March passed, and then April went by, and Sergio Mora rolled with the punch that coronavirus doled out in his home state of California.
Then, May came around, and a true longing started to emerge. The feeling got helped along by the fact that in the Mora household, a two-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy vied for the attention of Pop.
And not that I’m saying he would have been inclined to dodge daddy duty by whipping out a batch of notes to study for a forthcoming DAZN show, but if the 39-year-old pugilist-analyst wanted to fashion an excuse to interact with the little ones, he’d need to go another route.
Boxing went dark, and we all had to adapt, didn’t we?
If you want to look for those silver linings, you might agree with me that the coronavirus downtime allowed younger/newer fans to bone up on so many of those classics that exist on YouTube. But Mora wasn’t going to be sated by watching Foreman-Moorer on his big screen, and pretending he was ringside back in 1994. No, as the months, weeks, days, and hours accumulated, Mora had an itch that couldn’t get scratched, not until the pandemic settled to a degree which allowed the DAZN’s braintrust to decide to get back to showing live fights.
MORA CRAVES URGE TO FEEL THE SURGE
On a Monday afternoon phone call, the ex-WBC junior middleweight champion’s voice resonated with a verve matching how he described his reaction to learning that live fights would be unfolding, starting with a Friday, July 24, slate topped by Vergil Ortiz Jr versus Samuel Vargas at Fantasy Springs in Indio, CA.
“I want that testosterone in me again,” Mora said, the decibel level rising as he pictured himself calling the Ortiz showcase, which will be promoted by Oscar De La Hoya and his Golden Boy team.
He’s missed it, and I do believe it’s fair to say that he may well be appreciating that ringside slot and the process even more after the lessons learned in his household these last few months.
“It’s the hardest job in the world. Mothers are superheroes, and they are the most under-appreciated,” he told me.
“I’d rather go 12 hard rounds with the champ,” he declared, instead of keeping those offspring alive, fed, bathed, and entertained, without out-sourcing it to the iPad.
We spoke of adapting earlier, and I would expect a Mora to handle something like this pandemic with aplomb. Like many of us, he had some extra time to think, and we compared notes on some of the things we learned about our society, especially, since the North American world took that abrupt turn at the end of February.
No BS, Mora really did come to appreciate the role of the caregiver a bit more, not that he didn’t before, because he does have an empathic side and he will often give his mom props for her hard work and dedication to the home front. He remembers that Ines worked jobs tirelessly, refused to take vacations because she saved money religiously and deserved every inch of the house his “Contender” victory in 2005 helped to purchase.
“There was no excuse during the shutdown not to be a great parent,” he shared. I put him on the spot; did he measure up? Was he the best brand of dad that could be as spring ran into summer, while the world tilted off axis?
Really, he said, he had to be. The kids’ babysitter’s father died, so Sergio had to step up. Oh, and yes, he wasn’t in the “this virus is a hoax” or the “it’s basically like the flu” crew.
“The silver linings are that people became better parents and the Earth is healing,” Mora philosophized, with my prodding.
If you listen to Mora on DAZN shows, or on his podcast with Chris Mannix, you know he can be feisty and unafraid to make clear that he has feelings about how the world works, or how it could work better.
TAKING ANTI MASKERS TO TASK
“Those were the personal things I learned and also politically — what about those anti-mask assholes?” he continued.
California Governor Gavin Newsom got high marks for his handling of the virus; Cali saw the curve flatten out the end of April, only to see a resurgence the last weeks of June into the beginning of July. The political, indeed, bled into the personal, in a way that many people haven’t felt before. Anti-maskers walked around, feeling immune, their belief system informed by their ignorance and the bizarre “give me liberty and give me death” POV held by seemingly tens of millions of Americans.
Mora’s two brothers, both of whom work in warehouses, don’t have the privilege of indulging in such puerile stands on warped principles. One brother has seen six co-workers test positive, and neither can afford to take time off, hole up at their residence and ride out the storm.
I consider Mora a “woke” sort, so it’s not like the virus served to send him a memo that this nation relies heavily on the labor of darker-skinned people to do more menial work. But the uneven distribution regarding infections and deaths along class, race and ethnic lines — yes, Mora can’t help but sometimes have wondered these last several months, like so many of us, if these states will get to a place where people are united by more than a disposition toward factionalism — turning family members against each other.
Fighting for free, how wise is that? Mora explicitly told me he’s against that, it came up when we discussed the pros and cons of telling face-shield naysayers to mask up, in public places.
“Yeah, I don’t fight for free,” he said. “I’ll just give ‘em a dirty look.”
