Does Shane Mosley Have a Prayer? (Pt. 1)

Pastfights_04_234x246_medium With a little over two weeks remaining until the first truly major fight of 2009, I can't help myself from getting a little excited about the boxing game getting back into full swing.

On that night in Los Angeles, HBO will broadcast the WBA welterweight title fight between titlist Antonio Margarito and challenger Shane Mosley. The 30-year old Margarito is one of the sport's hottest fighters, still feeling the positive effects from his epic stoppage of Miguel Cotto last July.

Mosley, at 37, may be nearing the end of his brilliant career. It's been a long time since Shane beat an elite opponent. But we'll get back to that later.

Margarito is being cast into the role of the indestructible force, which so many have been throughout boxing history, and it's a story that almost always ends with the force meeting up with someone that takes them back down to the ranks of the mortal. Margarito is 37-5 for his career, with 27 knockouts. Three of those five losses can be all but disregarded, as they came when he was still maturing as a fighter.

Since he's hit that maturation, only two men have beaten him. Daniel Santos, who currently holds the WBA junior middleweight title, beat Margarito via technical decision in 2004, and Paul Williams outlasted Margarito for a 12-round decision win in 2007.

After both losses, he came back with a vengeance. Following the 154-pound title loss to Santos, Margarito went back to the welterweight division to defend his WBO strap, which he'd won in 2002 and defended four times. He nearly ripped Sebastian Lujan's ear off his head (click for the gruesome evidence, if you've never seen it), then pummeled unbeaten Puerto Rican puncher Kermit Cintron on ESPN.

He then creamed lame challenger Manuel Gomez in the first round, and after that beat the rugged Joshua Clottey (now a welterweight titleholder in his own right). 

Seven months later, Paul Williams was his downfall. To make up for that, he annihilated Golden Johnson and beat the hell out of Cintron again, then waged war with Cotto in one of 2008's best and biggest fights.

But enough about his wins -- what happened in the losses?

Inarguably, Margarito's success owes most of its debt to the fact that he is a big welterweight, and a guy with a granite chin and indomitable will to press on. At 5'11", he simply towers over a lot of guys, including the 5'7" Cotto.

Williams is 6'1" with freakish reach. Santos is listed at 5'11 1/2", so he, too, was able to negate Margarito's usual size advantage. Still, Cintron is also 5'11", so I'm not trying to say it's simply height. There's a way to beat Margarito, but you have to have big enough cojones to do it, or he WILL break you down.

Williams and Santos both arguably benefitted from a slow start by Antonio, as Margarito had Williams reeling late in the fight, and the Santos win came from a cut stoppage caused by an accidental headbutt. At the time of the stoppage, Santos was up 87-84 and 86-85, and Margarito was ahead on the third card, 86-85. There was time for that fight to change had it not been stopped. Following his loss to Williams, Margarito vowed to never start slow again.

Box_a_cotto_margarito3_sw_600_medium Make no mistake about the fact that Antonio Margarito is one of the sport's best, most intimidating, and hardest to beat fighters. The guy fights in a near-savage fashion -- he is the Terminator. He may not move swiftly, he may not be the prettiest or most awe-inspiring pure boxer, but he is seemingly impossible to hurt. And he will damn sure hurt you if he gets an opportunity.

Shane Mosley's 37 years old. I know some folks are starting to believe that fighters now live on longer with great skill thanks to modern training, modern diet practices, modern medication, this and that and the other thing. I think it's true that the breakdown of being 35 isn't what it used to be, but you're still slowing down.

There are freaks, of course, in every sport that defy conventional wisdom in terms of age. Bernard Hopkins and to a lesser extent Glen Johnson have done it in boxing recently. But has Roy Jones? Has Antonio Tarver? Has Evander Holyfield? Has James Toney? Have countless other aging fighters? Oscar de la Hoya looked shot at 35. Jose Luis Castillo (35) and Chris Byrd (38) are two more fighters that look at the end of their lines.

I'm not saying it applies to every fighter. I'm saying it still applies to most.

Mosley, who was excellent in his November 2007 loss to Cotto, let himself become a once-a-year fighter in 2008, and his one performance was anything but impressive. Though it had a classic ending as Sugar Shane finished Nicaraguan brawler Ricardo Mayorga with one second remaining in the fight, Mosley looked tired, old, sluggish, and unfocused fighting at 154 pounds. He was never at his best at 154, as the weight is simply that extra little bit too much for his frame.

But to not dominate a loud-mouthed, no-skill punk like Mayorga (and I'm a Mayorga fan, but let's call a spade a spade here) spoke volumes about Shane Mosley on that night. He split with father/trainer Jack Mosley and is now being handled by the brilliant Nazim Richardson, trainer of Bernard Hopkins, but could it have just been that and the weight?

Doesn't it seem like there's a chance he's simply slowing down...for good?

After Mosley-Mayorga, Lou DiBella (a promoter with no stake in either career) said that if the folks at Golden Boy and Top Rank let Margarito-Mosley go on, it'd be the end of Mosley. As DiBella put it regarding Mosley's performance that night, "Margarito would put Shane in a pine box."

Maybe it's not really that dramatic, but the skeptic in me is starting to wonder how competitive this fight can really be.

In Pt. 2 (it's just a two-part "series," and I just wanted to break it up since I figured I'd get long-winded (and I did)), I'll see if I can talk myself into thinking Mosley has a genuine chance, or if a win over Margarito should be considered a massive upset and one more point for "the old guys."

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