It was early the following Sunday morning, January 25th, 2009 when I watched the “Sugar” Shane Mosley and Antonio “The Tijuana Tornado” Margarito face off to battle in the revered squared circle. I woke up extra early to watch this fight on my DVR. I paced back and forth in the living room as I held my then infant daughter in my arms. Feisty at first, she ironically fell asleep as the action intensified in the ring. I remember my heart pumping in excitement and disbelief as Mosley hurt the seemingly indestructible Margarito with a left hook in the 8th round, later flooring him as the round ended for good measure. I was totally taken aback I had never seen
Margarito down before, not to mention hurt. Sure Joshua Clottey made him look one-dimensional, amateurish and predictable for the first five rounds of their clash, but he never once looked hurt. And after witnessing Margarito’s iron chin and the relentless pressure he applied during the Cotto fight, I shook my head in awe, suggesting to no one in particular that he should perhaps change his moniker to something more befitting, such as “Michael Meyers” or “The Terminator.” But since his fight with “Sugar” Shane, the controversy of his loaded gloves have since tarnished his defining win over Miguel Cotto, as well as his previous accomplishments, along with his reputation, and his character (even if you believe that Margarito didn’t know that his gloves were loaded). In his fight with Mosley, it almost seemed that the “Plaster of Paris” was found and removed from his beard, and not his gloves.
It is ironic how the fortunes of these two men changed so drastically from what was expected. It was a fight that was to solidify Margarito as ruler of the welterweights. And it was a fight that would end with Mosley contemplating retirement. Instead, it was an abrupt and catastrophic end to the short-lived dominion of the rising pugilist in his prime, and a surprising rebirth and re-emergence of an old warrior, thrust back into the division’s elite, after being written off as fodder for the young lion. Indeed, it was the perfect storm.
Let us look into the factors of this perfect storm and the background of the fight, and into the minds of these two fighters:
First Margarito. Coming into the fight, Margarito is six months removed from his last fight his greatest victory over arguably the number one welterweight at the time, Miguel Cotto. An underdog in the continuing saga of fights between Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, the Mexican national Margarito cements his claim with his rousing TKO victory of fellow champion and formerly undefeated antagonist. With Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s now defunct retirement, Margarito became the consensus kingpin of the 147-pound’s elite at the time. So the question is: did success go to his head? Did finally ascending the mountaintop to big paydays and recognition, after years being ducked and toiling in relative obscurity, lead him to complacency? Did he lose his hunger? Did he become overconfident? Did he train as hard as he should have? He had trouble making weight? Is that why he was flat? Is that why he was weak? Or perhaps his epic war with Cotto softened up that once thought indestructible chin. Unbeknownst to even himself, perhaps Margarito became damaged goods with the punishment he absorbed in that fight, even with the win. Or maybe Margarito lost his confidence. Could it be? He comes out for the ring walk to the adulation of the crowd. He acknowledges their praise, yet beneath that smile, there must be worry. Worry about what they found in his gloves worry that even if he wins, there may be consequences and repercussions. Perhaps he loses focus. He can’t let his hands go during the fight like he’s use to doing. He can’t connect as he normally does. He’s not as relentless as he normally is. He sees that his punches don’t have the same effect as they normally do. (On a side note: to me, Margarito never seemed to be murderous puncher that he was described as being. Not in effect, because he was hurting and knocking out his opponents, but it seemed that he was just throwing arm punches as opposed to really getting the force and velocity from the torque from twisting his torso and hips that you see from big punchers, such as Cotto. But I digress). He doesn’t see the punches coming from Mosley. His defensive liabilities are exposed he’s hurt, he’s rocked. Booming overhand rights and vicious left looks land with frightening precision on Margarito’s face, ending the fight and sending him to the realm of the dazed and confused, as he smiles in apparent embarrassment. Instead of Margarito the Conqueror, he becomes Margarito the Fallen Margarito the Conquered.