And then we switched the gears, and drove the convo towards pugilism. Friday, Vergil Ortiz Jr (15-0, 15 KO) will take on Samuel Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs) in a 12-round welterweight bout. No fans or media will be allowed in, just essential personnel.
Vargas comes out of Bogota, Colombia and has faced a who’s-who of welterweight boxers, including Amir Khan, Luis Collazo, Danny Garcia and Errol Spence Jr.
“I’m happy to be back to work training in Las Vegas,” said Vargas. “I think that everything happens for a reason. I think this time off benefited me. I’m ready to upset the world. I believe I can come out with a win. The world is in a weird place right now. The show will be different. There will be no fans. But I have no doubt that I am going to win.”
He’s been stopped by Garcia and Spence; I’d not be afraid to opine that Vergil will be the third to do the deed.
In the co-main event, Hector Tanajara Jr (19-0, 5 KO) meets two-time world title challenger Mercito Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KO) in a 10-round lightweight fight. Shane Mosley Jr (15-3, 9 KO) is to debut for Golden Boy versus Jeremy Ramos (11-8, 2 KO). Seniesa “Superbad” Estrada (18-0, 7 KO) will return to the 108-pound division. Hector Valdez (12-0, 8 KO), a super bantamweight prospect, will get space to impress, as will welterweight prospect Evan Sanchez (7-0, 6 KO).
Note: Now more than ever, you must be open minded to the concept of “Card Subject to Change.”
Mora had a testosterone surge when he got thinking about seeing Ortiz again. “The future of boxing,” that’s how Oscar De La Hoya referred to the Texan on Twitter. “The future of boxing is coming at you fast, and his name is Vergil Ortiz Jr,” that’s how the voiceover goes in the mini teaser on the DAZN home page.
That tag and push didn’t go unnoticed, especially in the context of how Golden Boy’s other young gun, Ryan Garcia, has been sparring with the head of the company on social media.
To make sure we stayed driving in the sports lane, and didn’t drift over the median toward politics again, I fired a sharp query at Mora: if he were running a promotional company, and he could only keep the contract of one young gunner, Vergil or Ryan, who would he keep?
He thought for a beat. Two beats.
Vergil Ortiz would be the keeper, Mora stated.
Having seen him three times up close, during DAZN events, Mora said he was taken by his ferocity, but that what he’s seen of Ortiz outside the ring really helped sway his decision.
“His temperament, he doesn’t have to be baby-sat. And he’s a musician, he can play Beethoven,” the analyst continued. Self-taught on the keyboard, and also on the guitar, Ortiz can do Jimmy Page licks on command. He’s also a really fun follow on social media, showing a very sly wit. Yes, he is not the same sort of personality as Ryan Garcia, who has been unafraid in the last year to thump his chest on social, and for the last few years, to show his chest and chiseled form, to help grow his IG numbers.
“One guy is marketable, you can see him on the cover of the Wheaties box, he can be a world champ. And the other guy, he can put butts in seats, but he doesn’t have the personality to model underwear,” Mora said.
“If I’m the promoter, I’m gonna stick to the boxing, and that’s Vergil. He’s got the power. OK, his following isn’t as big. But I’m thinking longevity, too,” he pointed out, noting that Garcia has talked already about his exit plan for the sport.
And I finished up with something of an easier question. We’ve all seen Top Rank doing their “Bubble” shows. But does Mora think we’ll have to keep playing the waiting game, gauging the pandemic’s course, and thus, have to wait until 2021 to see the sorts of matches that get us into a state of hyper anticipation?
“We’ve never been through this,” he said. “Sports shutting down. And seeing how that affected a streaming service — I missed it! I was getting so passionate about it, getting into the traveling, and I think, I hope getting better (at doing commentary). Then it came to a pause. It’s such a relief to be having it back.”
He knows there will be hurdles to jump, as they are doing a “Bubble” deal like in Vegas. Mora expects to pass his nasal swab tests and make it ringside.
And he expects the remainder of the year to not simply be an exercise in treading water. That surprised me. Really, how does Mora figure?
“I’m pumped for the big dogs, for Canelo, I wanna see Crawford, and I wanna see young kids in tough. I wanna see Demetrius Andrade versus Gennadiy Golovkin. And Anthony Joshua against Tyson Fury, a unification. Also, Regis Prograis against Maurice Hooker. No, not wait for all that until 2021. I’m glass half full, Woodsy. Here’s why.
“If these promoters want to stay in this business, they got to get back to getting busy, for the love of the sport, with that sort of passion, and put on the biggest fights. I want to see a couple biggies by the end of this year. That’s one of the silver linings of this pandemic, I think they’re going to be forced to do that.”