Sunday, November 11, 2007

In a Class All His Own

"Sugar" Shane Mosley may have stepped through the ropes for the final time.

When Shane Mosley is in the room, this racket they call the fight game suddenly doesn’t seem like what Jimmy Cannon called, “the red light district of sports.” You see, “Sugar” Shane Mosley is that kind of a person, and this game that sometimes reeks like a sewer, somehow smells much sweeter when he’s around.

After losing a close and hard fought decision to Miguel Cotto Saturday night in Madison Square Garden, Shane Mosley says he might hang up his gloves and move on down the road to do something else with his life. And who could blame him? He’s been fighting since he was a child. He’s fought the very best that boxing has had to offer him and along the way he’s become a four-time world champion in three weight divisions, become a favorite of the fans and the media alike and he’s won purses that total in the millions of dollars.

His happy-go-lucky personality and gentleness almost makes you forget he has spent a lifetime beating other people up.

He’s a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer. When the day comes they’ll clear a place on the wall for the plaque with his name on it and they'll swing open the doors in Canastota to welcome him with open arms. His warm smile and infectious laugh make crowds of fight fans swarm around him whenever he’s out in public and they are naturally drawn to his friendliness and charming, boy-next-door persona. Despite all that he has achieved in his life, along with the signature wins over names like Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas, none of it has really changed Shane Mosley at all.

Of course he’s a multi-millionaire now, and an equity partner in Golden Boy Promotions, one of the most successful boxing promotional companies on the planet. But he’s still the same son of Jack and Clemmie Mosley and still very much the same young man who grew up humble in Pomona, California. He’s still very much the same unassuming guy who worked the night shift at K-Mart stocking shelves and who used to like tinkering around under the hood of his Grand Am in the driveway of the family home.

Ask him, even now, to autograph a picture of himself and you’ll see him act like it’s the first time he’s ever done it.

“Ohhh, I like that one of myself, that one’s my favorite,” is what you might hear him purr. And there’s not a hint of conceit in his voice. It’s as if he can’t believe that somebody would ask for his autograph or corral him to pose for a picture. And every time a fan points their camera his way he’ll smile right into the lens, flash that wide, bright smile of his and he’ll make you feel as though he’s known you forever.

He could have cried sour grapes on Saturday night when he was standing in the ring after the unanimous decision that went the wrong way for him was announced. He could have said that he beat Miguel Cotto and that he was disgusted. He could have cried for a rematch and declared that the judges sitting at ringside could see no better than the three blind mice.

And Shane Mosley would have had a pretty good argument. After all, he landed more power punches than Cotto did and the two men landed the exact same amount of total punches over twelve rounds – 248 – and it was Mosley who seemed to be coming on at the end.

But Shane Mosley would have none of the muckraking, for that is not the person that he his. Mosley simply shrugged at his bad fortune. And after the twelve rounds of hell that he had just spent locked inside the ropes with the Puerto Rican destroyer who swelled up the right side of his face with thudding lefts that landed with the pop of tiny grenades, Shane simply smiled.

“He’s a young warrior on the verge of greatness,” said Mosley of the 27 year-old Cotto. “I thought it was a very, very close fight. For a guy to be in the ring with me like that and to be able to fight me back, I take my hat off to him.”

Cotto and Mosley mix it up in a classic fight at Madison Square Garden.

Mosley had given a spirited performance and he looked as good or better than he had in years. His blazing hands and darting foot movements were mixed in with digging bodyshots and stinging overhand rights. He threw one hundred more punches than Cotto and had you not known that he won his first world championship as a 135-pound lightweight over a decade ago you would never have guessed that he had just turned 36 in September.

“Regardless of whether I felt I won or not, I felt it was a close fight,” said Mosley when asked to give his thoughts on the night. “But the judges seen it Miguel’s way and it was a great fight. I take my hat off to him, he’s a young warrior.”

HBO network blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley called the fight from ringside. He has been at the mic for nearly all of Mosley’s fights over the past decade and though he was impressed with Mosley’s performance in the ring against Cotto, he was even more taken with Mosley’s behavior afterwards.

“How thrilling it is, how magnificent it is, the class of a Shane Mosley. So many modern athletes would have stood there and told you they won the fight, they got robbed, etcetera, etcetera,” said Lampley. “The best cliché in sports commentary is to say that a guy is just as good or an even better human being than he is an athlete. Shane Mosley totally typifies that.”

If Shane Mosley threw his final punch as a prizefighter on Saturday night then he can turn out the lights on his career knowing that he is one of the few that will continue to shine brightly for years to come. There aren’t many that can spend a lifetime in the gutter of this game they call boxing and not be a changed and bitter man when it’s finally all over.

But that’s not Shane Mosley. Class will always tell.

November 11, 2007

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