Next Mosley. Coming into the fight, Mosley is four months removed from knocking out Ricardo Mayorga with one second remaining in 12th round. Even with the win, Mosley was largely written off after that bout. The first round saw him eat a couple of wild haymakers from Mayorga, and admittedly, “Sugar” Shane did not look all that great in that bout until the last ound when he knocked the crazy Nicaraguan out cold. It seemed that most commentators saw this as the deterioration of Shane’s pugilistic skills. Upon closer inspection, I seemed to notice that Mayorga wasn’t as reckless as he was known to be, and so easy to hit. He certainly didn’t approach Shane the way he did Trinidad (defense anyone? caution?) or even De La Hoya. He was incredibly awkward, and actually, Mayorga seemed to be fighting the most cautious and cerebral fight he could muster haymakers were followed by immediately covering up (or at least a sense of defensive awareness). His chin was neither heedlessly up in the air, nor jutting out and being tapped to invite a combination of flush shots for the sake of machismo, as he did for Trinidad. He seemed to have learned from that humiliating experience. Nor did he wildly stand and trade like he did with De La Hoya. There was a lot of grabbing and holding and wrestling and mauling. Yes, he made it an ugly, awkward fight with Mosley. Yet Shane was still able to endure, pick his spots, wear him down, and ultimately at the end, left Mayorga stiff and glass-eyed, lying motionless on the canvas.
Yet, in fighting Margarito, Shane was considered the aging lion on his way out. At 37, he was no spring chicken. He didn’t seem to have the same pop as before. He was seen as a shell of the pound-for-pound fighter he was when he dominated De La Hoya in 2000. In retrospect, at that time, ironically, people were actually worried for him.
Mosley saw this as his opportunity to get back on top, and he capitalized. Yet perhaps there is more to the story than just what is on the surface an upset victory. “Sugar” Shane comes into the bout with a conflict more imminent than the one in the ring in the bedroom. Surprisingly, Mosley is having marital problems (?). It leaves you shaking your head in bewilderment. Why? Why would Jin Mosley want to divorce her husband? I don’t get it. He’s not a deadbeat, by all indications he seems like a great husband and father. He’s seems easy going and loving to his family, and in return, loved and respected by his children. He always seemed gracious in both victory and defeat. To my knowledge, he wasn’t accused of fighting dirty (like a Hopkins). I never heard of him having any problems outside the ring (except of course, the whole BALCO scandal and whether or not it’s true, it’s easy to believe “Sugar” Shane when he says admits taking the steroids, but claims he was ignorant of the fact it was steroids he was taking. This is refuted by Conte and others, but of course, this is boils down to a “he said, she said” situation, and a question of “who do you trust?” but again, I digress). He seemed liked the quintessential family man; except his job demanded that he mercilessly punch people in the face. He seemed like a genuinely nice and good person. Yet of course, the public persona is not always truly reflective of the private person. Nowhere is this truer than in the privacy of the home and family, and especially in the marital relationship. No one knows your faults better than your husband or wife, that’s for sure. But being of Korean ancestry myself, it would be hard for me to fail to recognize the strong, domineering Korean woman in the in the person of Jin Mosley, as the strain runs strong in my own family. It was Jin Mosley who initiated the divorce it was her that filed the papers, and it came the DAY of the fight. It was a fight where supposedly Shane was in for the fight of his life. It was the supposedly the most dangerous opponent of his life. It was one of the most significant, pivotal fights in his career and for his future, and for that of his family. And on the very day he most needs the support of his family, (that very day, mark you!) his wife files for divorce!?! It just seems ridiculous to me. The very day! Why? Yes, I side, albeit admittedly fairly ignorantly and somewhat capriciously, on the side of the husband, because again, I can only surmise. Perhaps the accusations