By Lyle Fitzsimmons, photo by Chris Cozzone
Around midnight on Saturday, the moods palpably changed.
Both mine and those of the brave souls still claiming to be Shane Mosley fans.
Still intoxicated by seeing our man in the ring two years since his last win – and happily downing the promotional Kool-Aid that made us dream of what the unlikely folly could accomplish – we sat in our seats and waited for the magic.
For the former triple-crown champion to emerge from the dressing room, break loose from the shackles of his 39-year-old reality and triumphantly lead us back to the days when he strode among the pound-for-pound elite.
It was all perfectly reasonable, we suggested.
After all, he was ripped as always at 147 pounds – seven down from the ugly draw with Sergio Mora.
After all, reviews from his gym work were noticeably, albeit predictably, smashing.
After all, he was still our “Sugar Shane.”
And because the night’s foe was programmed to do many of the things that had spelled peril for several of 43 previous victims – that alone would be enough.
The euphoria lingered and intensified as the Showtime PPV card evolved.
As two of Mosley’s fellow ex-elites – super middleweight Kelly Pavlik and junior featherweight Jorge Arce – climbed back from career setbacks, took their seats in the corner and burst from the stools to handle their business in punishing, dramatic and championship fashion.
A 10-round test of skills here. A 12-round measure of guts there.
Two wins. Both decisive. Each according to sentimental script.
And when a 43-year-old LL Cool J – who’s performed no small reinvention of his own – flanked Shane on the ring walk with a timelessly ominous “Mama Said Knock You Out” message, the promotional fires so painstakingly stoked by Top Rank reached an orchestrated white-hot crescendo.
As ring announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. excitedly exclaimed… it was “show time.”
Turns out, the show lasted barely more than six minutes.
About the time it took Mosley to shed his tough-guy entourage, acknowledge the breathless cheers and flick a few impotent jabs before tasting the onset of his 2011 reality – in the form of a lunging straight left hand that he’d have eluded and answered with a go-home punch only a few years ago.
Instead, this year’s portside volley caught him squarely on the chin, sapped the steel from his suddenly balky legs and sent him tumbling awkwardly to the floor on his side, where he instantly seemed to comprehend – much to his near-40 chagrin – that he was in a fight.
It was a fight he was no longer capable of winning, assuming it really ever had been, given the unmistakable pose of surrender he struck while taking Kenny Bayless’s mandatory count and frequently reverted to during subsequent between-rounds psych classes with trainer Naazim Richardson.
The flaccid to and fro continued for nine rounds after the already decisive moment, with Mosley gradually becoming less combative and more elusive outside of the unquestioned ability to match his opponent high-five for high-five after fouls, rounds and corner counsels.
Even a usually even-handed broadcast team acknowledged the lack of actual competition in the event’s aftermath, counseling the former lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight kingpin to end the charade that they’d all zealously bought into just a couple hours earlier.
“I’ve got to pinch myself to realize that I’m working this fight,” studio host James Brown said before the fight. Twelve rounds later, his mood had changed to “(Mosley) showed all the classic signs of an aging champion” and claimed he and the rest of the team “should have known better.”
For exactly how long Shane continues and for exactly what reasons, who knows?
In spite of his insistence that he can “still get in there with guys and do what I do,” it’d be hard to imagine even Mosley stubbornly believes he has enough left to push his luck against whatever good young fighters or active older ones hold other title belts he claims to covet.
In fact, as he strode more tiredly toward his corner and slumped more heavily onto his stool as the rounds dragged on, it appeared anything but the beginning of a long road back to the top.
Rather, the whole thing had the makings of a convenient golden parachute – allowing the elder fighter to return to the ring for one last go-round and cash a nice check with a minimum of violence.
He’d purge whatever poisons remained from the career-smudging match with Mora. And he’d put a few extra bucks in the account for Arum and Co. at Top Rank while providing name cache for Pacquiao as the Filipino continues his well-protected climb to the pound-for-pound wing at Canastota.
In spite of a dreadful end product Saturday, it seems both camps got what they wanted.
But when they go ahead and assemble next time around, I’ll make sure and skip the Kool-Aid.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior bantamweight title – Durango, Mexico
Cristian Mijares (champion) vs. Carlos Rueda (No. 11 contender)
Mijares (41-6-2, 18 KO): First title defense; Former WBC (2007-08) and WBA champion (2008)
Rueda (16-4-1, 13 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight in Mexico (2-2, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Multiple champ Mijares simply too good for double-digit challenger.” Mijares by decision
WBA super middleweight title – Carson, Calif.
Andre Ward (champion) vs. Arthur Abraham (No. 3 contender)
Ward (23-0, 13 KO): Third title defense; Eighteenth fight in California (17-0, 8 KO)
Abraham (32-2, 26 KO): Thirteenth title fight (11-1, 7 KO); Former IBF champion at 160 (2005-09)
Fitzbitz says: “Ward proves once again to be the class of Showtime TV tournament.” Ward by decision
Last week’s picks: 2-1
Overall picks record: 205-71 (74.2 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .