Sugar Shane Mosley and Sergio ?Latin Snake? Mora are both products of blood-letting gyms in East Los Angeles. It?s where you go to get the best sparring and preparation.
Luckily, I?ve been fortunate to witness each fighter?s pot-holed climbs from dense obscurity to eventual world championships.
On Saturday, at Staples Center, Mora (22-1-1, 6 KOs) and Mosley (46-6, 39 KOs) perform on a grand scale in a non-title bout set for 12 rounds before an expected large crowd of Los Angelenos. Golden Boy Promotions is staging the battle between L.A. fighters and HBO pay-per-view will televise.
Mosley, 39, was born in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Pomona on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles County. It?s where the annual LA County Fair is held every September.
As a youngster Mosley?s father and trainer Jack Mosley would often tote him to various gyms in the East L.A. area. Places like Resurrection Gym (now Golden Boy Boxing gym), Brooklyn Boxing gym (now defunct), LA Boxing (now defunct) and Azteca Boxing gym had an abundance of hard core fighters from Mexico, El Salvador, and from the streets of East L.A.
You could not visit those gyms without expecting all-out war. Nobody took it easy and Mosley was always a target because he was one of the few non-Latinos that would venture to those sweat boxes.
The speedy Mosley traded blows toe-to-toe with many a Mexican fighter looking to add his scalp to their reputation. It?s where a young Mosley sparred with the great Julio Cesar Chavez and other great pros while still an amateur. It?s also where he learned to fight the ?old school Mexican style? fighter. You know, guys like Antonio Margarito, Zack Padilla and Genaro Hernandez.
?People say I?m a black Mexican cause of the way I fight,? Mosley says. He?s not exaggerating.
Nine consecutive knockouts
After completing his amateur career Mosley fought some of the toughest no-name fighters of the early 1990s. Each of those guys was gunning to be the one to topple Mosley and earn serious street cred. It never happened though it almost did on several occasions. But nobody seemed to be watching Mosley war with Greg Puente, Mauro Gutierrez, and Manuel ?Shotgun? Gomez who were anything but pushovers.
Even after winning the lightweight world title Mosley wasn?t gaining recognition despite knocking out nine consecutive contenders.
Mosley?s moment came when he returned to the streets of East L.A. to offer a public challenge right in that town?s heart of Whittier Boulevard and Arizona Street. A boxing magazine Uppercut Magazine captured the moment and a copy of it was sent to Oscar De La Hoya. Next thing you know De La Hoya accepted the challenge. The Golden Boy never refused a good challenge from somebody that would bring money.
It was 10 years ago on June 17, 2000 when Mosley and De La Hoya met for the first time and gave the Staples Center its first taste of big-time boxing. Everybody from Muhammad Ali to Halle Berry was there. It was an electric night and an even more blistering fight between the L.A. guys who grew up in the same gyms. It?s the fight most memorable and meaningful to Mosley.
?Oscar de la Hoya fight is my favorite. My fight against him is the one I watch the most. He is my partner at Golden Boy and I have a great amount of respect for him,? said Mosley while at the press conference today.
Mora, 29, born and raised in East L.A. where the Golden Boy was also raised a few miles west, said watching that fight and others was a watershed moment.
?Oscar de la Hoya represents everything I want to accomplish – championships, status and the ability to give back to the community,? said Mora.
He also watched Mosley make the move from brilliant but unknown prizefighter to one of the most talented and respected fighters in the world.
?I have nothing but respect for Shane Mosley and what he?s accomplished,? says Mora who has also experienced the same potholes as Mosley on his way up the professional ladder. ?It?s tough.?
Despite making shockwaves during Olympic tryouts of 2000, Mora never was one of the sought after fighters that were signed by boxing managers and promoters. Even though he made it to the finals where he lost a close decision t Jermain Taylor he was overlooked by the professional boxing establishment that preferred more conventional boxing styles. Mora is not even close to conventional.
The first time I saw Mora in action was at the Arrowhead Pond that is now called the Honda Center. The East L.A. boxer was matched against Eric Tzand and I took note because he was from the East Los barrios. Most fighters from that area usually are battle tough and Mora didn?t surprise in that regard. But he did surprise me with his herky jerky movements and speed. He befuddled his opponent and won easily that day on October 2000. I jotted down his name.
Mora?s next match was against undefeated Charles Blake who I had seen before and knew was pretty decent and powerful. Not against Mora who perplexed and frustrated the hard-hitting Blake and nearly stopped him. I was convinced Mora would be hard to beat.
A year and a half would pass before I saw Mora fight again. This time he was matched against Warren ?Wardog? Kronberger a no-nonsense warrior who loved to trade blows. The trouble was Mora was never where Wardog expected him and absorbed blow after blow until the referee stopped the fight at the Irvine Marriott. I spoke to Mora?s team right after the fight to find out more.
From that moment on I knew he would become a world champion one day and asked some of the managers and matchmakers if they saw the same thing. None were interested. This went on for a couple more years.
Fernando Vargas was the guy who made the break for Mora. He allowed Mora to be a sparring partner and discovered that the East L.A. fighter was tougher to grab and corner than a buttered eel. Another sparring session was arranged and though Vargas was able to figure some things out, he still liked Mora?s ability. From that moment on he felt Mora was something special.
When casting calls went out for the Contender reality TV show it was Vargas who convinced the show people to put Mora on the roster. Sure enough he won it all: the million dollars, the car and the adulation of millions who watched that first series in 2004-2005.
Still, the road to recognition was a tainted one as most boxing fans felt Mora was a second tier fighter. This reputation followed him all the way until he fought the late great Vernon Forrest and ripped the WBC junior middleweight title from him with a convincing performance.
?I learned so much from those two fights with Vernon Forrest,? says Mora, who lost the rematch to Forrest several months later. ?But I?m honored to know that I lost to a great fighter.?
It?s all about honor for Mora. Yes, he wants to make millions but being able to show his ability in a match with one of Southern California?s boxing icons means just as much.
?To defuse a bomb like Mosley its going to be a hard task. This guy comes to knock everybody out,? said Mora, who will be walked into the ring by Los Angeles Laker star Ron Artest thanks to Claudia Ollis a budding power in boxing promotions. ? If I can?t defuse this guy I?m going to have to battle this guy.?
Youth vs. Experience
Mosley?s one-sided loss to Mayweather last May showed that the lengthy time off after his big win over Margarito may have dulled his usual razor sharp skills. Or maybe not?
Mora, though inactive for just as long as Mosley until last April, is 10 years younger, bigger and just as fast. Can he be the one to show Mosley out the door of elite status or will he be shown out instead?
?When do I have the leisure of a loss? Nothing else matters but to win,? Mora says.
Mosley knows the stakes.
?I know he thinks he can beat me,? said Mosley. ?I?m not looking past him.?