By Thomas Gerbasi
“I just want to fight healthy.”
From the mouths of some, there would be a pleading element to the above statement, a desire to say ‘hey, give me one more shot.’ But when Shane Mosley says it, it’s as if he’s given up on trying to convince the world that he wasn’t at his best in the last four years, that what some call excuses were only reasons, reasons that will make all the sense in the world when he makes his return to the ring Saturday night in Cancun against Pablo Cesar Cano.
It’s been slightly over a year since Mosley was last seen in a boxing ring, losing a lopsided 12 round decision to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez. To say it was the best Mosley looked since his 2009 stoppage of Antonio Margarito would probably be accurate, but that’s more an indictment of how bad he was in losing to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and drawing with Sergio Mora than for anything he did positively against “Canelo.”
By the end of the bout, fans and media called for Mosley’s retirement, and the three division champion granted their wish, walking away from the sport last June.
“It was really difficult to walk away, knowing that I could do better in my fights,” said Mosley, who left on his own terms, but also with the nagging sense that it wasn’t the way he wanted to leave. For him, his twilight years in the sport were supposed to be filled with fights against the best in the world – and they were – but if he didn’t win he was supposed to go out in a blaze of glory, not with three judges’ rendering his fate.
“When I watch those fights, I can see that when people say my legs were gone, yeah, they were gone,” he admits. “But I didn’t have any legs because of injuries. It wasn’t because of age. People mistake me fighting the way I fought because of age, saying that I was getting older and I was burnt out, and they didn’t equate it to the injuries. And I said, okay, if I can’t move the way I want to, then maybe I’ll retire.”
Leaving the ring at 40, Mosley had a better run than most, with his career likely earning him an eventual place in Canastota’s Hall of Fame. But that’s in the future. What about now? Mosley was never a paycheck fighter. Sure, the money was nice, but he was also the kind of competitor that would pass by a random boxing gym and give work to up and comers that needed sparring. Would LeBron James stop by a schoolyard and play a pickup game with the locals on a regular basis? Probably not. But this was Mosley’s love and despite his record and his birth certificate saying otherwise, he eventually started to get that itch.
“I just started feeling healthy,” he said of the moment when he decided that his retirement would be a short-lived one. “I felt better, I was in the gym moving around and my legs were stronger and faster, and people would tell me ‘you still got it.’ And I sparred with top guys and up and coming guys and I was doing what I want to do. I was having a good time in there and it’s where I want to be at. I want to be in the ring, I want to be in the fights. Once I started moving good and doing what I wanted to do, I said I don’t need to retire yet; I can still go a few more years.”
It was a decision met with groans, not cheers, from many in the boxing community, tired of seeing a beloved hero go to the well once too often. And with social media outlets unleashing their own brand of fury, Mosley saw an industry that revered him turn against him.
“It was very difficult to see a lot of people turn against me for good, but that’s just part of life,” he said. “Whatever they see is what it is, and I respect that, but while sometimes people have a little injury here or there, I had big injuries. It wasn’t a small thing. I should have been still on crutches when I fought Pacquiao (in May of 2011). I was in a boot in March, and I was sparring in a boot. But I thought I could catch him with a good shot because I’m strong, and maybe knock him down or do something.”
It’s the competitor in Mosley that made him one of this era’s greats, and it’s also what his downfall in his recent losses was. When you’ve been at the top for so long, there’s always that feeling that you can still pull a rabbit out of a hat when you need to, that there’s still enough gas left in the tank to race across the finish line. And the Pomona, California native is more than honest when he says, “These big fights don’t come around, so you have to take them.”
The one-sided loss to Pacquiao followed a listless draw against Mora and a near shutout decision defeat against Mayweather, both in 2010. Against Mayweather, Mosley gave the pound-for-pound king a scare when he wobbled him in the second round, but after that, it was all Floyd, and “Sugar” Shane admits as much.
“I was a little better prepared for Mayweather than I was for Pacquiao, and Mayweather fought a good fight,” he said. “Even though I caught him with a good shot, he showed that he was a true champion and he came back and won convincingly. I take my hat off to him for that, but I still believe that same shot I hit him with, if I had my legs with me, maybe it would turn out a different way. Maybe. But it’s all God’s plan, so I believe now that all those things that happened to me happened for a reason. People turned on me and said it’s all over, but when I come back, it’s gonna make it me more spectacular and makes me more legendary. Before the Margarito fight they were counting me out and saying I was old, and then when I knocked him out they said ‘wow, how’d he do that?’ I want to have that same awe when I come back this time, and not just to fight Cano, but to fight all the top welterweights and do what I do.”
Coming back against a hungry young gun like Cano is a gutsy move. The 23-year-old nearly lifted the WBA welterweight title from Paulie Malignaggi in his most recent bout last October, and beating Mosley and possibly becoming the first man to stop him would be quite the feather in his cap. Mosley isn’t addressing such possibilities; in fact, he’s got plenty of plans for after May 18th.
“My vision is to beat everybody in the welterweight division and clean the division out,” said the 41-year-old, who has won world titles at lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. “Cano’s just a guy in the division that I have to fight. I’ve watched him fight over and over again, and to me, he didn’t even seem like he’s in my class, but maybe from the fights that everybody’s seen of me fighting Pacquiao and Mayweather and Alvarez, maybe we’re equally matched and maybe they see it as a good fight. But me watching him fight, and the type of work I’m doing, I don’t see him in my class.”
He probably wasn’t back in the heyday of Mosley, but today, it’s a pick ‘em fight, with Cano possibly being a favorite. That’s what an 0-3-1 record in the last three years will do for you, and being 41 is just another nail in the proverbial coffin. But when you’re Shane Mosley, numbers don’t mean much. So what he’s bringing to Mexico this weekend is experience you can’t buy, heart you can’t take away, and the kind of desire that only true world champions possess. When you’re past the age of 40 (unless your name is Bernard Hopkins, George Foreman, or Archie Moore) that’s usually not enough. But don’t tell him that. The way he sees it, the past three years were an aberration, and on Saturday, “Sugar” will be sweet again.
“Now that I have my moves and my legs back, I see more power, I see more speed, I see more movement, I don’t get hit as much, and I have so many different weapons right now that I should be fighting some kind of world title fight against someone like Timothy Bradley or Devon Alexander,” he said. “I’m in that type of shape, and the work I’ve been doing is for a bigger fight, but I want to get back up there and show that it doesn’t matter who it is; whoever they put in front of me is someone I’ll destroy.”