Don't Go Sour On Sugar Yet
By Nat Gottlieb Courtesy of HBO.com
Shane Mosley has never been knocked out in a career spanning 292 pro and amateur fights. So what happens when Antonio Margarito cannot put Mosley away, as he did with Miguel Cotto? They go to the scorecards, and that is where Mosley has a boxer's chance to win this fight.
In defeat, Cotto showed the path to victory for Mosley. The blueprint Cotto followed in his July fight with Margarito was to box the Mexican and pile up enough points to beat him. Cotto stuck to his game plan, but ultimately didn't have the chin to match the grace of his skills and never made it to the judges' cards. When Margarito knocked Cotto out in the 11th round, the scorecards reflected how close the gallant Puerto Rican's strategy had come to winning the fight. They were tied at 95 on one card, and Margarito was ahead, 96-94 on the other two, largely because the Mexican picked up points in the late rounds when Cotto's body began to fail him.
Mosley's body never fails him. Like Margarito, Mosley has one of the best chins in the business. Not only has Mosley never been knocked out, he has tasted canvas just once, and there were extenuating circumstances. In the second round of his first fight with Vernon Forrest in 2002, Mosley suffered a concussion-causing accidental head butt. Dazed by the blow, Mosley went down when Forrest hit him in the temple with a hard right hand.
Even with the game plan to beat Margarito, Mosley will have to overcome disadvantages he brings to the ring, beginning with his age, 37. Mosley has also experienced a slow deterioration of the hand speed and power he built his Hall of Fame career on. What Mosley has not lost, however, is his ability to box with the best of them.
But boxing skills won't be enough if Mosley makes some of the same mistakes Cotto made. One was that instead of utilizing his crushing body attack, Cotto head-hunted Margarito throughout the fight. As HBO analyst Max Kellerman said on the air: "Cotto's landing harder punches, but it's like hitting a brick wall."
Mosley is smart enough to avoid that, and has a long history of dealing with the classic Mexican style. Part of the Mosley legend is that when he was a teenaged amateur in Los Angeles, he sparred often with Mexican pros in local gyms, including the great Julio Cesar Chavez. As a result, Mosley is keenly aware that Mexicans will take two or three of your shots to get in one of their own. In comparing this fight with Cotto-Margarito, HBO analyst Larry Merchant said body work by Mosley could make a difference.
"I've wondered why Cotto, a very good body puncher, didn't go to Margarito's body more," Merchant says. "If Mosley -- a good body puncher from his days sparring with tough Mexican fighters -- can invest in body punching, maybe Margarito won't roll over him late."
While Margarito brings several advantages into this bout, he is far from a perfect fighter. At 30 he is younger, has the same granite chin as Mosley, and is naturally bigger and stronger than Sugar Shane, who began his career at a lightweight. But Margarito is not quick on his feet, nor is his hand speed even close to par with Mosley's. Margarito also tends to throw his hooks to the body as wide looping shots, which leaves him open to straight shots down the middle. Cotto exploited that, but instead of gut-punching Margarito, he aimed at the wall. Don't expect the more experienced Mosley to make the same blunder.
"Mosley has a chance despite the age and size difference -- and Mosley has always had a problem with bigger guys like Forrest and Winky Wright. Mosley is still quicker than Margarito, and Margarito will be coming straight at him. Mosley has hired Bernard Hopkins' trainer, Naz Richardson, indicating that he will try to outbox Margarito, as Hopkins did to Pavlik," Merchant says.
Another mistake Cotto made which Mosley probably won't is he made himself vulnerable to Margarito's punishing uppercut. Each time Cotto got inside, he ducked down, which set Margarito up perfectly for jarring uppercuts. Mosley is more of a stand up fighter, and does not bend when he gets into the trench.
Some are writing off Mosley's chances because of his less-than-scintillating last-round knockout of Ricardo Mayorga in September. Mosley attributed his showing to a bad blister on his foot, and Mayorga's wild, awkward style. Mosley's previous fight -- a tight loss to Cotto in 2007 - is probably more indicative of what he can still do. Against Cotto, Mosley not only demonstrated he could hang in there with elite fighters, but he got stronger in the later rounds, probably winning two or three of the final four.
Mosley should also be able to exploit Margarito's most glaring problem, that he is a notoriously slow starter. It's what caused him to lose his championship belt to Paul Williams in 2007. Williams, like Mosley, has a very strong chin, and so after piling up points early on by outworking his challenger, Tall Paul was able to stay on his feet and hold off a late surge by Margarito to win a close but unanimous decision. Mosley is not a high volume puncher like Williams, but he can employ a stick-and-run strategy to win the early rounds, and then try to keep up his pace through the final rounds. If the Mayorga fight indicated anything, it showed that Mosley still has the ability to do that. In the final minute of the fight, Mosley was able to put his foot to the pedal and take Mayorga out.
The one thing that can cost Mosley a chance to win is if he abandons his strategy of boxing. Mosley has often said he can't help himself when he tries to box. He loves to throw down, he loves to fight. But if Mosley can avoid being sucked into the Tijuana Tornado's style of fighting, and is still hanging tough with Margarito in the championship rounds, he just might pull off the upset.