By Cliff Rold
“Sugar” Shane Mosley is a star in the world of Boxing, but the cruel winds of fate probably kept him from being more. There’s no way to know for sure. Star power and the affections of the public are fickle commodities. A punch or point though, here or there, and it might have different for the Southern California native.
The Barcelona Olympiad in 1992 came and went with only a single Gold Medal for the United States. Mosley saw it all on television.
Had he been there, he would have been a favorite for the Gold Medal stand. Instead, he watched a man who would eventually cast a shadow over his career in entirety, Vernon Forrest, bow out in the opening round of the Light-Welterweight competition. The lone Gold Medalist, fellow Southern Californian Oscar De La Hoya, parlayed the accomplishment into almost immediate wealth and prestige and then even more.
Mosley built from the ground up. Eventually, he would find De La Hoya across the ring from him on two memorable occasions but it is fun to imagine a world where both had run the field in Spain. How much bigger could their showdowns have been? How much more of the attention of the sporting public would have fixed their attention on the Staples Center in June 2000? How much healthier might the sport be now?
Mosley’s career is of quality without the how’s.
Almost sixteen years into his professional tenure, the question is asked:
How good is Shane Mosley, measured against all-time?
In answering the question, five categories will be examined:
2. Competition Faced
3. Competition Not Faced
4. Reaction to Adversity
5. What’s Left to Prove
With that in mind, let’s head to…
The Tale of the Tape
Homeland: Pomona, California
Turned Professional: February 11, 1993 (KO5 Greg Puente)
Record: 45-5, 38 KO
Record in Title Fights: 14-5, 11 KO
Lineal World Titles: World Welterweight (2000-02, 3 Defenses); World Jr. Middleweight (2003-04, 0 Defenses)
Other Major Titles: IBF Lightweight (1997-99, 8 Defenses); WBC Welterweight (2000-02, 3 Defenses); WBC/WBA Jr. Middleweight (2003-04, 0 Defenses)
Current/Former Lineal World Champions Defeated: 2 (Oscar De La Hoya, Ricardo Mayorga)
Current/Former Lineal World Champions Faced in Defeat: 2 (Vernon Forrest, Winky Wright)
Current/Former Alphabet Titlists Defeated/No Contested: 6 (Phillip Holiday, John John Molina, Jesse James Leija, Raul Marquez (NC), Fernando Vargas, Luis Collazo)
Current/Former Alphabelt Titlists Faced in Defeat or Draw: 1 (Miguel Cotto)
Long before becoming one of the more recognizable modern names in the paid game, Mosley was a name well known to the gym rats, trainers and scouts who plan the sports tomorrows. A three-time U.S. Amateur champion from 1989-1992, twice at Lightweight and once at Light-Welterweight, Mosley also captured the World Junior championship at Lightweight in 1989. On the global open stage, Mosley would capture Bronze in the same division at the 1990 Goodwill Games. His 1992 Olympic trials loss to Forrest came in the semi-finals.
Waiting until 1993 to turn professional, Mosley tallied 23 victories and went the distance only once before challenging undefeated Phillip Holiday for the IBF Lightweight belt in August 1997. While less than scintillating, the decision in Mosley’s favor was unanimous and he followed with eight consecutive defenses by knockout, five of them in 1998. By the end of his run at 135 lbs. in 1999, Mosley was heralded as one of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound by fistic followers but needed bigger names to get his name beyond those circles.
Electing as Lightweight legend Roberto Duran had a generation before to skip entirely past the Jr. Welterweight division, Mosley picked up two more knockouts at Welterweight and almost immediate acclaim as no less than the second best Welterweight in the World. Number one was De La Hoya, the WBC titlist, recently and controversially deposed as lineal champion by a vacating Felix Trinidad. The first Mosley-De La Hoya confrontation is regarded in some historical circles as the quick rebirth of lineage at Welterweight and, for Mosley, the night he was truly born into the game’s elite. Overcoming a scorecard deficit through the first six rounds, Mosley captured a split decision which should have been unanimous.
Elevated by Ring Magazine to number one pound for pound, past Trinidad and even Roy Jones Jr., three defenses would follow before the shadow of Forrest cast a pall over Mosley again. Dropped twice in the second round and nearly stopped in the tenth, Mosley took a shelling en route to a unanimous decision loss of the Welterweight crown in January 2002. A tepid rematch between the two in July of the same year produced the same result, if no real fireworks, and then De La Hoya came calling again.
