BIG BEAR LAKE, CA.-The 60-minute drive through the winding snowy mountainous roads of Big Bear Mountain can be a perilous journey, especially during the winter, as snow, black ice and falling rocks can end a journey as quickly as an invisible left hook to the chin.
Last week a female teenager took her eyes off the road for a split second and found herself plummeting down the steep mountain upside down in a Volkswagen. Somehow she escaped with minor cuts and a totaled vehicle.
Few are that lucky.
This was about my 15th drive in nearly 10 years up the mountain road for a visit to Sugar Shane Mosley (45-5, 38 KOs), who is less than two weeks away for his bid against WBA welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito (37-5, 27 KOs) at the Staples Center on Saturday Jan. 24.
The Pomona native has been using the tourist resort of Big Bear for his training camp for more than nine years and now has a ritzy cabin of his own that harbors a boxing gym, numerous rooms and three floors. He also has the biggest, meanest dog you’ve ever seen. Though the dog took a chomp of me in my last visit, he still wants more. Not today buddy.
Photographer Paul Hernandez agreed to meet me in the mountain area beforehand so we hooked up a block away from the cabin. In front of Mosley’s cabin, I pumped on the horn a couple of times and someone opened the automatic gates for us to enter. Snow and ice are everywhere.
Those readers from the Midwest and East coast probably laugh about our concern over driving in winter conditions. But growing up in East L.A. where it almost never drops below freezing and snows once every 100 years, both of us are not accustomed to driving sideways on icy streets. Don’t even talk about chains.
Inside the cabin, three of Mosley’s sparring partners are wiping the morning sleep from their eyes and trying to force a smile at 10 a.m. They had been told that they were getting the day off from training. They’re ecstatic. We’re a little disappointed. We had made the mountain trek to watch them spar but somehow the p.r. people got their signals mixed up.
First to greet us is Enrique Ornelas, the middleweight from La Habra, California who has served as Mosley’s sparring partner for more than two years. He’s big, strong, hits hard and is a sincerely nice guy. He tells us that his brother Librado Andrade was sparring too a few weeks ago but has returned to Canada.
Andrade is the guy that knocked down IBF super middleweight titleholder Lucian Bute in the last round when they fought. The Canadian referee gave the fallen fighter 17 more seconds to recover by halting the action inappropriately and saying Andrade was not in the neutral corner. It was one of the worst robberies since Mando Muniz was denied the world title against Jose Napoles back in 1975, when “Mantequilla” could not fight after the 12th round due to cuts and a beating from the California based welterweight.
Also in Mosley’s camp is San Diego’s Eddie Sanchez, a tall and lean junior middleweight who made a name for himself several years ago when he took attended a pre-fight conference at a casino to get free grub and ended up taking a fight with two days notice. He lost nine pounds and fought and beat J.C. Candelo for the GBU Americas light middleweight title.
The final sparring partner for Mosley is Philadelphia’s Gabriel Rosado, another big middleweight fighter who looks like he could fight light heavyweight without a problem. Rosado recently handed Ireland’s James Moore his first defeat and now is going after another undefeated fighter in a few weeks.
All three boxers are sitting around, drinking juice and killing time around the pool table in the cabin. First to speak is Ornelas, who tells us what’s been happening in the sparring sessions. Usually when he spars with Mosley the blows sound like a bat hitting a big heavy bag. There’s almost a concussive feeling.
Mosley walks down the stairs and invites me and Hernandez up to go to the adjoining cabin where he has a nice warm loft that has a couple of couches and a sofa. That’s where we talked about his upcoming fight.
“I like sparring with bigger guys cause I don’t have to hold back,” said Mosley, who during sparring against the big guys likes to rear back with a slight smile like a youngster hitting off a batting tee. “They can take it.”
