EDITOR'S NOTE: This was obviously written before the Mosley-Malignaggi super-fight fell apart.
Being a boxing fan is akin to taking home a blonde bombshell and discovering she’s got irritable bowel syndrome. It’s descending from Mt. Everest to find Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow waiting for you at base camp to engage in a socio-political debate. Boxing delivers more adrenaline rushes than a Charlie Sheen orgy and more inconsistencies than a Zab Judah rationalization. There are moments when the brutal glory transcends sport and speaks to the human condition with the clarity and insight of a Joyce or Hitchcock. There are more frequent occasions when the business of boxing runs afoul of all decency, too often undermining those spectacular triumphs.
The latest aromatic displeasure came in Golden Boy Promotions’ plan to trot out time-ravaged, once-great, forty-one year-old Shane Mosley as the spring opponent for WBA belt-carrier Paul Malignaggi. The fight exacts a compelling conundrum: Malignaggi is no world-beater; quite the opposite as he has lost every time he has faced a world-class foe. Malignaggi is neither young, at 32, nor in his prime. The twisted irony of all this is that Mosley can win this fight. The bout may be competitive, but it reeks worse than a truck stop bathroom the morning after Butterbean ate Indian.
The fight is so reviled because Mosley was once so beloved. He endeared himself with charming humility, a dynamic style, and a willingness to face the staunchest challenge, often to his own financial detriment. Mosley’s finest hour was a rousing victory over Oscar De La Hoya all the way back in June 2000. He took on Antonio Margarito in January 2009, then the top man at 147 lbs. on the heels of destroying Miguel Cotto and Floyd Mayweather’s short-lived retirement. Mosley thoroughly embarrassed and knocked out the previously iron-chinned brawler in a massive upset. Between those high-water bookends was a 10-5 stretch with disappointing returns against his toughest opposition in Vernon Forrest, Winky Wright, and Miguel Cotto. His best win over that period was a controversial decision in the De La Hoya rematch, September 2003, a fight that lacked the fireworks and definitive victor provided by the first edition. It was later revealed Mosley had used performance enhancing drugs in preparation for that fight, a taint largely glossed over due to the affection the affable Mosley always inspired. The Margarito affair, four years ago, was the last time Mosley saw his hands raised in the ring.
On the basis of that night, Mosley found new relevance and ascended to the top of the pecking order at welterweight. On the basis of that night, Mosley eventually found himself on the A-side of another mega-fight, this time against Mayweather. Sixteen months after Margarito in May 2010, Mosley stepped up against one of the two best fighters in the sport and dropped a wide decision. The second round amounted to a last hurrah. Two right hands penetrated Mayweather’s fortress and it appeared, at the very least, Mosley was competing on even terms, if not on the verge of producing the unthinkable. The fairy tale turned into an installation manual by the next frame. Mayweather doled out a masterpiece of precision punching, his feline reflexes and technical perfection on full display. Mosley lost the last ten rounds of the fight. He stood in punching range but could not let his hands ago, out-dueled by the quicker, superior fighter in every exchange. When the book needed to be tossed out the window, live-or-die aggression his only resort, Mosley was unable to go for it.
There was no shame in a 38 year-old man losing to an elite, prime, prizefighter. Mosley then suffered a disheartening draw in September 2010, an action-deprived fiasco against spoiler-minded Sergio Mora. Somehow Mosley’s phone rang for another big fight, this time as Manny Pacquiao’s dance partner for May 2011. The Mosley name was being wrung for whatever drops of familiarity it had left. This fight brought into full picture what the previous two fights had suggested. With diminished quickness and reflexes, Mosley, so reliant on his athleticism, was left with excellent conditioning and a superb chin, but not much else. Pacquiao won every round of the fight and Mosley again refused to take the chances needed to make anything of a contest out of it.
