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August 28, 2020

The New Sugar Man Arrives: Shane Mosley W12 Oscar De La Hoya

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was originally published on on June 17th, 2020:

It was the summer of 2000. Still drunk on the optimism of the New Millennium, the world was a happier, less volatile place. The social media giants that dominate our lives today did not even exist. The tragedy of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” that lay in its wake had yet to unfold. Bill Clinton was presiding over his eighth and final year in the White House, while a Donald Trump presidency was still just a joke in The Simpsons.

Notable events in the Y2K summer of sport saw golfing sensation Tiger Woods romp to his first ever US Open, tennis legend Pete Sampras claim a record seventh Wimbledon title, while English football fans will remember celebrating a rare victory over their arch nemesis, Germany, in the European championships, on 17th June. Later that same night, boxing fans were treated to one of the most absorbing battles in recent history, as “Sugar” Shane Mosley emerged as boxing’s newest star, defeating Californian counterpart, Oscar De La Hoya, over twelve tightly-contested rounds for the WBC welterweight championship.

The boxing landscape, like the rest of the world, was a different place back then. Lennox Lewis reigned as the undisputed heavyweight king; an ambitious young champion by the name of “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather defended his first of many world titles; and the spectacular Roy Jones Jnr. – widely regarded as the finest boxer in the world – feasted on a roster of underwhelming challengers. Meanwhile, Latino heartthrob De La Hoya was the biggest Box Office attraction in the sport, outside of anyone named Mike Tyson.

Oscar’s late 90s run had taken him to the cusp of greatness, as he claimed championship belts from 130-147lbs, 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 majority points win from under the Golden Boy’s nose, and Oscar’s march to boxing immortality was stopped in its tracks. To make matters worse, De La Hoya was widely ridiculed for “running” in his showdown against Trinidad. He was accused of lacking a warrior’s heart; his manhood, his Mexican heritage, his whole identity as a fighter was called into question. A seventh-round return KO of Derrell Coley showed he still had a fire burning, but a more meaningful opponent was needed to truly erase the pain and the stigma of the Trinidad loss. Enter Shane Mosley.

A childhood amateur rival of De La Hoya’s, Mosley’s failure to make it to the 1992 Olympics had hampered his ascent through the professional ranks, but his exceptional talent saw him showered with the kind of plaudits that are almost considered sacrilegious in boxing. Asked what it was that impressed him so much about Mosley, HBO’s Larry Merchant had once said: “Three words… Sugar. Ray. Robinson.” Roy Jones Junior called Mosley the best lightweight he’d seen “outside of Roberto Duran,” while veteran trainer and analyst Gil Clancy was so impressed, he described Mosley as, “like looking at a fighter back in the 40s.”

Sugar Shane’s dazzling speed, brutal body attack, and killer finishing instinct blended beautifully into what his father labelled their own “power boxing” style, leading to eight defences of the IBF lightweight title, all by knockout. In 1998 Mosley was named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, but outgrowing the weight and unable to secure a big unification fight, he looked instead to higher pastures and paydays, leaping over the light-welterweight division straight up to 147lbs. Two more knockouts followed, and with his welterweight credentials established, the big-name showdown he’d always craved finally beckoned.

Mosley came in as a slight underdog, with De La Hoya’s presumed advantages in size and power a common pre-fight theme. In fact, a closer look at their histories revealed Mosley had boxed at 139lbs in the amateurs, whereas De La Hoya won his Olympic medal at 132. Both had started as lightweights in the pro ranks, although De La Hoya even managed to briefly dip down to nab a title at 130lbs, before ascending back through the weights. True, Oscar was two inches taller and had had eight more fights and two more years to get acclimatised at welterweight, but it was actually Mosley who entered the ring heavier on the night, coming in at 155lbs to De La Hoya’s 152.