Mosley usually has to look up to his opponents, except in his last fight against Ricardo Mayorga. But in that fight, the tricky Nicaraguan prizefighter changed tactics and boxed and held successfully for nearly 12 rounds. It was the last minute change in his plans that led to his downfall.
“As soon as he tried to fight his old style that’s when I knocked him out,” says Mosley laughing. “He ran right into it.”
Fighting bigger guys is almost a ritual for Mosley. There were two battles with Vernon Forrest, two with Winky Wright and two with Fernando Vargas. Now it’s back to norm.
“The strongest guy was Winky Wright,” said Mosley, who lost big in their first encounter but a narrow defeat by split-decision in their rematch. “Winky walks around at 190. Vargas walks around at 220.”
Mention of Margarito causes a brief twinkle and smile in Mosley who is sitting back on a couch with ESPN running on a big screen TV as we talk about the upcoming fight.
Mountain preparation is engrained in Mosley. I remember back in October 2000 when he trained at a facility called Big Bear Training and Fitness for an upcoming world title defense against Antonio Diaz. It was the strangest thing because both he and Diaz used the same gym to prepare and would see each other every day. First Mosley’s team would work and would cross the little five-feet corridor as Team Diaz would walk in. Both guys would greet each other amicably and proceed peacefully. Their fight took place 2,500 miles away in New York City and where they bludgeoned each other for six rounds.
This is a different fight. Most boxing followers wonder how Mosley will survive against the murderous body punches of Margarito.
“I’m a pretty good body puncher too,” said Mosley, who dropped David Estrada with body blows in their encounter several years ago. “I may be older but I keep in pretty good shape. I work hard so I can take body blows.”
Ornelas, Rosado and Sanchez agree that Mosley can give Margarito problems he hasn’t encountered before.
“Shane can change up in the ring without hesitation,” says Ornelas, who has regularly sparred with Mosley during the past several years. “He’s very strong.”
Sanchez, who has a six-inch height advantage and an extremely long reach, says the smaller Mosley can fight in a variety of ways if he chooses.
“He’ll adapt to any fighting style,” says Sanchez, who also has served as a training partner in previous Mosley camps. “He can turn it on in a split-second.”
Can he adapt to the endless volume punching of Margarito who follows in the footsteps of many other great Mexican fighters?
“Since I was a kid I was facing tough Mexicans in the gym who fought the same style,” says Mosley with a slight chuckle. “Guys like Zack Padilla, Julio Cesar Chavez and Genaro Hernandez.”
Mosley said he realized as an amateur he would need to learn how to fight toe-to-toe against guys who cared less about jabs and more about punishing.
“I had to adapt to the Mexican style of fighting,” Mosley says laughing. “They’ll take a punch to give you two in return. They don’t care about getting hit. They want to hit you.”
Mosley explained how East Coast boxers differ drastically from West Coast fighters.
“In the East they don’t want to get hit at all,” Mosley says. “In the West they get insulted if they don’t get hit. They don’t care.”
Throughout his career he’s shown an aptitude for the Mexican fighting style, from fighting early on against roughnecks like Mauro Gutierrez in 1993, to fighting elite junior middleweights like Fernando Vargas and Winky Wright.
Mosley talked about his travels to East L.A. gyms early in his career when he battled against Padilla, who was much like Margarito a nonstop punching machine. There was also Genaro “Chicanito” Hernandez who though tall as Margarito, preferred to fight inside like the Tijuana Tornado. And there were also sessions with the real Chavez, not the sons.
“Those guys didn’t take it easy,” says Mosley with a chuckle. “I held my own.”
Now the question is not about his ability, but his age.
“I train hard so I can fight at this level against the best,” said Mosley. “I think I showed Margarito how to beat Miguel Cotto. Margarito probably saw the tape of my fight with Cotto.”
It’s another perilous road for Mosley. At age 37, the Pomona prizefighter wants to prove that like Bernard Hopkins, age is not a factor.
“I still got some tricks up my sleeve,” he laughs.