Perhaps seeing vulnerability in the one man who the public universally saw as having defeated him, Oscar locked horns with Mosley a second time in September 2003 for the lineal, WBC and WBA titles at Jr. Middleweight. Again Mosley fell behind early and again a late surge saw him into the victory circle, this time unanimously.
There would be no reign of note. Mosley was dominated in his next outing, the crown wrested away by Winky Wright in March 2004. Unlike the case with Forrest, Mosley was able to make it exciting and close in a November rematch, losing a narrow majority decision.
Since the Wright losses, Mosley was temporarily recognized as the WBC’s interim titlist at Welterweight in 2007 after decisioning Luis Collazo. He was defeated by the sanctioning body’s outright titlist, Miguel Cotto, later in the year.
Mosley was selected as Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1998 and by the Southern California-based World Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000. His first bout with De La Hoya was selected as Event of the Year by Ring Magazine in 2000 and in September 2001, Mosley was selected by Ring as the thirteenth best Lightweight of all-time.
Like most fighters, Mosley made his way through the rankings where he could, facing an assortment of veterans and journeyman to secure a rating and get a shot at one of the belts available at 135. Ultimately the shot would come against a 31-0 Holiday. While not necessarily seen as the best of the Lightweight titlists, Holiday was attempting a seventh defense in a reign which included a knockout of faded Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech and undefeated fighters Ivan Robinson and Rocky Martinez.
8-0 with 8 KO’s looks good as a championship ledger and the numbers say a lot about why Mosley was so highly regarded during his Lightweight reign. Behind the numbers, there are some good if not great challengers and the statistics lose a touch of luster. Of the eight challengers he faced, Molina and Leija were former 130 lb. titlists who, while past their best, were still dangerous world class foes. Manuel Gomez and John Brown would go on to challenge for major belts again after falling short versus Mosley. Eduardo Morales was undefeated going into the Mosley fight while Golden Johnson and Demetrio Ceballos would both remain relevant, testing journeyman for years.
The competition was steeper when Mosley made the jump to 147. He started out in September 1999 with a grizzled Wilfredo Rivera who had come close, in the first of two 1996 encounters, to toppling Pernell Whitaker. Mosley struggled early but finished with a devastating tenth round knockout. He followed in January 2000 with a three-round walkover of Willy Wise one fight removed from Wise’s major upset of an aged Julio Cesar Chavez. The leap to De La Hoya followed.
Mosley’s reign at Welterweight featured three successful defenses, one of them excellent and the other two pedestrian. Antonio Diaz was a world class battler who never quite got over the hump to the titled circles; Mosley dominated and stopped him in six. Shannan Taylor was undefeated if untested and Adrian Stone was at least a capable veteran. The first Forrest battle followed as did the second, both in 2002. Sanctioning body politics prevented it from being a unification bout as Forrest gave up the IBF belt on the road to Mosley. While Mosley was defeated in both fights, Forrest had been widely regarded as an avoided fighter for years and Mosley met the burden of a champion in accepting his challenge.
With Forrest nested atop 147 lbs., Mosley pursued the chance for career revival at Jr. Middleweight. A February 2003 battle with yet another 1992 Olympian, former WBA 154 lb. titlist Raul Marquez, resulted in a “No Contest” when the orthodox/southpaw clash produced a predictable head butt ending. Of course, this led to the Oscar rematch, a fight whose scores were and still can be wildly debated. In recent vintage, this fight has also been at the center of Mosley’s now acknowledged use of performance enhancers and connection to BALCO labs in California, a subject to be discussed in detail later.
The BALCO rumors swirling, Mosley rejected a third fight with De La Hoya for money reasons and, as he had with Forrest, agreed to face the most avoided Jr. Middleweight in the world. Again, as with Forrest, Mosley learned why others had chosen the path away from his foe. Wright dominated Mosley and appeared near a stoppage late before settling for a unanimous decision win and retained the title in their immediate return.
