It was the summer of 2000. Still drunk on the optimism of the New Millennium, the world seemed a happier, less volatile place. The social media giants that dominate our lives now did not even exist. The tragedy of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” that lay in its wake had yet to unfold, and a Donald Trump presidency was still just a joke in “The Simpsons.”
The boxing landscape was also very different just two decades ago. Lennox Lewis reigned as the undisputed heavyweight king; an ambitious young champion who some called “Pretty Boy” defended the first of many world titles; and the spectacular Roy Jones Jr., widely regarded as the finest boxer in the world, feasted on a roster of underwhelming challengers. Meanwhile, Latino heartthrob Oscar De La Hoya, aka “The Golden Boy,” was in fact the biggest star in the sport, outside of anyone named Mike Tyson.
Oscar’s impressive run in the late nineties had taken him to the cusp of greatness, as he won title belts from super featherwieght all the way to welterweight, defeating the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Pernell Whitaker, and Ike “Bazooka” Quartey along the way. But in a September 1999 mega bout, Felix Trinidad stole a razor-thin decision from under Oscar’s nose, and The Golden Boy’s march to immortality was stopped in its tracks. To make matters worse, De La Hoya was widely ridiculed for “running” in the late rounds of that match, the charge calling into question his manhood, his Mexican heritage, his whole identity as a fighter. A comeback KO of Derrell Coley showed he still had a fire burning, but a more meaningful opponent was needed to erase the pain and the stigma of the Trinidad defeat. Enter Shane Mosley.
A childhood amateur rival of Oscar, Mosley’s failure to make it to the 1992 Olympics had hampered his ascent through the pro ranks, but his exceptional talent saw him showered with the kind of plaudits considered sacrilegious by boxing purists. Asked what impressed him so much about Mosley, HBO’s Larry Merchant had replied: “Three words… Sugar. Ray. Robinson.” Roy Jones Jr. called Mosley the best lightweight he’d seen “outside of Roberto Duran,” while veteran trainer and analyst Gil Clancy was so impressed, he described the experience of watching Mosley as “like looking at a fighter back in the 40s.”
Sugar Shane’s dazzling speed, brutal body attack, and finishing instincts blended beautifully into what his father, Jack, labelled their own “power boxing” style, and led to eight consecutive title wins, all by knockout. But being unable to secure a big unification fight spurred Shane to look to higher pastures and paydays, leaping over the super lightweights to assault the welterweight division. Two more knockouts followed, and with his credentials at 147 pounds established, the big-name showdown he craved finally beckoned, that being De La Hoya vs Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, and on HBO pay-per-view.
Shane was a slight underdog for the big showdown, with Oscar’s presumed advantages in size and power a common pre-fight theme. But a closer look at their histories revealed Mosley had boxed at 139 pounds in the amateurs, whereas De La Hoya won his Olympic medal at 132, with both starting off as lightweights in the pro ranks. True, Oscar was two inches taller and had eight more fights at welterweight, but it was actually Mosley who entered the ring heavier on the night, coming in at 155 pounds to De La Hoya’s 152.
“The ring is my home. I can do whatever I want,” Shane told Boxing Monthly in the lead-up to this legit, ‘best vs best,’ pay-per-view showdown. Sure enough, as he made his way to the ring, smiling and bouncing and surrounded by his family, Shane looked a picture of absolute confidence. De La Hoya, as was his way prior to a big fight, seemed focused but more tense before entering the arena accompanied by a Mexican mariachi band. All pre-fight speculations aside, what remained was what made De La Hoya vs Mosley a must-watch proposition for boxing fans: this was a clash between two of the best in the sport, pound-for-pound.
Round one saw Mosley boxing beautifully, starting strong and meeting De La Hoya head-on with a series of hard right hands around the guard. Looking looser and faster of hand and foot, Shane rifled a super quick jab and out-landed Oscar 25 to nine according to CompuBox, sweeping the round on all three scorecards and prompting trainer Robert Alcazar to implore Oscar to “Use your jab! And be first!”
Oscar responded, landing clean jabs and several left hooks to the body in round two, but Shane was more versatile over the next few rounds, edging backwards to time Oscar with his quicker single shots, while De La Hoya stalked purposefully, letting rip with two-fisted combinations whenever in range. Midway through the fifth Mosley picked out a peach of a right uppercut, timing the shot to perfection under a De La Hoya jab that was a fraction of a second too slow, a snapshot of the ridiculous skill levels on display. To his credit, Oscar came firing right back and swept the fifth and sixth rounds on all three cards with his more effective aggression.
