just another guy stuck behind the velvet rope. You suddenly have all your meals comped. To women, you have become much better looking for whatever reason. Mora admits to going through such a phase where he lost a bit of perspective.
"Of course but not as bad as the other guys and I won’t name no names," he said. "But everyone else that was on that show thought they were a celebrity," explained Mora. "I think me winning the first season- which was the biggest season with the biggest prize that was shown around the world- I think I kept my head pretty straight. Of course, at times I had to pull myself back and put my feet back on the ground. But I did really well. I have always stayed humble; I’ve helped out the people. I’m still with the same team and I stayed loyal to ’The Contender.’ But it’s no coincidence now that I’m finally with a real promoter. I’m finally on a big card. It’s no coincidence."
But to their credit, the T.O.C. did get him an opportunity back in 2007 to face then-middleweight champion, Jermain Taylor, which Mora balked at, citing his belief that he could not win a decision in Memphis, Tennessee, a region he considered to be Taylor’s turf. But he did pass up a lucrative payday in the process. Eventually, that fight went to Cory Spinks. But Mora has no regrets.
"No, not at all," he insisted. "And till this day, Jeff Wald still throws that in my face that I made the biggest career mistake. No, I do not [regret it] because what happened to Cory Spinks. He won a decision in your eyes and my eyes as well but they didn’t give him that fight. So that’s exactly what would’ve happened to me. I would’ve made it a competitive fight; I would’ve lost. Yes, pick up a great payday, but then I just would’ve been pushed aside- like Cory Spinks. Instead, I waited till I was ripe. And here’s another thing; I never fought ten rounds. I was 17-0 and I was an eight-round fighter and they wanted me to fight the undisputed middleweight champion of the world on his network, in his hometown and I just didn’t see the sense of that."
But a year later in June of 2008, he shocked the world by defeating Vernon Forrest for the WBC junior middleweight title. He had done it; “The Contender” had become a bona fide champion. Problem was, he only had a cup of coffee with that title as he was soundly decisioned by Forrest in their rematch that September.
One of the main problems he had for that fight was the fact he had to lose 30 pounds in about a month-and-a-half leading into that return bout. The victory lap (where much alcohol was consumed) had worked against him, it seemed.
“28-pounds and it was five-and-a-half weeks," Mora clarified, before adding," and I don’t think it was even a victory lap- it was half-a-lap. They caught me off-guard and when they said, ’immediate rematch’, they meant immediate. My two favorite fighters, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, Duran got caught off-guard by Ray Leonard in that second fight. So he celebrated; he was able to do the victory lap. I got half-a-lap and I got it taken away. But that’s part of being a professional prizefighter and that’s also part of my discipline. I needed to stay focused and I needed to know that they were going to ring me at a moment’s notice and they did that.
"And they did it in a strategic way, I know they did."
The lopsided nature of that loss, takes away from the impact of his victory. "Of course it does," Mora, admitted bluntly. “It just stings because I win the belt and then almost three months later, it just gets taken away from me. Sure, I have a replica [of the WBC belt] at my house. Sure it’s going to go down in the history as I’m always a ‘former world champion’ but it hurts. I need to defend it. You hear a lot of these fighters say it’s easy to win it, hard to keep- absolutely true. So when you’re on top, everyone’s gunning for you."
He won’t be caught off-guard this time around. Soon after his initial outing under the Golden Boy banner in April, underneath the rematch between Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones (an impressive mid-round stoppage of Calvin Green) Mora and his management, which is now led by the respected Cameron Dunkin, immediately sought out their next assignment. After a few fights and dates fell through, the opportunity with Mosley was presented to them. And Mora, who already seems to be in fighting fit with the help of physical conditioner Robert Ferguson has had ten full weeks to get down to 154 pounds.
And Mora understands the challenge in front of him. Mosley is a guy who has never lost to an opponent of Mexican descent and his history at the venue they are fighting in is formidable. And forget about the guy who showed up to face Floyd Mayweather this past May.
"Oh, absolutely," said Mora, "because he had a long layoff and I know what it’s like to fight on long layoffs. You’re not the same fighter. Also, you’re fighting the best defensive fighter in the world. So I’m not going off that at all. I’m going out with the thought of [Antonio] Margarito, how he just annihilated Margarito. That’s what I have playing in my head over and over. And the fact that he’s undefeated at Staples Center. So I’m expecting a strong, motivated... just a beast. I’m expecting a beast in Shane Mosley and that’s who I gotta beat."
This here is the ultimate reality show. Win here and he forever legitimizes himself and his career. Lose and he’s just a footnote in history. A guy who caught a few lucky breaks.
"I think that’s what I live for; turn on the lights; you put all the doubt against me and have all the people either rooting for me or rooting against me and have me ready? I think I can be anybody," Mora states without hesitation. "And as long as I’m well-prepared and with my team solid and my game plan- no one can beat me.
"And I say that with full confidence. Nobody can beat me."