Forrest having been deposed and the lineal Welterweight crown in a steady rotation of hands not seen since perhaps the early 1930s, Mosley elected to move back towards men more naturally his size in 2005. Fringe contenders David Estrada and Jose Luis Cruz allowed him a toe back in the water by way of twin unanimous decisions.
The wins allowed him rebuilt confidence but no major Welterweight opportunities so Mosley elected to head towards the economic incentives waiting in a pair of bouts with fellow Southern California star and former IBF and WBA Jr. Middleweight titlist Fernando Vargas in 2006. Believed well past his best, Vargas put on a gutsy, contested show before a swollen eye ended the first bout in ten; Mosley pancaked Vargas in six rounds of the return. Claiming dental work would preclude a challenge of then-reigning Welterweight king Floyd Mayweather, Mosley sat out most of the second half 2007 before making another Welterweight return versus former the WBA titlist Collazo.
Since Collazo he has fought twice, losing a narrow decision in a 2007 Fight of the Year candidate to Miguel Cotto and stopping former Welterweight king in the twelfth and final round of an awkward, competitive Jr. Middleweight affair.
Competition Not Faced
As noted in previous editions of “Measured Against All-Time,” this section is not concerned with why fights didn’t get made. It simply embraces their lack of existence.
Highlighted already, Mosley has been rated mention with some of the better Lightweights of All-Time, but the opposition following Holiday may haunt his chances for more elevated historical stature. Bouts with any of the other three major titlists failed to materialize and two of the three were considerably better than anyone Mosley faced in his eight IBF defenses. WBA titlist Orzubek Nazarov was in the midst of a strong, five-year WBA title reign which did not end until 1998. WBC titlist Stevie Johnston, a former amateur rival, also failed to share a ring with Mosley as did the man who interrupted Johnston’s two reigns, Cesar Bazan. Johnston is by far the more notable. Nazarov’s conqueror, Jean Baptiste Mendy, had previously lost to Johnston and then-undefeated WBO titlist Artur Grigorian began a lengthy title reign overseas in 1996.
Some will note 140 lb. stalwart Kostya Tszyu as a miss but Mosley’s choice never to compete at the weight makes it a difficult case. At Welterweight, during his own title reign, Mosley missed briefly reigning WBA titlist Andrew Lewis and in the years since the reign hasn’t had the chance to face other notable champions like Zab Judah (injuries to Judah aborted this bout in 2008) and Cory Spinks. He also created the public perception of blowing a fight with Mayweather in 2006.
Mosley’s Jr. Middleweight runs have been spotty but with bouts against De La Hoya and Wright it’s hard to point to any particular foe that stands out as not faced. Weighed side by side, Mosley’s quality of competition above Lightweight leaves little to be desired but at Lightweight is strongly lacking.
Reaction to Adversity
Mosley is a fight fans fighter. His reactions to adversity, inherent to the style he’s shown in the ring, are at the root of why. The naked examples came in his biggest wins and worst defeat. Many fighters, behind on the scorecards as he was against De La Hoya twice, might have grown frustrated or panicked. Mosley showed the rare athletic intangible of being able to find another gear when he needed it. In the first fight, his speed and volume were apparent but the sheer will he was displaying are what made the fight the classic it is. In the final round, both Mosley and De la Hoya let it all hang out but every time Oscar went up a notch Mosley raced past him to set a new bar.
Against Forrest, the first of two knockdowns was brutal and the punishment he endured on the road back to the floor was as well. Mosley fought his way to his feet both times. In the tenth, a body shot folded him in half, forcing a yelp from his mouth, but he stayed up and continued to look for a big shot to turn things around.
There are other examples.
Against Wright the first time, when he appeared drained, he kept firing and refused to capitulate. Faced with deficits of strength and youth, it was Mosley who had Cotto backing up late. Mosley fights like he doesn’t just want to win but needs it. The BALCO allegations reveal a fighter who may have needed it too much.
The downside for Mosley’s competitive nature is evidenced in the use of performance enhancers, occurring at least around the time of the second De La Hoya fight, at a point when perceptions existed that Mosley was at a brick wall. A loss in that 2003 bout may well have derailed Mosley’s career for good after the losses to Forrest and a blasé showing with Marquez. The BALCO story illustrates the desperation of a man on the professional verge and his reaction to this bit of adversity is as deserving of attention as any positive element.
