Greatest Hits: Sugar Shane Mosley
This feature originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Ring Magazine, available for purchase at the Ring Shop.
ALREADY A LEGEND IN THE GYMS OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, SHANE MOSLEY DAZZLED THE WORLD WITH ONE BRILLIANT PERFORMANCE AFTER ANOTHER
He was a brilliant welterweight and a solid junior middleweight, but if you were lucky enough to see Sugar Shane Mosley as a lightweight, you will never forget that irresistible blend of speed, power and skill.
Mosley was an outstanding amateur who collected a hoard of national titles. Eventually campaigning at 139 pounds, the Pomona, California-based amateur standout was beaten to a place on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team when he dropped a decision to future professional rival Vernon Forrest. With an eye-popping 250-16 record in the unpaid ranks, a 21-year-old Mosley turned pro in February 1993.
Super-talented and freakishly fast, Mosley also carried dynamite in both fists. With this state-of-the-art firepower at his disposal, he wreaked havoc on the 135-pound division, but success did not come without a price.
“I went through hell [to make weight] and had to train hard all the time,” Mosley recalled in an interview with The Ring. “But I was working with two great world champions: (WBO junior welterweight titleholder) Zack Padilla and (two-time junior lightweight titleholder) Genaro Hernandez. I had great sparring and had almost no choice but to be really, really good. Those were great guys to work with, and I loved the gym because it was always competitive.
“That part of California has a large Hispanic community, so coming up I fought Rafael Ruelas (in an amateur bout), sparred Gabriel (Ruelas), Hector Lopez, Pepe Reilly. Oscar De La Hoya was coming up. (Julio Cesar) Chavez Sr., Paul Gonzalez, who was an Olympic gold medalist. And I worked with Azumah Nelson. I had a great amateur career, but I also had a lot of great professionals around me. All these guys had a strong work ethic, so I had it really good. That made me better than the average person.”
Following 23 straight wins, 22 by knockout, Mosley outpointed Phillip Holiday to claim the IBF lightweight title in August 1997. He made eight successful defenses, all by knockout, and his performance level was dazzling. At the time, Stevie Johnston and Orzubek Nazarov were rival titleholders, but despite the gutsy Californian being more than willing to unify, those matchups would never take place.
“I’d beat Stevie Johnston as an amateur,” said Mosley. “He was a great fighter and probably one of the toughest guys I had to fight. I wouldn’t say he was the hardest hitter, but he was the toughest fighter I ever came across in the amateur ranks. He was really good.
“With Nazarov, I just never got the chance. I don’t know what would have happened with that. I think I was a stronger and bigger lightweight than a lot of these guys.”
Mosley’s arduous battle with the scales is evidenced by the fact that he skipped junior welterweight altogether. He moved directly to 147 pounds and would even accept challenges at 154. Multiple championships came at both weights, and he bolstered his resume with triumphs over De La Hoya (twice), Fernando Vargas (twice), Luis Collazo, Ricardo Mayorga and Antonio Margarito. Losses to Forrest (twice), Winky Wright (twice), Miguel Cotto, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather and Canelo Alvarez did nothing to diminish the modern-day Sugar Man’s Hall of Fame credentials.
“It was a great feeling [to be inducted], because I worked so hard and trained so hard,” said Mosley, who was a first-ballot selection for the Class of 2020. “I fought for the fans, and I wanted to be one of the greats. Being inducted into the Hall of Fame verifies my greatness and proves that I became the fighter that I wanted to be.”
The affable three-weight world champion and former pound-for-pound No. 1 now looks back on six of his career-defining moments.
August 2, 1997, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Connecticut • Title: IBF lightweight
“Phillip Holiday was a very hard worker, strong, but before we got in the ring, he was 10 pounds heavier than me. That was my fault, because I’d taken too much creatine and couldn’t hold anything down. I think that’s the reason I didn’t get a chance to stop him. I wasn’t as strong as I would normally be, and I was like, ‘Shit, I’m probably not going to knock him out.’ But I knew I was going to win. I knew he was very tough, and I had to be ready to fight the whole 12 rounds. He was the type of fighter who would throw a lot of punches, so I had to give him some movement and use my boxing skills a little more. I put some power on the shots, but it was more boxing skills that night and he didn’t know what to do with me. I had done a lot of sparring with Padilla, who threw lots of punches too, and he was even stronger, being a 140-pounder.”