stemming from his BALCO involvement is true. Perhaps he’s got a darker, dirty side privately, coupled with a carefully crafted wholesome public image. Or maybe his wife thought it was time to hang up his gloves. Maybe Jin Mosley feared for her husband’s health and safety and believed the naysayers claiming “Sugar” Shane would be trampled by the freight train Margarito. Perhaps she feared for him. Maybe she pleaded with him, implored and even forbid the Pomona native to fight under threat of divorce. Maybe she didn’t believe in him as a fighter anymore, and didn’t want to see him get hurt seriously hurt. Maybe “Shane” was obstinate, stubbornly going forward with the fight, even with his wife’s determined resistance. Who knows? And really, it is none of my business or anybody else’s besides the members of the family themselves. I have no more knowledge and information than the average person concerning this situation, other than also drawing upon my own personal thoughts, background, and experiences, but my point is this: How did this affect Shane Mosley? How was he feeling? What was going through his mind? Regardless of who is to blame for the marital problems, it must have had some sort of impact on the pugilist in question. Would he not be feeling upset, perhaps angry, bitter, betrayed, frustrated and/or disillusioned? Perhaps all the above and more, or some combination thereof. Some would be overwhelmed by such outside distractions; others are able to block it out and channel the energy to use as motivation, and intensify their focus to overcome their opponent. Obviously, “Sugar” Shane is one who used it to his advantage.
Let me back up a little. I’ve always felt nervous when Mosley fought, at least in recent fights. Let me just say that I have watched countless fights over the last almost 8 years as a rabid boxing fan. I am a Shane Mosley fan, both as a pugilist, and as a person. I root for him to win every time he fights. I remember watching Mosley’s two fights with Vargas, and I distinctly remember being nervous (the first time I remember) - nervous for him. Why? Well, I’m normally fairly excited and nervous during the ring walk, introductions, and first round, etc., for any big fight (sometimes even a regular fight, for that matter), but with Mosley, I’m nervous for almost the WHOLE fight. I’m not nervous he’s going to get knocked out, or at least I shouldn’t be he has an excellent chin. Maybe not the Collazo fight, but during the Cotto fight, and the Mayorga fight, I was nervous. Why? Because of the “Sugar” Shane’s nervous energy and jittery vibe he gives off in the ring his foot movement, herky-jerky upper-body feinting and head movement. I remember during the Cotto fight, his dad actually said to Shane in the corner between rounds early in the fight (and I’m paraphrasing), “Calm down, son, relax. This is your fight, this is your playground” something to that effect. Yeah, sure, all fighters are nervous during a fight (who wouldn’t be?), but this nervousness was distinctive about Mosley at least to me. This is my point: when I watched his fight with Margarito, I did not feel nervous almost AT ALL. I would’ve expected me to be the most nervous out of all his fights given the opponent he was facing and the prior consensus about the outcome of the fight. Now, upon reflection, this struck me as odd. Why did I not feel nervous? This is why: because Shane Mosley was not nervous HIMSELF. Now, you may ask me, “why is this significant? Why go through this whole diatribe about Shane’s situation and his state of mind, his nervousness and so forth? I’ll tell you why. Shane was a different fighter that night.
Maybe it was because of his new trainer, Nazim Richardson. Yes, he is an excellent, underrated trainer, and a brilliant strategist. He brings a cerebral approach to training. He brings unorthodox methods. But more than this, he brings a certain deliberate calmness. His demeanor is one of thoughtfulness like a cunning predator working out the best way to catch its prey. Nazim certainly seems to have revitalized Shane Mosley and his career, bringing to the table something to raise Shane’s game to the next level something that the father and former trainer of Shane Mosley, Jack Mosley, could not. But in spite of all this, perhaps Mosley recent conquest over Margarito may be attributable to something more.