Mosley’s likeability benefited immensely from the opportunities and opponents he was graced with. Toppling the polarizing De La Hoya, one of HBO’s poster boys, earned him plenty of cache with certain contingents. Being willing to fight guys like Forrest and Wright, putting bigger money opportunities on hold, earned him a reputation as a guy who would take on all comers. His personality was infectious, a happy-as-hell, earnest guy without a hint of smugness or the slightest inclination for trash-talking charades. Now a forty-year old man blaming his tough run on leg injuries and vehemently maintaining his viability, it was hard not to think the exuberant prodigy had fully landed on the other side of the hill as another washed up palooka in denial.
And still, Mosley got one last big fight, or so it seemed. Golden Boy brought him back into the fold as fodder for the budding Mexican superstar Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in May 2012. The match was widely denounced and seemed to elicit for the first time concerns about Mosley’s health. It was utterly transparent that Mosley was being set up as a name opponent, what little recognition that name still carried, for Alvarez to make his bones on. In no sense did this appear to be a remotely winnable fight for Mosley to anyone with a carefully polished lens. Mosley is not Bernard Hopkins. He wasn’t going to out-cage the young pup and teach him a boxing lesson. Mosley won fights on activity, combination punching, speed, stamina, and power. The only thing that could have remained to pose any threat to Alvarez was power, and even that was just another illusory mirage sold by CEO Richard Schaeffer and company to promote the grotesque mismatch.
If anyone believed in Mosley that night, it was Mosley. Erasing the stain of his lifeless effort against Pacquiao, he fought to win. He charged into exchanges with the bigger man, seemingly pushing the last of his chips into the pot. He lost every round of the fight and took the most disturbing and protracted beating of his career. Mosley’s redemption was the insidious punishment he was subjected to for his incredibly valiant effort. A humane corner could have stopped the bout at any time over the second half, the notion of competition having long since fled. In a depressing scene at the end of the night, behind a bruised and swollen mask, Mosley plaintively stated to Larry Merchant "all these kids are beating me up". It was the apparent resignation of a man at peace with the harshest of realities, his time had passed. Weeks later a retirement statement was issued. Mosley himself summed it up best: "You see stuff that you think you can do, that you want to do, but you just can't do it anymore". Lo and behold, here is Mosley slated to face Malignaggi in April.
Some have objected to Mosley as a title challenger, as though Malignaggi’s plastic sheriff’s star in the form of a WBA strap makes him some kind of champion who must adhere to the strictest of standards in selecting worthy contenders. The alphabet belts (WBA, WBO, WBC, IBF, and throw in the GTFO and the WTF while we’re at it) long ago lost any semblance of reason, logic or integrity. To suggest Mosley isn’t worthy of vying for this phony trinket is to invest it with far more meaning and stature than it deserves. Malignaggi is a good fighter who resurrected his career when he went to Ukraine and upset the previous WBA cabana boy, Vyacheslav Senchenko, in April 2012. He is not the champion in his weight class. It would be deplorable for Mosley to be used as a sacrificial lamb against another prime, elite-caliber fighter, an exercise that’s grown more tiresome in each permutation. Malignaggi is not that guy.
The uncomfortable reality is that boxers get punched in the head. They likely suffer an exponentially larger number of concussions than do any other athletes. The ones who cannot take a punch don’t last very long. The ones who can tend to have much longer careers and end up much worse for wear. Mosley falls into the latter group. He has never been knocked out, but he has taken plenty of damage over the years. When he was young it didn’t seem so consequential. At forty-one years old, every punch he has absorbed seems to manifest itself in a world-weary demeanor and slowed speech delivery. The notion of seeing this man take more blows to the head, no matter the opponent, is more cringe-inducing than exhilarating for a good section of the audience. There are many who feel Mosley should not even be medically licensed to fight. Dr. Margaret Goodman, in an interview with Gabe Montoya for Doghouseboxing, called him "the perfect example of someone who should not be in the ring anymore". But he is licensed to fight and presumably would have no problem in that regard should the Malignaggi bout come off. On Showtime last year, Joe Cortez and Chuck Giampa gave us a glimpse into the carnival funhouse minds of the bureaucratic appointees who often wind up the guardians of these men’s fate. These bumbling characters hardly instill confidence in prudent decision making when it comes to issuing those licenses. But as long as he is cleared, he has the right, legally, to continue his career.