The pressures on fighters to win at all costs, and the scarcity of major paydays, had to play a role in the ways Shane chose to prepare. He claims publicly not to have realized he was cheating but he also had to know he wasn’t just taking vitamins. It’s not to say the mistake Mosley made reflects a bad person, but it was a mistake and in a sport where the purpose is in part to do physical damage to another man it was one which could have had dire results.
What’s Left to Prove
Ironically, a Mosley presumed off the juice has looked better than the one who was on it in recent years. His punch volume has returned after a first Welterweight run where he became more convinced of single shot power. It allowed him the excellent win and loss to Collazo and Cotto and could serve him well against Margarito.
Unlike many 37 year old fighters, Mosley is a fighter who still does have things to prove. He’s built a Hall of Fame resume and will be remembered as one of the more accomplished fighters of his time. However, when one takes on the nom de guerre of “Sugar,” that standards are high. Mosley hasn’t been Ray Seales, but he’s fallen well short of Leonard and Robinson.
A victory over Margarito could change a lot of perspective about Mosley and lay the groundwork for even bigger things. Margarito isn’t just another fighter. Besides being seen as the world’s best at 147 right now, Margarito’s also been the most steady and consistent presence in the division’s upper echelon through the early 2000’s. A win sets up the chance to avenge the Cotto loss and creates the opportunity to face a comebacking Floyd Mayweather. A late career run with those scalps could give Mosley the strongest career Welterweight ledger since Leonard or at least Donald Curry.
Considering the age when he’d be doing it, it would redefine an already acclaimed career for the better.
Measured Against History
As it stands now, he’d need wins like that late to move into the sphere of All-Time greatness. Like so many aging fighters, Mosley’s enemy is the pace of his past and time running out. Fighters of the modern era don’t have the unreal number of fights and subsequent depth of strong wins old-time fighters had. Needing wins against younger, elite fighters as he creeps towards 40 years old is a tough place to be and the obstacle of the Forrest and Wright losses are real. So too are obstacles in who he did not face.
He doesn’t merit much historical mention with the best ever at 147 and 154 based on his career so far and it would be very hard to make a serious case for Mosley as one of the top fifty of all-time. The top one hundred would be more difficult than many contemporary fans realize as well. In retrospect, the biggest gap between Mosley and the very best that ever did it is likely to come not from any defeats up the scale but what he failed to do at Lightweight. Johnston and Nazarov weren’t just average titlists. They were exceptional fighters and his Lightweight resume is hollow without them.
It’s not to say those fights were easy or even realistically made. They are absent regardless. Johnston and Nazarov were so much better than most of the Lightweights he actually did beat that wins against them could have made the difference in an invitation to arguments with names like Duran, Whitaker, and Williams. It’s not enough to say he would have been favored to beat them. It’s why they fight the fights.
In recent vintage, quality of competition makes Mosley’s undefeated Lightweight resume difficult to argue as superior to an occasionally defeated Jose Luis Castillo who faced most if not all of the best Lightweights in the world from 2000-05. In a broader look, Ring’s 2001 rating of Mosley at #13, over the likes of Henry Armstrong, Esteban De Jesus and Ken Buchanan, was perhaps influenced by pound-for-pound feelings of the moment because the record in terms of quality certainly didn’t outweigh his alleged inferiors.
It could have had a much stronger case.
The chance exists to overcome the objections with an amazing final run at Welterweight but the odds, and the stories history tells of the affects on the bodies of the fistic old, don’t bode well.
Judged to date, Mosley can walk away, win or lose against Margarito, knowing that his titles in three weight classes and overall career stand on their own merits. He wouldn’t be the first man to enter Canastota based on a very good career which fell just short of history’s highest peaks while thrilling fans for years along the way.
We’ll never know what might have been had Mosley shared the medal podiums with De La Hoya. What Boxing fans got in exchange was more than enough.
Verdict Shane Mosley: Not All-Time Great but Still Easily Hall of Fame
Author’s Note: This is an occasional series which will examine the most accomplished of modern fighters in seeking to establish how their careers stack up with history’s finest.
Joe Calzaghe – https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=16920
Oscar De La Hoya – https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17277
James Toney – https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17450
Evander Holyfield – https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17642
Next up: A Retrospective Look at Dariusz Michalczewski
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org