Result: Mosley UD 12
February 6, 1998, Mohegan Sun, Uncasville, Connecticut • Title: IBF lightweight
“A lot of people were saying Ceballos was gonna beat me and take my title. I had fought a guy right before this, Manuel Gomez, and knocked him out in the 11th round. Ceballos had stopped him earlier (six rounds), but Gomez had plenty of time to train for me and less time to train for Ceballos. They figured that Ceballos could walk me down, just like he had Gomez, but it doesn’t work like that. I had the mentality where I was working in the gym with world champions every day and they were coming after me and I was going after them. Ceballos wasn’t even a champion; I was the champion, so he’s not on the same level. He tried as hard as he could to beat me and carry out his game plan, but I knew for a fact that there was no way he could beat me. He took a lot of punishment because he tried to walk through all my punches, believing that he was bigger than me. His corner convinced him that he was a bigger fighter, but I ended my amateur career at 139, so I was a big 135-pounder then. Ceballos and his corner believed they were bigger than me and that was totally not the case.”
Result: Mosley TKO 8
September 25, 1999, Pechanga Resort & Casino, Temecula, California • Welterweight non-title bout
“That was a hard fight, especially with me going straight from 135 to ’47 and him coming back down from 154. It was very strenuous because he was a very good fighter; this wasn’t a nobody. I give him a lot of credit. He was strong, a great fighter, and while he didn’t win a world title, he fought everybody there was to fight. He was in there with (Fernando) Vargas, Oscar (De La Hoya), Pernell Whitaker (twice) – top fighters – and he gave all of them a run for their money. Actually, I don’t know how well he did against Vargas (Rivera scored a knockdown and was stopped in six), but he boxed well against Pernell and Oscar. I took that fight because it was important to let the world know that I’m looking to fight Oscar De La Hoya for the welterweight title. I’m not looking to play around and get a world title shot. I wanted to get right into it.”
Result: Mosley KO 10
OSCAR DE LA HOYA 1
June 17, 2000, Staples Center, Los Angeles • Title: WBC welterweight
“Everyone in California knew that we were the two top guys, and they wanted to see us fight. It was just the world didn’t know how good a fighter I was. They knew I was a great fighter, but they didn’t know how good I was after moving from lightweight to welter. But if you look back, Oscar was fighting at 132 in the Olympics and I was 139. I was actually a bigger fighter. I’m just happy that he gave me the opportunity to showcase my skills and we made a great fight that night. We opened up the Staples Center; it was a beautiful night, everybody was there, and we both fought our hearts out. We both started off at a very high tempo, but I was able to keep up that tempo all the way through the fight and he started to slow down. Oscar’s footwork began to slow down and I got even faster, so there was a clear difference. That was the fight that was going to put me on top, and I had to let it all hang out.”
Result: Mosley SD 12
FERNANDO VARGAS 1
February 25, 2006, Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas • Junior middleweight non-title bout
“He was strong, naturally big and came to the ring at about 174. I was only 154 when I came to the ring, but I was very strong, too, and I had good punching power. But the main thing was my speed, and I caught him with a punch that made his eye blow up big. Vargas did a good job that night, but I was just a little bit too fast for him. After I hurt him, he couldn’t really recover, so I thought the stoppage was justified. In the rematch, I caught him with a sweeping left hook (Mosley won a direct rematch in six rounds).”
Result: Mosley TKO 10
January 24, 2009, Staples Center, Los Angeles • Title: WBA welterweight
“It was a very satisfying win, because in 2009 I was the older fighter. I wasn’t necessarily a gatekeeper, but a lot of people felt that I was way past my prime. The problem was that Margarito is a Mexican fighter with a Mexican style and I’m from California. That’s my style of fighting, too. A lot of people didn’t see the little inside body shots he’d do or [shots] over the top. I’m like, ‘You know what, you’re not going to beat me with this style! I can do this in my sleep!’ I’ve been sparring with Hispanics, Latinos, Mexicans my entire life. I’m pretty much a Mexican fighter – a Black Mexican, basically. Margarito didn’t really land a punch on me – a couple here and there. I don’t care if he had loaded gloves or not; he wasn’t winning that night.”
Result: Mosley TKO 9
Tom Gray is Managing Editor for The Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing.
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