Fifteen years ago it was that rare thing, a highly publicized superfight between two elite boxers in their primes that more than lived up to the hype. Yesterday marked the 15th anniversary of Shane Mosley’s split-decision win over Oscar De La Hoya on June 17, 2000 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and looking back, Mosley calls it, without a doubt, his biggest fight and his best win as a prizefighter.
Quite a statement, considering Shane’s 20-year fighting career that includes world title wins at lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight, with victories over the likes of De La Hoya (twice), Antonio Margarito and Fernando Vargas. But Mosley is emphatic: the first win over De La Hoya was the pinnacle.
“At that time, Oscar was one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in boxing,” says Mosley. “He was coming off a great victory over Ike Quartey. He was the welterweight king and the pound-for-pound king. It was very exciting.”
For his part, De La Hoya had rebounded from a close and controversial decision loss to Felix Trinidad a year prior by knocking out Derrell Coley in just seven rounds. Mosley, on the other hand, was only a year removed from being a longtime IBF lightweight champion. The De La Hoya win was Mosley’s third bout at welterweight.
“I was doing all sorts of damage down there at lightweight,” says Mosley of the strain on his body to make the 135 lb. limit.
But while Mosley was the one moving up in weight and De La Hoya was considered the physically larger man during the fight’s buildup, the truth of the matter was the two were very similar in size. The only difference was that De La Hoya had simply campaigned at 147 for longer than Shane.
Mosley was highly confident going into that first battle with Oscar and his conviction owed much to his history with “The Golden Boy.” Shane and Oscar were far from strangers. They had first squared off when Shane was only 12-years-old and the Pomona, California native did in fact hand Oscar a pair of defeats in the amateurs.
“We knew each other very well,” recalls Mosley. “As an amateur, I was actually the bigger fighter. He fought in the Olympics at 132. I fought at 139.”
After losing in the Olympic Trials to Vernon Forrest, Shane failed to make the 1992 Olympic team. Instead, De La Hoya went on to garner world-wide fame by winning the gold medal in Barcelona, a victory which ensured that his subsequent professional career received more attention than Mosley’s.
But the two men ultimately met in an historic showdown eight years later and, to the surprise of many, Mosley prevailed. Looking back, Shane remembers the bout most for the bevvy of celebrities who showed up ringside to watch it.
“That fight was big. It was huge! Everybody wanted to see it. There were a lot of celebrities around the ring. At the time, I was like ‘Wow!’ There was Denzel Washington, and Selma Hayek was over there, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. I was going around the ring and waving at all the celebrities. It was a big night, and I knew I had to perform.”
For Mosley, the famous faces did not interfere with his mental focus. Instead they fueled him to do his very best against De La Hoya, a great and popular champion who was facing a must-win situation after the Trinidad loss.
“At that time, for me, it wasn’t a distraction. I was excited. I was ready to go and show the world what I could do. It was my time to show that I was, pound-for-pound, the best.”
Mosley did exactly that. He made his mark early in the fight with blistering hand and foot speed, taking a narrow points lead. After experiencing some tightness in his back in the middle rounds, Mosley reclaimed control in the late going to secure a well-earned, split-decision victory. The match was fast-paced, hard-fought and deadly close. The last round proved crucial and a pep talk before those final three minutes from Shane’s father and trainer, Jack Mosley, helped him focus on the task at hand.
“He knew how much I wanted to win the fight. He wanted it, too. We had both worked so hard for that moment, and we didn’t want to let that moment pass, to not do all I could to win the fight, to make history, to make my mark in the boxing world.”
While the superfight was a huge success, the two did not meet again in a rematch until three years later and Mosley isn’t sure why it took so long to make the second fight.
“I don’t know. I think Oscar wanted to wait and maybe try to pick the right time to fight me. But we’re both the same age, you know? And I stay at the gym, so it doesn’t really matter.”
Both Mosley and De La Hoya have made waves recently by saying they might stage comeback bouts. De La Hoya went so far as to suggest he would come back to tussle with WBA middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin. Mosley doesn’t see that as a good idea for his former rival.
“I don’t really understand him talking about GGG. He’s too big for him.”
Still, Shane Mosley says he would be happy to give fans a third fight between him and De La Hoya should it somehow materialize. Mosley is 43. De La Hoya is 42. Both appear to be in impeccable shape.
“If he wants to fight again,” says Sugar Shane, “I’ll whoop his ass again!”
– Kelsey McCarson