By Thomas Gerbasi
“I’m a firm believer of destiny,” said Sergio Mora during a recent teleconference to promote his Saturday main event bout against Sugar Shane Mosley in Los Angeles.
That’s not surprising, and there are plenty of people out there who join ‘The Latin Snake’ in that assertion, mainly because it’s always looked to the world that if there was the prototype for a star in a business that is in short supply of them, it was Mora.
A native of East Los Angeles, the same area that launched the career of ‘The Golden Boy’ himself, Oscar De La Hoya, Mora had the built-in geographical hook. Then came his stint on NBC’s ‘The Contender’, which brought his engaging personality and matinee idol looks into the nation’s living rooms every week. But somewhere between his reality television wins and Saturday night at STAPLES Center, something happened – or more apt, something didn’t happen.
Pegged with an albatross of a contract with ‘The Contender’ folks, which limited him to just three fights from the time the show ended in May of 2005 through 2006, things went from bad to worse in 2007, when he turned down a shot at Jermain Taylor’s middleweight title, saw a fight with Kassim Ouma get scrapped, and then suffered the first blemish on his record when he drew with Elvin Ayala in October of that year.
“Obviously, you can never judge something until the end of your career, but right now it still seems like maybe it was mistake,” said Mora of the aborted Taylor fight, still a hot button issue when it comes to his career. My team will tell you that it wasn't all my decision. It was my team's decision not to fight Jermain in Memphis. We had agreed to fight in LA and other places. But it was a team decision and I listened to them. I would have taken that fight. I feel that I could have beaten him, but that's in the past. We never know if it's going to be a mistake.”
Conventional wisdom is that it was, because even if he gave up a bit of size and a chunk of experience to Taylor, stepping up and delivering a rousing performance in defeat (or even victory, as he probably could have given Taylor fits stylistically) would have earned him tons of credibility with the fans, possibly the networks, and could have moved him into the upper echelon of the fight game. Because let’s face it, unless you’re well-connected, a go for broke brawler, or concussive knockout artist, that “0” at the end of your record only goes so far.
Eventually, you’ll have to step up, and after Mora rebounded from the draw with Ayala with a stoppage of Rito Ruvalcaba in January of 2008, he got his shot, stepped up to it, and made the most of it as he scored a stunning upset win over Vernon Forrest six months after the Ruvalcaba bout to win the WBC junior middleweight title. The glory was short-lived, a little over three months to be exact, as Forrest turned things around in the rematch and scored a clear-cut decision win. Some believed that Mora’s 15 minutes of fame were up, and that he would fall off the world-class radar, but in a stunning twist, the two bouts with Forrest only served to resurrect his career.
“The first fight with Vernon, I was very well prepared,” said Mora. “I had a ten week camp and I fought in a weight division where I had never fought before. I made that weight strong and confident and obviously I took the title away from him and surprised everybody, including him. The second fight was put together at last minute, one we did in five weeks and obviously I was depleted and shot and lost the title. But those 24 rounds with Vernon Forrest were the most educational experience that I've ever been through as a professional.”
And now Mora wanted to fight – all comers. There was only one set of problems, the same ones that plagued him in the period after the end of ‘The Contender.’ And after a 2009 bout with middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik was scrapped due to a staph infection, he was back on the shelf and more frustrated than ever, not surprising since he was losing precious months of activity in his physical prime.
So that summer, he came to a settlement with ‘Tournament of Contenders,’ the promotional arm of ‘The Contender’ to finish off his contract, signed a deal with uber-manager Cameron Dunkin (Pavlik’s manager as well) a month later, and by Christmas, he had a new promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, the outfit led by fellow East LA native Oscar De La Hoya. The light at the end of the tunnel had come for Mora, and it wasn’t an oncoming train.
“I think in the contract I was in with the people I was with, with ‘The Contender,’ they didn't really work well with other promoters,” said Mora. “They didn't put on their own shows. So we're excluded from the networks and those big dates. Now that I'm part of the best promotion team in boxing, in Golden Boy, they have all the political muscle. They have the dates and they have the talent. I just need to prove myself that I belong on those dates.”
April 3rd saw Mora’s return after a nearly two year layoff, as he stopped Calvin Green in seven heats. And now he gets Mosley. It’s not a fight that has set the boxing world on fire, despite being on Mexican Independence weekend in LA, and even with the tagline that Mora can become the first high-profile Mexican or Mexican-American fighter to beat Mosley (after De La Hoya, Antonio Margarito, and Fernando Vargas failed). And that may come down to a couple factors, including that the bout is on Pay-Per-View, and that stylistically, it’s a bull and matador fight, with Mora’s matador not expected to have the firepower to hold off Mosley’s bull.
“I usually feed off of my opponents,” said Mora. “I'm a defensive minded fighter that fights with adrenaline and passion. I also like to throw punches in bunches and in speed and combinations. I think Shane Mosley concentrates more on boxer punching and really putting some good power and leverage behind shots like he did against Antonio Margarito, who I've been sparring for ten years. I just need to fight smart and I can't let him take the lead. This is going to be a dance and I’ve got to be the leader. I have to be the one setting the pace. I'm the one that's going to control the action.”
“It's going to be a hard task to defuse a bomb like Mosley,” he continues. “But that's what we're going to have to do to find some way to beat this guy and come out the winner. It's going to be a hard task because this guy comes to knock everyone out. It's going to be an exciting night because fireworks are going to happen if I can't defuse his bomb. Because then that means that I'm going to have to go in there and battle with this guy and turn it into a war and that's what will happen.”
If Mosley-Mora becomes a war, it may be just what ‘The Latin Snake’ needs to propel him to the next level. If it doesn’t, and he just fights smart and outboxes Mosley en route to a 12 round decision, he may achieve the same result. And that’s the point of Saturday’s bout – to see if Mosley is still a viable big fight draw and if Mora can toss aside the disappointments of the past and take over that mantle in Southern California.
“The bottom line is I've had a lot of ups and downs from cancelled fights and injuries,” he said. “Even as an amateur, I've had a lot of letdowns. But I can't complain about my success either because I've had a lot of blessings and I think everything happens for a reason. There are ups and downs in life and that's how a boxing career is. The epitome of a fighter is to be just that. We just have to keep fighting.”
Sergio Mora gets it now. And if he pulls off the biggest win of his career Saturday, he might be right - maybe it’s all just destiny.