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Unsung 20th Century Fights: Sugar Shane Mosley vs John John Molina

Shane Mosley took on John John Molina in 1998, an early championship fight that tested Mosley’s mettle and proved his quality.

Shane Mosley’s 1998 fight John John Molina saw Mosley earn the “Sugar” nickname
Shane Mosley’s 1998 fight John John Molina saw Mosley earn the “Sugar” nickname
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Larry Merchant was adroit in his synopsis of the fight after the decision was announced. The legendary announcer proclaimed that of all the fighters who paid homage to Sugar Ray Robinson with the moniker of “Sugar,” only two fighters lived up to it: Ray Leonard and Shane Mosley.

Shane surely put the sugar to his name with a dominant performance against a former champion and Puerto Rican great in John John Molina. This fight was not a nailbiter, neither was it a bloodbath. However, it showed the fiery start and gradual deterioration of one fighter, and the symphony that builded up and came to a crescendo for another.

Mosley came into the fight at 26-0, three fights removed from winning the IBF lightweight title, followed by two successful title defenses. A raw talent carving out illustrious fights in his prime, Mosley was looking to put himself in the conversation with greats of the time.

Molina on the other hand had four losses on his resume, including a recent defeat at the hands of the legendary Oscar De La Hoya. He was seven years Mosley’s senior, with a respectable 10-2 record in championship fights.

The Fight

Mosley was hasty to unload his overhand rights, throwing two and connecting on one to start the contest. Molina leaned on reliable 1-2 combinations that were effective. A strong right hand landed for Molina in the first. Both fighters had good spatial awareness and movement.

Early on, Mosley was not jabbing much at all, to the surprise of many, including Roy Jones Jr calling the fight. Molina was able to pop Sugar Shane with a straight left that did damage. There was lots of clinching throughout the early rounds. In the third especially, Mosley showcased great footwork and hand speed, and another overhand right pummeled Molina. On my scorecard, this was the first round that Mosley won, and he wouldn’t look back from there.

Round four was one of body shots. Both fighters threw thunderous sweeping shots to the midsection and got in close. From round five onward, Mosley turned it up several notches. He connected on a right hand to John John’s temple that thudded off of his dome. Mosley also started coming on with his jab; in real time and replay, you could see just how precise and acute Mosley was with his jab.

Tactical precision was the modus operandi for Sugar Shane to close out the fight. He was growing ever-so efficient in landing right hands that followed up his jab, keeping Molina at bay. The sixth was his best round. But Molina would have an answer in the seventh.

Molina started throwing more crosses in that frame, using good footwork and lunging to get to the light-footed Mosley. They also battled in close, where Molina threw stunning uppercuts, classic Joe Louis style. Mosley would soon retaliate with a straight left that sent Molina’s head backwards, before coming back forward like a pigeon for a knockdown.

Molina was visibly upset by the knockdown ruling, and in the eighth, broke out like a man on a mission, releasing a flurry of punches, landing several on Mosley’s chin. But once again, every action had an equal and opposite reaction from Sugar Shane, as he came right back with a flurry of his own — capped off by a rib shattering body shot — that forced the referee to end the match.


This was an interesting fight to watch from start to finish. Two champions gave it their all. We got to witness the ascension of a Hall of Fame-caliber fighter against one of his greatest challengers in prestige up to that point.

The fight offered grit, build up, intensity, and points of utter domination. For those wanting to see a fight earlier in the career of an all-time great, this would be a good place to start.

Mosley continued on a legendary track, making five more successful defenses of his title before moving up to welterweight and becoming champion there. The former three-time champion in Molina would go 7-2 in his last nine fights before retiring.

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