There were nights when it seemed Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas were destined for greatness.
For “Sugar Shane” it was June 17, 2000, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
That was the night Mosley, an underdog to his celebrity opponent Oscar De La Hoya, despite being the lightweight champ for two years, shocked the “Golden Boy” and won a split decision. It won him De La Hoya's WBC welterweight title, and it should have vaulted the Pomona, Calif., native into superstardom.
But it didn't, mostly because he never fought that good again versus an opponent of De La Hoya's caliber.
In ensuing fights, Mosley decimated the overmatched trio of Antonio Diaz, Shannan Taylor and Adrian Stone before running into Vernon Forrest. Then it all changed when Forrest dropped him twice in the second round and handed him his first defeat.
From then on, Mosley deteriorated with each outing. And, today, he appears to be half the fighter who humbled De La Hoya the first time.
But then, his original victory over De La Hoya was the kind of performance that most fighters can only dream about duplicating.
Before the fight, Mosley had commented that the first round would be a repeat of the opening stanza of Hagler-Hearns 15 years earlier. And while it wasn't nearly that historic, Mosley came out snarling, and took the fight right to his fellow Californian. De La Hoya responded in kind.
It set the tone for the rest of the fight, one of the best of the year.
When De La Hoya started to take control in the middle rounds, Mosley withstood the onslaught and fought back harder. By the late rounds, a severe Mosley body attack had weakened De La Hoya, allowing the Sugar Man to take a slight lead.
In the 12th round, both fighters let it all hang out. Mosley won the round, and the fight.
The reason: Speed. At the time, De La Hoya was one of the fastest fighters in boxing. Mosley and Floyd Mayweather – who was a junior lightweight at the time – were the only fighters faster.
Makes you wonder why Oscar took the fight.
By the time Mosley and De La Hoya fought again three years later on Sept. 13, 2003, both fighters were a step slower.
Mosley won again, this time controversially. It really didn't matter. Neither fighter impressed.
Sugar has since lost to Winky Wright twice, and notched a pair of meaningless wins. He has not come close to the form that knocked off De La Hoya. But that was six years ago. A fighter who relies on speed and reflexes rarely stays the same six years after his most impressive win.
It does seem apparent, however, that “Sugar” Shane will probably never again be as sweet as he was on June 17, 2000.
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Fernando Vargas was an interesting character before challenging Yory Boy Campas for the IBF junior middleweight title on Dec. 12, 1998. His blonde streaks in his hair and macho Mexican attitude made him a fascinating figure. However, he was young and inexperienced, and appeared a bit too green for the seasoned Campas when they met at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.
And while the fight was pretty much a pick 'em affair going in, that may have had more to do with Campas' age and style limitations. No one expected a blowout in favor of the kid from Oxnard.
But there was the young Vargas, who hadn't fought anyone tougher than Anthony Stephens and Romallis Ellis going in, dominating Campas. He was jabbing. He was moving. He was throwing combinations. He was hurting Campas, who had only lost two fights beforehand.
At the end of seven rounds, Yory Boy had had enough. He walked to the middle of the ring and surrendered. Vargas, realizing he was a world champ at the age of 21, erupted in tears and emotion. After only 14 pro fights, “Ferocious Fernando” (which would later become “El Feroz”) was a world champ.
And his future seemed limitless.
Vargas followed that up with a string of good-looking title defenses against some tough customers – Raul Marquez, Winky Wright and Ike Quartey. After a destruction of the hopeless Ross Thompson, Vargas met Felix Trinidad to unify the 154-pound title.
It was a brutal fight. Vargas was dropped and beaten up in the first round, only to rebound and knock Trinidad down in the middle rounds. But, slowly, Trinidad's punching power began to show itself, and, by the end, Vargas could offer nothing but his heart.
Trinidad dropped him twice in the 12th – the last time sickeningly. The fight was stopped.
Two years later, Vargas got his second chance at immortality when he met old rival De La Hoya. It followed the same pattern as Vargas' fight with Trinidad: El Feroz hurt his opponent early, but faded down the stretch. By the 11th, he was fighting on courage – and De La Hoya put him down. A few seconds later, a barrage prompted the end.
The fight was stopped.
Vargas fought well against two of the great fighters of his generation. But there were more than a few people who thought, after the Campas fight, that Vargas would be one of the greats.
As it turns out, Vargas will probably be remembered as very good – certainly nothing wrong with that. And the Campas fight will be Vargas' masterpiece. And there's nothing wrong with that, either.
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So what does it all mean? It could mean a great fight Saturday night. Whenever a pair of former stars hook up, it often translates into a good fight, regardless of how badly they have faded. It happened with Ali and Frazier in 1975. It happened with Hearns and Leonard in 1989.
Some of the ability may be gone, but these two still have something to prove.
So look for Vargas to ditch that stick-and-move style and come after Mosley. And look for Mosley to trade with him.
It should result in one last, thrilling night on the big stage for a couple of former big names.