“The ring is my home, I can do whatever I want in the ring,” Mosley told British magazine Boxing Monthly, in the lead up to the fight. Sure enough, as he made his way to the ring, smiling and bouncing and surrounded by his family, he looked a picture of absolute confidence. De La Hoya, as was his way in the moments prior to a big fight, seemed focused but more tense as he worked pads in the locker room, before entering the 20,000-strong roaring arena to the sound of a Mexican mariachi band.

In the first round Mosley boxed 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 zipped out a super quick jab and out-landed Oscar 25 to nine according to CompuBox, sweeping the round on all three judges’ scorecards.

“[The look in his eyes said], ‘Damn, this guy’s got more power than I thought,’” Jack Mosley, father and trainer, told his son between rounds.

“Use your jab, and be first!” implored Robert Alcazar, in De La Hoya’s corner.

The second was a much better round for Oscar, as he began to get his own left hand working, landing clean jabs and several encouraging left hooks to the body. Shane was a little bit more versatile over the next few rounds, as he edged backwards and looked to time Oscar with his faster single shots; meanwhile De La Hoya stalked purposefully, letting rip with two-fisted combinations whenever he got 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 activity and more effective aggression.

The first six rounds had been tactically fought and fiercely contested, but at the halfway point all the momentum was with De La Hoya. He was up on the official tallies by four points and two points respectively, with the third card even. “The tide is going toward De La Hoya,” noted HBO’s Larry Merchant, in the seventh. “No question,” agreed Jim Lampley.

Jack Mosley, sensing the fight could slip away if they didn’t regain the initiative soon, encouraged his son to, “Just relax; [use your] rhythm.” Shane responded well and 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 corner in another close round, but the message from Mosley was clear: I’m not going anywhere.

De La Hoya plodded methodically forward again in the eighth and landed some stiff jabs, but Mosley looked the more fluid and comfortable fighter in the ring 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 their feet, with Mosley seeming energized. De La Hoya tried to fight fire with fire, but he was missing more and more and losing the exchanges.

The speed and superior jab of Mosley dominated in the tenth. Scoring with 65% of his punches, he almost doubled Oscar’s total, out-landing him by 34 to 19. Heading into the championship rounds then, the momentum had swung behind Mosley but the fight still hung in the balance: judge Lou Filippo had Mosley in an unassailable four-point lead, Marty Sammon still had Oscar two points ahead, while Pat Russell had it all even.

After another competitive round in the eleventh, Alcazar told De La Hoya straight, “we need this round.” Oscar had clinched victory before in the last round of a superfight, knocking down Ike Quartey and coming within a whisker of scoring a stoppage. On this night though, it was Mosley who got the exclamation mark needed to seal victory.

Both men 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, De La Hoya 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, but 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,” enthused Lampley. They traded right to the final bell, but Mosley took the round big, landing a massive 45 punches to De La Hoya’s 18.

Mathematically, the split verdict was close, with scores of 116-112 and 115-113 for Mosley, versus 115-113 for De La Hoya, meaning that Oscar was only a single 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 back, never stopped trying to win, never ran from Mosley’s onslaught. “The bad memory of the Trinidad fight is totally erased. This has been a war,” declared Lampley.

Despite De La Hoya’s best efforts though, Mosley’s second-half surge made him a deserved winner. He threw and landed more punches in every single round from the eighth to the twelfth, swept the last six rounds on Russell’s card and lost only the eleventh on Filippo’s, connecting with a huge 57% of his total power punches compared to 37% for De La Hoya.

“You could see in the twelfth round we both stood toe-to-toe, and we both went soul-searching, to see who was the real champion… 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,” stated the new champ.

The fight was billed as “Destiny,” and on this night two decades ago, amid the glitz and glamour of the Los Angeles Staples Centre, Shane Mosley fulfilled the potential many predicted he was destined to achieve. In defeat, De La Hoya earned the warrior’s respect he craved, but Mosley 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 quite live up to the lofty heights of his namesakes Robinson and Leonard, on this night he did the “Sugar” moniker proud.


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