Before, it seemed that Mosley fought as though he would lose everything if he lost in the ring. It was as if he was terrified to lose. It was as if he carried the burden of the entire fortunes of his family on his shoulders (of course, these are only my impressions). But during the Margarito fight, with his family life shaken up and fallen apart, he fought as if he had nothing to lose he fought like it was another day at the office. Mosley was a stone-cold killer that night a cold-blooded assassin, an executioner. More than that, he seemed to fight with a bitterness of soul. As he knocked out Margarito, he looked almost indifferent simply another notch on his belt no exultation, no exhibition of celebration, no emotional outburst. Shortly after the fight was stopped, Shane turned to each of the four sides of the ring and performed four perfunctory bows to the crowd. Where was the cry of victory, where was the joy, where was the exhilaration? It was obvious his mind was somewhere else most obviously centered on his drastically different life outside the ring. The post fight interview was reminiscent of the reporter interviewing Clint Eastwood’s character at the end of “Unforgiven” understated with a hint of malice. “Yeah, I did it. I hurt him, I took advantage, and I knocked him out. I’m the new champ, no problem I was always good at punching opponents in the face end of story.” Yes, I’m obviously exaggerating, but there wasn’t usual twinkle in his eye or classy grace to which we’ve become accustomed from this gentlemanly gladiator. Instead, just a cold, dark vibe emanated from the newly crowned king. There was no talk of redemption or hardly even a sense of major accomplishment, as if Magarito was your run-of-the-mill journeyman. Compare this post fight interview to the one from the second Vargas fight. It’s be like comparing a little boy describing his happy first day of school to a hardened criminal stoically describing the gruesome details of his latest successful (yet hardly intriguing) ghastly endeavor. You get the idea.
The question: “Is the sweetness gone?” is a two-fold question. First, is Shane Mosley a different fighter? Is Shane Mosley, the one bounding with nervous energy and hyperactive, jerky movement is he gone? Has he been replaced by a methodic, systematic executioner? He came out and destroyed Margarito. It was utter domination; it was a cold-blooded beat down. Was this a fluke or not? Was this a one-shot deal or is this the “new and improved” Shane Mosley from here on out? Are we truly witnessing return and new reign of Mosley as welterweight king? As I mentioned before, at 38, he is no spring chicken. Did he just fight the fight of his life like Buster Douglas that one improbable night in Tokyo when he knocked out Mike Tyson? (Buster Douglas fought with a heavy heart, yet was duly inspired, as his mother passed away shortly before the fight. In his next fight, Evander Holyfield easily knocked him out.) But of course, Shane Mosley is no Buster Douglas. Yet the question still remains: Is Mosley the true reigning kingpin of the welterweights? Or is he just an aging monarch who recaptured former glory for one night, but is still on his way out?
Second, is Shane Mosley now a different person? I remember that a friend of mine jokingly asked, “Is Shane’s Mosley nicknamed “Sugar” because he is so sweet?” referring to his personality, and not to his boxing skills. Did we see “Sugar” Shane turn bitter for just one night? Or is this who he now is? Is this a permanent change? Has he become disillusioned his opponents now his outlet for his frustration? Shane Mosley has become a person who begged for a fight with Pacquiao. Perhaps goaded on, but he stooped to interrupt Mayweather’s post fight interview, just minutes after his victory of Marquez, to call him out for a fight. This is the same fighter that gave Winky Wright a chance at the expense of his own career. Has it come to this? Is this who he is now? Is it? Where is the sweetness? Is it still there? Is he now jaded and bitter about life, yet still agreeable on the outside? Watching 24/7, though he is impeccably polite and reserved even when provoked, do I still sense an undercurrent of bitterness beneath that pleasant smile, or it is just my imagination? Should his new moniker now be “Bitter” or even “Sour” Shane Mosley?
Though one day, father time will erode Mosley’s boxing skills, I for one, hopes nothing will erode the sweetness in his smile and the sweetness in his heart. We’ll just have to see.
As for his identity as a fighter, that question will be answered on the night of May 1st, 2010, when “Sugar” Shane Mosley defends his welterweight crown defensive whiz and fellow highly pound-for-pound, always brash, Floyd “Money” Mayweather, Jr. I’m dying to tune in and find out.