By Thomas Gerbasi
Psychiatrists would likely have a field day trying to analyze why a person would watch the sport of boxing. Is it the violence, the action, the visceral thrill, or the idea that two consenting adults are doing something most wouldn’t have the guts to attempt?
For me, and I’m guessing I’m not alone, the lure of boxing lies in the mountain.
‘What is the mountain’, you might ask, and as you’ll probably guess, it’s not a literal mountain, but the idea that every fighter, at one time or another, has to face the impossible, has to look at something in front of him that he has seemingly very little chance at conquering, and yet he moves forward.
So if football is a metaphor for war, then what is boxing? Yes, those who play football suffer the same bumps and bruises, and as we’re finding out, the lasting damage can be just as bad, if not worse. But those athletes compete on a level playing field with equipment and teammates to protect them. Boxers don’t have that luxury. They are armed with gloves, mouthpieces, cups, and if they’re lucky, a good referee and good cornermen.
Those are big ‘ifs’, and it’s been the stories of the interchangeable journeymen, the fringe contenders, the down on their luck champions looking for one last shot that have always been the most fascinating.
Shane Mosley is none of those things. He’s a three division world champion who will have a place waiting for him in the Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota five years after he hangs up the gloves. He’s got money in the bank and another healthy payday coming this Saturday night when he battles pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas.
But who is really giving him a chance to win? I’m not, and I would admittedly classify myself as a Mosley loyalist since he first reigned over the lightweight division in the late 90s. Back then, with a mix of speed, power, and brutal body punching, it appeared that “Sugar” Shane would reign forever.
No one reigns forever though, and as a professor of the game, even at that young age, he knew it. He told me back then that he knew a loss would eventually be tagged onto his record, and that there would be fighters who just had his number. The late Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright were two, handing him four of his six losses. The only other two fighters to beat him, Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather Jr, will likely join Mosley in Canastota when it’s all said and done, so there’s no shame there either. But again, despite his track record, despite the fact that he still has speed and probably more single punch thudding power than Pacquiao, will you say he has a shot against the Filipino icon?
You know the answer, and it probably has everything to do with everything Mosley has shown since the third round of his bout against Mayweather last May. After seriously hurting “Pretty Boy” in the second stanza, Mosley received a boxing lesson from Mayweather en route to a near shutout defeat. Four months later he received an even harsher public flogging after fighting to a draw with Sergio Mora. And he’s 39, his once jackhammer reflexes have dulled, he doesn’t throw punches in combination anymore, and his brutal body attack ceases to exist.
And that’s only counting one side of the equation. In the other corner, Pacquiao shows no signs of slowing down as he continues his amazing journey up the laundry list of boxing weight classes. At 32, he is likely in his physical prime, he has only lost a mere handful of the nearly 55 rounds he’s fought in the six fights since his razor-thin win over Juan Manuel Marquez in their 2008 rematch, and when you consider that Mosley is still a marquee name, his scalp is probably one Pacquiao would love to have, especially if a stoppage surpasses Mayweather’s win and forces “Pretty Boy”s hand when it comes to putting on the only current SuperFight the world really needs to see.
So why is it even happening? Top Rank boss Bob Arum is more than an honest in his reasoning when he says, “the reason Shane was selected for this fight is because we know that we are in the entertainment business. And we know that Manny Pacquiao against Shane Mosley will be one hellacious and entertaining fight.”
For as long as it lasts, it certainly has the potential to be just that, and that’s why most will be tuning in, to see what should be either an entertaining fight eventually won by Pacquiao, or a one-sided thrashing that adds to the Pacquiao legacy and sends Mosley off into the sunset with a multi-million dollar boxing equivalent of a gold watch.
Me, I’m watching to see if Mosley can climb the mountain.
I want to see if for one last time, he can pull “Sugar” out of himself for one last great performance. I want to see him go to body whenever he gets close to Pacquiao, and not with pitty-pat shots, but the kind that start behind his back and rip into an opponent’s body with a thud. I want to see three and four punch combinations, and I want to see enough of that old speed that he can deal with the in and out rushes of the Filipino dervish and fire back with some more shots of his own. I want to believe that this wasn’t just another money grab, but a legit fight where the outcome is in doubt until the final bell.
Luckily for us watching from outside the ropes, Mosley has always been that kind of legit fighter who doesn’t say things just to make good copy. He’s a fighter in a day and age when “real” fighters don’t populate the sport like they used to. Sure, there are great boxers, great punchers, and great athletes, but who lives the sport the way guys like Mosley do? Before his aborted fight with Andre Berto early last year, he told me of walking by local gyms in California, seeing trainer friends of his, and agreeing to spar with their prospects.
Who does this?
“I love to fight,” said Mosley back then. “It’s a job, but it’s not really a job to me because I’m a warrior in the heart. So when it’s time to fight, I fight. Until I finish my career and do what I’ve got to do, I look at myself as one of the top fighters right now. This era of the fight game can still have great fights, but right now there’s not a lot of guys that have heart like I do. Me and Bernard Hopkins, we’re two older guys who fight with our hearts, which is good.”
It’s been good, that’s for sure, maybe even great. Then you think of the future and what toll this sport can take. Again, it goes back to the original question of why people watch boxing. If you look too hard at what can happen to prizefighters after the final bell, you can question your own morality. Millions squandered, health deteriorated, trouble adjusting to life outside of the spotlight, it’s enough to make you want to stop watching just to save your soul.
But you don’t and I don’t.
Like the great fighters, you become practitioners of a lying game. Great fighters tell themselves that the punches don’t hurt, that they’re not tired, and that the blood flowing from their noses and from cuts over their eyes really isn’t that bad. And as the years go by and your reflexes dull and your speed diminishes, you just say you’ve developed your ‘old man strength.’
On our side, we buy the Pay-Per-Views, read the magazines and websites, and cheer louder than anyone for our favorites, knowing in the back of our minds that the George Foremans and Sugar Ray Leonards of this sport are few and far between.
We’ve made our pact with the fighters though. They fight, we watch, and no matter what happens, we will not be disloyal to our favorites. When Arturo Gatti stepped into the ring at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the last time in July of 2007, the fans there knew that his best days were long behind him. But they showed up one more time, out of loyalty and out of respect for a career of thrills. And when he was stopped in seven rounds by Alfonso Gomez, some in attendance cried. I saw the same tears on the F train in New York after Felix Trinidad was finished in the 12th round of his bout against Bernard Hopkins, and if Mosley meets a similar fate this weekend, there may be some wet eyes at the MGM Grand as well.
Mosley doesn’t want to hear such talk though, and while he’s always said the right thing in pre-fight interviews, he has to believe more than ever now. This isn’t Oscar De La Hoya in 2000 or Antonio Margarito in 2009. He’s fighting Manny Pacquiao, who is likely the best boxer he’s ever faced. And he’s 39 and Pacquiao is 32; he’s fast, but Pacquiao’s faster, and he’s supposed to be the nail while Pacquiao’s the hammer. Why else would talk be hitting the wires about Pacquiao’s next fight before this one even takes place?
That’s boxing. It’s a young man’s game, a sport where your retirement package comes with a week of swollen eyes, stitches, and headaches, and where what wouldn’t have been imaginable when you were in your prime is now all too real.
There can be miracles though. So while Shane Mosley has no shot at beating Manny Pacquiao, only one person needs to believe that he can, and that’s the man climbing the mountain.