Mosley will be punched by Malignaggi. There is no exact measure of what toll the hundred or so punches he is likely to absorb will end up taking. The only certainty is that being punched in the head is not beneficial to one’s health. But this is a violent sport, and every fighter gets hit. Is Mosley in a fight where he can’t defend himself, at a grave disadvantage in speed, youth, power or skill? It’s hard to take a frank assessment of Malignaggi, coming off a fortuitous split-decision win over Pablo Cano in October, and make that claim.
Watching athletic heroes grow old is a grim proposition, taking on a particular nastiness in combat sports. Boxers don’t lose a step on their baseline drive or a few miles off their fastball. They often take horrific beatings in twilight years as the next generation goes hunting for scalps. Many a proud fighter won’t stop until they have taken an inhumanly demonstrative shellacking. In Mosley’s case, it was hoped that the Alvarez fight would be that tipping point. But Mosley is a fighter. Fighters fight. It’s what they know. It’s what they do. Of all the parties involved in Mosley-Malignaggi, Mosley is the one taking the least amount of blame. Supposedly other people should be more responsible. Malignaggi, particularly, has been subject to scorn and ridicule. That too may be misguided.
"People don't understand the business. You show your love and respect when you fight one another. That's how we elevate our lifestyles...we owe each other to fight each other. I realize when Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong fought, and that was Robinson's hero, Henry Armstrong went up to him and said if you were my friend and you care and admire me, you would fight me, you know I need money. And that's how it is with fighters. Fighters should understand that. Don't say you don't wanna fight, when a man says he doesn't want to fight you, that's disrespecting you ‘cause he knows you need him to make a living."--Mike Tyson
Garbage fights are older than Bob Arum. They make up the very fabric of the professional system. Young prospects with bright futures routinely work their way up at the expense of hopeless journeymen with day jobs. These ritualistic bloodlettings pass for a maturation process for up-and-coming fighters. In 1995, the undefeated Mosley in his ninth and eleventh pro fights knocked out Lorenzo Garcia, who had been knocked out in his previous two fights and entered the contests with a record of 12-18-2. No one wept for Garcia, who called it a day after his ninth career knockout loss in his next fight. No one cared to know his story. The best fighters attract the attention, not the stepping stones who pad curricula vitae. The vast majority of professional boxing matches are indecent proposals, mismatches of ages, sizes, and skill levels, with predetermined outcomes and apple carts immune to upset. There is no reason this fight should be held to a higher standard, other than this will be broadcast to the world while the dark underbelly remains vague and incomprehensible.
Nonetheless, all the dissidents may get their wish with Boxingscene.com reporting the fight is now in jeopardy over financial disagreements. Schaeffer seems to indicate the issue was not on Mosley’s end. That should come as no surprise. Here’s what Mosley had to say about the potential De La Hoya blockbuster after beating Willy Wise in January, 2000: "We never sat at the table yet...I'll be happy to fight, all I wanna do is sit down at the table and learn more about it. What's gonna be my pay? I don't know anything. They have it on the radio and papers saying that Shane's fighting Oscar, it's a done deal. I haven't talked to anybody yet. So I wanna be able to talk to somebody so I can know how much I'm getting paid, and that's all I ask for."
Five months later he beat De La Hoya and was on top of the world. Mosley is a fighter. Fighters fight. The new world sees Roy Jones Jr. getting knocked out annually on grainy internet streams from far-away places. And apparently it sees Paul Malignaggi making financial demands on Shane Mosley. Boxing’s cruel and wonderful cycle continues.