LAS VEGAS – Naazim Richardson is not only a top quality trainer but he’s also a bit of an old school philosopher.
He has no use for rap music, which he believes tends to pollute the mind, and little use for what might be called “conventional wisdom.’’ For the moment the only wrapping Richardson is concerned with however are the ones on the hands of his fighter, Sugar Shane Mosley. Conventional wisdom is another matter entirely.
The latter argues that the 39-year-old Mosley has reached the age of diminishing returns in boxing. It is a major reason why he is an 8-to-1 underdog in most local betting parlors going into Saturday night’s WBO welterweight title fight against Manny Pacquiao, who is widely considered to be the best boxer in the world.
Not surprisingly, Mosley is insulted by this, both by being seen as such a prohibitive underdog and by being defined by the years on a calendar. Richardson seems to be standing somewhere in the middle of those two worlds, acknowledging the obvious about the ravages of time but then dismissing them as not applicable to a Hall of Fame fighter, which Mosley certainly is.
Although Richardson would not try to quarrel with the realities of nature when he hears the argument that Mosley has little chance to beat the man considered to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he snorts and then explains the difference between being an old fighter and being a great fighter who is old.
Speaking for both Mosley and another of his boxers, former middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins, Richardson contended that, “These aren’t just old men who box. These are legendary fighters who have age on them. There’s a difference between a legendary fighter who has age and an old boxer.
“These aren’t just men. When these guys were in their prime they were exceptional. Michael Jordan could probably still come out now and make the starting five on any team in the NBA. We discount these older guys but we forget these were special guys. When special guys get old they can still be extraordinary.”
Richardson’s point is a variation on a long held boxing theory which, simply stated, holds that a great fighter near the end of their time often has one last great fight in him. One more top draw performance than the larger world can see coming or thinks possible.
This has been proven many times, most recently in Richardson’s opinion by both Hopkins and Erik Morales in fights with reigning WBC light heavyweight champion Jean Pascal and one of the top rated junior welterweights in the world, Marcos Maidana.
Yet although both fought better than many expected, neither won, a point Richardson chose to ignore not because he forgot but because that is what the sport of boxing demands. It demands a refusal to acknowledge certain facts for to do otherwise would be to eliminate all chance of victory in a sport that, at this level at least, is as much mental as it is physical.
Yet the fact is Hopkins drew with Pascal (and got a rematch and another payday out of it) while Morales lost a majority decision. One could argue that either fight could have gone the other way but they didn’t, and so we arrive back at Mosley, who has grown weary of hearing about his age.
“Being a 10-1 underdog (who’s counting?) that’s disrespectful,’’ Mosley contended. “After it’s all over I’ll look at all if them and say ‘Ok. I got your 10-1.’ I’m so eager to prove people wrong.
“If (Antonio) Margarito was fast enough to land punches on Manny Pacquiao I know I am fast enough. I think I can do all the things I could do in the ring five years ago. Ten years ago? I can’t think back that far.’’
Ten years ago it was Mosley who was considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Five years ago? Not so much. By that time his inevitable slide had begun.
Mosley began his career 38-0 with 30 knockouts. He held the lightweight, welterweight and briefly the junior middleweight title but since suffering his first loss in 2002, he has been barely a .500 fighter, going 8-6-1 with a no decision the past nine years.
Worse, Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KO) is 3-2-1 in his last six fights and looked terrible in his last outing, a lackluster draw against the lifeless Sergio Mora that he and Richardson now dismiss as a result more of bad match making than any sign of slippage.
Yet there is a sneaking suspicion in this corner that while Richardson’s point about old great fighters has some validity the last grand performance of Shane Mosley’s career may already have taken place.
That was two years ago when he dismantled the vastly overrated but still supremely dangerous Antonio Margarito in nine rounds to win the WBA welterweight title. That night Mosley, who many believed was already past his prime, dominated Margarito completely, administering the kind of beating from which he has yet to recover.
But since then Mosley lost in lopsided fashion to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and fought that disappointing draw with Mora in which he looked like a fighter who could no longer pull the trigger.
In fact, Mosley’s final great moment may have come in Round 2 of the Mayweather fight, when he rocked him with a shot Mayweather never saw coming. That punch seemed to buckle Mayweather’s knees momentarily but as time has passed the magnitude of the punch seems to have grown, at least in the minds of Mosley’s supporters.
The fact is, although he did hurt Mayweather, Mosley never again hit him with an effective punch. In fact, by the end of that round Mayweather was back in command and stayed that way the rest of the night.
Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, has known Mosley for years and has an abiding respect for his ability and his punching power. He refuses to say he is a shadow of what he once was, insisting that Pacquiao must be ever vigilant to beat him. Yet when asked about the Mayweather fight, Roach said, “I thought Shane blew his moment. He should have gotten aggressive. He had him hurt. I was very surprised he didn’t put the gas on.
“But when I think about it, maybe he did. Shane knew what to do but he didn’t do it. Maybe it was because of Mayweather (more than a failing on the part of Mosley). I thought there was an opening right then but I wasn’t in the ring with Mayweather. Mosley was.’’
The Shane Mosley in the ring that night couldn’t do what he would have 10 years ago or maybe even five years ago. He couldn’t do what he did just two years ago to Antonio Margarito.
And now he will enter the ring not against any fighter but the one viewed as the best in the world. Even at his heights, this would have been a difficult opponent. Today? Well, as Freddie Roach considered that he came to one damningly clear conclusion.
“Naazim is a very good trainer,’’ Roach said. “He’s technically good and he communicates well with his fighters. But all this stuff about great fighters not being old fighters? Come on.
“Old is old. You can’t escape that.’’
Saturday night Shane Mosley will have to because if he can’t there’ll be no escaping from Manny Pacquiao either.