A rematch was agreed to even before they climbed into the ring
last Saturday night, but it's still hard to imagine that Sugar
Shane Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya will cross paths again. They
took such different routes to their violent intersection, and
now that the fight is over, they seem so likely to travel apart
that another meeting feels wrong--improper actually. Mosley, who
had to scrabble unnoticed all those years, is at last on his way
up. De La Hoya, who has been such a famous boxer that he even
had his own milk ad, is on his way out. On the basis of a single
spectacular round, one career was belatedly born and another
effectively completed. That's just the way it goes.
De La Hoya, who definitely did not win that critical 12th round,
understood this when he finally appeared before the press
following his second loss in his last three bouts. Acknowledging
that he might change his mind, as might anyone whose paydays
exceed $15 million, he said it was time to get off boxing's
merry-go-round, which would have him chasing a circular
redemption: a rematch with Mosley and, if De La Hoya won, a
third fight. A rematch with Felix Trinidad, who beat him last
fall, and perhaps another after that. "All for money," De La
Hoya said. "Just money."
He could see how it might never end and might lure him into that
desperate territory where boxers grow groggy trying to recapture
a lost moment, say Saturday's 12th round. That's how a promoter
might encourage him. "But I don't see it that way," said De La
If he does retire, this would be a pretty good way to go out. It
would mean an end to a career that was part heroic and part
baffling, beginning with an Olympic gold medal in 1992 and
stretching through world titles in four weight divisions and a
few reluctant performances. Yet it would be an impressive end.
For once, as if bowing to his critics, especially those in his
native East Los Angeles, De La Hoya unfurled all his talents,
fought with all his heart, flat-footedly whaling at the quicker
Mosley. He was the fighter everyone knew throbbed inside that
show-business package, a kid who really had as much character as
charisma after all.
That his valor didn't carry him to victory--though it very
nearly did; the bout ended in a split decision and the WBC
welterweight title for Mosley--brings no shame to De La Hoya. He
understood this, too. All the more reason to quit, knowing that
the best he had to offer was no longer enough, and that the
stage now belonged to a dimpled and thoroughly uncomplicated
boxer such as Mosley. It was over, or ought to be.
For Mosley, another L.A. fighter who at 28 is actually a year
older than his more famous crosstown rival, this is only the
beginning. His career, hobbled by a loss in the same Olympic
trials that launched De La Hoya to stardom, had percolated
locally without distinction until promoter Cedric Kushner got
him a shot at IBF lightweight champion Philip Holiday in 1997.
Mosley won that one by decision, and then a succession of
knockouts earned him national attention and finally brought him,
as a welterweight, back to De La Hoya, with whom he'd often
sparred during their amateur days. Their fight Saturday was not
Destiny, as promoter Bob Arum bannered it, but it sure was
Mosley was the ingenue in this show, though he'd had 34 bouts to
De La Hoya's 33, and there was widespread speculation that he
would wilt under the pressure De La Hoya would apply in L.A.'s
sold-out Staples Center. Mosley wasn't cowed. "Why be afraid of
something I want?" he asked. Indeed, of the two boxers, he was
by far the more relaxed going into the fight. He'd grown up in
the suburban ease of Pomona, where his talents (from basketball
to the trumpet) were always encouraged, and he didn't seem
vulnerable to disappointment.
De La Hoya, whose ring earnings have outstripped Mosley's by
more than $100 million and who had been tested in some of
boxing's biggest events, seemed his usual edgy, beady-eyed self.
"Maybe it won't affect Shane," he said last week of the prefight
hype. Yet it always affects De La Hoya. "I feel nervous even
now," he said, citing a lifetime of "having to carry the show."
Still, he didn't seem particularly nervous or exhausted when the
fight finally began. He pressed the action, just as he'd
promised. "Attack, attack, attack," he'd said of his plan,
having heard jeers for tiptoeing to defeat in the welterweight
unification bout with Trinidad, and that's what he did, to the
relief of fans and critics alike. "It was," De La Hoya said
afterward, "a slugfest. Fun for everybody."
Mosley, who lacks De La Hoya's power, moved backward throughout,
but his hand speed kept him in the bout. Although De La Hoya
landed no devastating punches, his celebrated left hand was like
a hammer waiting to drop. Mosley, constantly circling out of
reach, rushed forward to pop De La Hoya often enough to score
points but did not risk brawling with him.
Instead, he flashed double rights, one-hand combinations that
dazzled more than damaged. He also remained careful not to
launch too many left hands to De La Hoya's head, since every
time he did, De La Hoya came back with his own left to the body.
The fight had a certain ebb and flow, with Mosley flagging in
the middle rounds, as if his frantic opening had depleted him.
Then, beginning in the eighth, Mosley regrouped, and De La Hoya
seemed to droop. It was close, though; going into the 12th, one
judge had De La Hoya ahead by three points; the other two had
Mosley winning, one by a point, the other by three points.
For De La Hoya the urgency was plain to see. There was no point
in boxing Mosley at this stage. "It'd be much easier to box him,
to stand on my toes and not get hit," said De La Hoya afterward,
"but would I get a decision?" He felt that's how he had lost his
title in the first place. He wouldn't risk that strategy again.
So in the 12th he stormed out, reckless, frantic for the
knockout, to be met by an equally desperate Mosley. His father
and trainer, Jack Mosley, had said, "Close the show, make a
statement and, no matter what, I love you," and Shane was
insanely bold, flinging right hands against De La Hoya's head.
It was a fabulous round--"soul-searching," Mosley called
it--with each boxer's bravery laid out for all to see.
At the end, there was no question that Mosley, by dint of
several more right hands, had won the round and thus the fight.
"I can take a welterweight punch," he said afterward, "and I can
give some of my own."
Mosley's quickness in the face of superior power, not to mention
the heart he showed, now confer stardom upon him, and he becomes
the standard-bearer for boxing. The heavyweight division is a
disaster--De La Hoya, through his purse and pay-per-view
guarantees, earned more against Mosley than Lennox Lewis and
Michael Grant earned, combined, for their recent fight--and
excitement in the sport depends on a few welterweights and
middleweights. Mosley, who is impossibly pleasant and whose
relationship with his father is so wholesome, moves to the head
of this class.
De La Hoya, by virtue of his legacy and his performance, stays a
star for as long as he wants and could easily prolong his career
with that daisy chain of rematches, some of which he would win
and all of which would pay him the world. Although he has often
toyed with his public, expressing a preference for one pursuit
or another over boxing--including architecture, golf, singing
and acting ("When I look at my face," he said the other day, not
quite playfully enough, "I realize I wasn't born just to be a
boxer")--this time he seemed a little more determined to call it
Maybe he should. He's young and rich, and he'll enjoy a long
carryover of fame, remembered for a furious 12th round as much
as for a final defeat. What would rematches prove? There would
only be more, one after another, until he simply couldn't bear
to come out for any more 12th rounds, could not hope to battle
the Mosleys, with their quick little hands. De La Hoya is smart
enough to know he was never going to leave this game on top.
Let's see if he's smart enough to leave it on his own terms.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO FRIENDLY FIRE Against his former sparring mate, Mosley (far right) kept moving and scored with dazzling double right hands.
COLOR PHOTO: HOLLY STEIN/HBO SWEAT BOX Mosley tasted De La Hoya's potent left enough to know he couldn't stand and brawl with the more powerful champion.
The 12th was a fabulous round, with each boxer's bravery laid
out for all to see.