The first six rounds of De La Hoya vs Mosley had been tactical but fiercely contested, and at the mid-way point the momentum appeared to be with Oscar, a fact reflected in the official tallies; one card was even while the other two had “The Golden Boy” leading by four and two points respectively. “The tide is going toward De La Hoya,” noted HBO’s Merchant. “No question,” agreed Jim Lampley.
Trainer Jack Mosley, sensing the need to regain the initiative, encouraged his son to, “Just relax; [use your] rhythm,” and Shane came out sharp in the seventh, rolling his upper body more and timing Oscar with leaping left hook counters and hard overhand rights. Both raised a fist as they walked back to their corners after another close round, but the message from Mosley was clear: I’m not going anywhere.
De La Hoya marched forward in the eighth and landed some stiff jabs, but Mosley looked the more fluid and comfortable fighter now as he bounced on his toes and circled away, even turning southpaw for the last minute. Furious exchanges in a pivotal ninth had the crowd on its feet, with Mosley seeming energized. Oscar tried to fight fire with fire, but he was missing more and more, losing the exchanges and taking sharp shots.
And in round ten the tide officially turned as the speed and superior jab of Mosley dominated. Connecting at an impressive 65 percent rate, he almost doubled Oscar’s totals, out-landing him by 34 to 19, as the momentum clearly swung to Shane with the contest still up for grabs on the judges’ cards. Another close round in the eleventh saw Mosley more than hold his own, and Alcazar told De La Hoya straight: “We need this round.” After all, Oscar had clinched victory before in the final round of a superfight, knocking down Ike Quartey and coming within a whisker of scoring a stoppage. But on this night “Sugar” Shane was to prove he had more staying power than “Bazooka.”
At the bell, with the crowd roaring, both champions came out blazing, ripping salvos to head and body in the centre of the ring. But the sharper, eye-catching shots were coming from Mosley. When they clinched for a brief respite, Oscar shook his head to show he was fine, but the punches told a different story. Halfway through the round Mosley thudded home a vicious right hook to the body; hurt, De La Hoya instinctively fired back and got hit flush on the jaw with a huge right that stiffened his legs. “Shane Mosley is out-hustling Oscar De La Hoya, out-working him, out-fighting him when it matters most!” declared Lampley. Mosley took the round big, landing a massive 45 punches to De La Hoya’s 18, as they traded furiously right to the final bell.
De La Hoya vs Mosley had more than lived up to the hype but the final outcome was, if not obvious, clear to most. Even so, the split verdict was close, with scores of 116-112 and 115-113 for Mosley, versus 115-113 for De La Hoya, meaning Oscar was only one round away from securing a draw. The total punch stats were also close, with Mosley landing 284 to Oscar’s 257. And significantly, this time De La Hoya never stopped fighting hard, never stopped trying to win, never ran from Mosley’s onslaught. “The bad memory of the Trinidad fight is totally erased,” declared Lampley. “This has been a war.”
But despite Oscar’s gutsy effort, it was Shane’s second-half surge that made him a deserved winner in a thrilling twelve round donnybrook. Mosley threw and landed more punches in every single round from the eighth to the twelfth, swept the last six rounds on one of the judges’ cards, while losing only the eleventh on another, and connected with a huge 57 percent of his total power punches compared to 37 percent for De La Hoya.
“In the twelfth round we both stood toe-to-toe, and we both went soul-searching, to see who was the real champion,” said Mosley. “I had to show the world that I was prepared to fight the twelfth-round win, lose, or draw. I wanted them to know that I’m a true warrior.”
De La Hoya vs Mosley had been billed as “Destiny,” and on this night, amid the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles Staples Centre, Shane Mosley fulfilled the potential many predicted he was destined to achieve, while in defeat, De La Hoya earned the warrior’s respect he craved. But it was Mosley who emerged as the new star, briefly gaining recognition as the premier boxer in the world, pound-for-pound, on the back of his magnificent performance. And though his career would not live up to the lofty heights of his namesakes Robinson and Leonard, on this night he did the “Sugar” moniker proud. — Matt O’Brien