The main undercard bout on Saturday night's Mayweather vs Cotto PPV card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas pits a Mexican phenom with red hair who is barely legally able to buy beer in the States against an aging warrior nearly twice his age, whose recent performances will either fool his opponent into making mistakes, or make the outcome very, very predictable.
[ Undercard Previews: Vargas vs Forbes / Latimore vs Quintana ]
When Shane Mosley turned 21 years old in 1992, he was still five months away from his first professional boxing match. He had been U.S. amateur champion at lightweight (132 lbs) in 1989 and 1990, and then again at light welterweight (139 lbs) in 1992, plus silver at the '89 World Junior Championships and bronze at the '90 Goodwill Games.
At 21 today, Canelo Alvarez is the WBC's "world champion" at 154 pounds, and has been in the paid ranks since October 2005, three months after he turned 16. For the first year and a half of his career, he was matched very soft, understandably, but by 2009, at age 19, he was starting to beat guys people had heard of: Lanardo Tyner, Michel Rosales, and then in 2010, a few months before turning 20, he burst onto the scene in a big way, fighting on the Mayweather vs Mosley undercard.
That night, young Saul "Canelo" Alvarez was matched with Miguel Cotto's older brother, Jose, and given the main support slot on the PPV. It was risky -- he had some hype behind him, but it was mostly coming from Mexico, where he had become something of a teen idol, a heartthrob, a Tiger Beat fighter, somewhat like Oscar De La Hoya, but as of now, without the terrible singing or workout videos.
Alvarez wasn't flawless in his big-time American TV debut, as he was hurt early by Cotto, a visibly smaller man who had just started fighting again after a two year-plus break from May 2007 until August 2009. But the young man showed resilience and guts, and American viewers were curious. I said then that the radio interviews I did after the fight were as much about who this "Canelo" kid was as they were about Mayweather vs Mosley, which ultimately turned into a Mayweather rout, nothing out of the ordinary. People were curious right away, and yes, the red hair played a part. Alvarez stopped Cotto in the ninth round, and turned a lot of heads. Since then, he's taken off, even without taking much by way of significant challenges.
Alvarez fought again in July, demolishing Luciano Cuello (who had given Julio Cesar Chavez Jr a tough run in a previous fight), and then in September, knocking out washed-up former welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir, who was still tough (and still is), becoming the first man in 16 years to stop the hard-headed Argentine. He closed out 2010 with a dominant but unspectacular win over savvy and gritty veteran Lovemore N'dou.
2011 was Canelo's real breakout year for American audiences, as he had three main event fights on HBO, and headlined at the Staples Center as part of the split site pay-per-view with Mayweather vs Ortiz in the main event in September.
His HBO wins came against Matthew Hatton, who battled but was outclassed; Ryan Rhodes, who was just plain outclassed; and Kermit Cintron, who shouldn't have been there but was an easy target. It was with the win over Cintron that even though he's still just 21 years old, it started to feel a bit like he was treading water. Cintron had been totally manhandled by Carlos Molina in July, and followed that with an uninspiring win over Antwone Smith in August, which showed character in wanting to come back so quickly, but the performance still wasn't much to write home about.
Between Rhodes and Cintron, he thwarted a game effort from Alfonso Gomez on the Mayweather vs Ortiz show.
Today, he is no longer Saul, just Canelo, similar to Winky Wright, who might still be called Ronald by his loved ones, but is Winky to the rest of us. By Canelo's standards, this five months and change he's been out of the ring is an eternity, about two months longer than his previous largest inactive spell.
One wonders at least a bit if the extended break will bother him at all, but chances are that it won't. And anyway, his opponent is a 40-year-old man who hasn't fought in a year, since a rather embarrassingly bad effort against Manny Pacquiao in May 2011.
For those who may not recall, since boxing moves so fast and so many fights slip out of the mind so easily, particularly when they sucked, there was no cheering when Shane Mosley was named the opponent for Manny Pacquiao. Mosley had already been beaten down by Floyd Mayweather in 2010, and followed that in September of the same year with an ugly, twitchy, ineffective performance in a brutally bad fight against Sergio Mora, which ended in a draw that I thought Mosley did deserve to "win," given that someone must have "won." And there was sure as hell no cheering after the fight -- it wasn't an admirable performance that boxing fans respected, but rather one that left them feeling ripped off, and even had James Brown bemoaning the fight with his own disappointment after all was said and done on the Showtime PPV.
If you want a preview-type article on this fight that argues the case for Mosley being here and his chances at winning, I strongly suggest that you read Ryan Bivins' breakdown from early March. As for me, well, no spoilers, but as much as I've come around on this fight existing, my head is still telling me that it's going to be a predictable outcome.
Many focus on the idea that Alvarez is overrated. This may be true, but it's not just the Pacquiao and Mayweather fights, and it's not even just Pacquiao, Mayweather, and Mora, who is the definition of overrated by some people who believe he's a good defensive fighter and not just a relentlessly negative non-fighter. Sergio Mora lost his next fight to Brian Vera, for God's sake, and while Vera is a nice guy and a fun fighter to watch, he's a glorified club fighter. This idea that Mora is hard to combat is grossly overstated.
It goes back to even before Mosley beat the mysteriously powerless and mentally absent Antonio Margarito in January 2009, which I now believe may have been the greatest mirage I have ever seen in a boxing ring. While that fight led me to believe that Mosley was reborn, and later led me to believe that it was his final great night, I now have the feeling that Mosley was simply beating the shit out of a guy who was barely there, having been caught trying to load his wraps prior to the fight. There's no doubt in my mind that Margarito was enormously mentally distracted in the ring that night, and while Mosley deserves some credit for stomping a mudhole in him and walking it dry, he wasn't fighting the Antonio Margarito he was supposed to be fighting, the guy Lou DiBella predicted would put Mosley in a pine box. He was fighting an instant shell. Forget losing it overnight -- Margarito lost whatever he once was in the dressing room, and he's never, ever been close to the same guy since.
If you go back a fight before that, Mosley badly struggled with his own focus in a fight with Ricardo Mayorga, helping his own cause in the memories of fans by knocking Mayorga out with a second left in the fight. But before that, Shane struggled to put together consecutive strong rounds, and looked lost at points against one of the most predictable fighters around, a guy who hadn't been a contender in a couple of years by that point, who himself has done nothing notable since and probably never will again.
The last time I think I saw the real Shane Mosley was not Margarito, it was his 2007 loss to Miguel Cotto, where he went neck-and-neck, toe-to-toe with a young fighter at peak form. That was almost five years ago, and if you want to count the Margarito win for more than I do, it's been over three years since the last time Shane Mosley looked good in a boxing ring for more than two rounds.
He's 40 now, and has had nagging injuries that he and trainer Naazim Richardson continue to use as an excuse (while trying to clearly state that it's not an excuse) for his recent performances. They're saying the weight will help him at 154 now, which might be true and might not. Mosley says he's in great shape. And I'm sure that as with every other fight in his career, he will look like a million bucks physically. No one's ever accused Shane Mosley of being lazy or taking his training camps easy.
But then the bell's going to sound, and there are going to be some people still waiting for the Shane Mosley they remember, or think they remember. He's not going to show up. He's gone. Roy Jones Jr isn't going to make another title run, Evander Holyfield's not going to become world heavyweight champion again, and determined and well-meaning and confident as he may be right now, Shane Mosley is almost surely not going to have another great night left in him.
I can certainly agree with the previously linked Ryan Bivins when he says that Mosley, even deteriorated, is probably the best opponent that Alvarez has faced to date. That's because I don't think a whole lot of Canelo's opposition, but I'm also more forgiving of it than some, because I see a fighter, I believe, who could have already done more, but has been handled safely.
I don't think Mosley is an unsafe opponent for him. Sure, Shane probably could still knock him out with a cracking right hand, but when's he going to uncork it? Alvarez may not move like Mayweather, may not be a frustrating offense to the human senses like Mora, and may not have the southpaw angles of Manny Pacquiao, but he's a physically strong young man who lets his hands go pretty well, and even in playing it tentative at times, seems as though he's daring opponents to come to him. He may well be a much better counter-puncher than we're aware of, because most of his recent opponents haven't done a whole lot to make him do a whole lot. Cintron did nothing, and sadly he's what I have in mind for Mosley on Saturday night. Cintron looked and even felt like he wanted to do more, but he couldn't do it. Mentally, he just couldn't do it.
Mosley's had some major trigger issues in his recent fights, and it will be interesting to start if Canelo dares Shane to lead the dance. Mosley isn't a counter-puncher himself, but he loves to mix it up with opponents, or at least he used to. He has usually gotten the better of exchanges throughout his career, and that's when he's been at his best. He may still have faster hands than Canelo, even though Mosley's hand speed has really faded badly the last four years or so.
Can Shane Mosley win this fight? Yes. But I don't think he will. If he does, then believe me, as a huge Sugar Shane Mosley fan, I'll be the first guy leaping off the couch in celebration. I try to be unbiased, but in the end I'm just a nerd who loves boxing, who has his favorite fighters, and Mosley has always been one of them. Like with Paulie Malignaggi last week, I'd be glad to admit being wrong about this fight. It's nothing against Alvarez, same as it was nothing against Senchenko. But I like Shane, and I like Paulie, and I think they're good dudes and good fighters.
I was wrong that Paulie was washed-up and had lost too much, and also wrong that Senchenko was ever good enough. But I haven't been wrong about Kermit Cintron pretty much ever, and sadly I'm not seeing my pre-Senchenko Paulie in Mosley, I'm seeing my Kermit Cintron. I'm seeing a guy who really, really wants it, who badly wants to be more than he is, but just isn't anymore. In Cintron's case, I don't think he was ever all that good. In Mosley's case, we're talking about a Hall of Fame-bound warrior who would have to really do something unbelievable to go out in shame, at least in my opinion. He's in the stat-padding era of his career. Whatever good he can do is gravy. And whatever he does that stinks out the joint should be forgotten about and cast aside, because it doesn't matter.
I don't know how this fight will end. I don't know if Alvarez will be able to stop him (Mosley's never been stopped), and I don't know if he'll really put a beating on him, or if we'll see Mosley get on his bike and survive the way he did against Manny. All I know is my heart would love to see the upset as a boxing fan, just because, and my head is telling me it's not going to happen, and that unless there's a monster right hand that sends Canelo into dreamland, it almost can't happen. Canelo Alvarez to win.
But if Shane Mosley does it, fire this up and play it real fuckin' loud: