By GARY ANDREW POOLE Sat May 7, 10:15 am ET
"Sugar" Shane Mosley, one of America's greatest active pugilists, lounges in his Big Bear, California, chalet and looks across a forest of wind-whipped pine trees "conjuring" how he will defeat Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in Las Vegas. Pacquiao, pound for pound the best fighter wearing gloves, is an 8-1 favorite while Mosley is an afterthought to many sports fans who are frustrated that the Filipino isn't fighting another American, Floyd Mayweather Jr., the best defensive fighter in the world.
(Archrivals Pacquiao and Mayweather have never faced each other in the ring, despite lengthy negotiations. According to Pacquiao's promoter, talks broke down for a third time after Nelson Mandela's daughter tried to arrange the matchup in honor of her father's birthday. Mayweather allegedly demanded $100 million for himself and the negotiations fell apart.) (See the rise of Manny Pacquiao.)
Mosley, a handsome man with a whispery voice, has had a storied professional career that has spanned 18 years and earned him world titles in three weight divisions, but his matchup against Pacquiao for the welterweight championship is what he himself calls his "biggest moment, the pinnacle." Mosley, 39, insists that he will defy age and do what no boxer has done in six years: defeat the 32-year old Pacquiao. But fight fans, already frustrated that they aren't getting Mayweather in the ring, aren't hot for Mosley, who has looked creaky in his last two battles. The fight will likely be the most watched boxing event of the year because of Pacquiao's rising popularity as an athlete and as a crusader for the poor - will wear yellow gloves on Saturday as a show of unity with his country's impoverished. Mosley, fight fans argue, was chosen as an opponent based on name recognition and because he abandoned Mayweather's promoter, Golden Boy, (a rival to Pacquiao's promoter Top Rank) to get the fight. Mosley's own trainer frets that Pacquiao is the "Rubik's cube of boxing" because he is so difficult to figure out.
Given that Pacquiao has dominated the sweet science for a decade, it would be easy to dismiss Pacquiao-Mosley as a glorified exhibition. But the bout holds dangers for the Pacman, as he is called, whose rags-to-riches story and exciting style have made him the sport's biggest star. Even at his age, Mosley still possesses decent foot speed and has a respectable right hand. Last year, it found the chin of Mayweather the most elusive fighter in the world, and almost knocked him out.
In his mountain chalet, Mosley jumps off his leather couch to demonstrate how he will confuse and frustrate Pacquiao. Both men cite Bruce Lee, the iconic martial artist, as a role model in their ghost-like boxing styles. "I'm an illusion," he says. He moves back and forth, moving his torso and head in different angles, shuffling and stepping in different ways. "I can be there, and not be there. I can be right in front of your face and not be there. I am not really there...Here I am, I am...gone...See, see. Here I am, where am I? You can't find me, you can't punch me. And here comes my punch. Bam. Where did that come from?" (See photos of Mike Tyson.)
On Mosley's iPhone, he has a photograph of himself (5'10") and the Pacquiao (5'6-1/2") staring at each other. He likes to show it to people to prove that his longer reach (nearly eight inches) will play a pivotal role in the fight. "I believe I can knock Pacquiao out," he says. "I hit anyone square on the chin a couple times. He'll go to sleep." Mosley snaps his fingers, his blue eyes twinkling. "Shane Mosley is still strong and moves like he is 29-years-old," says Pacquiao. "He is bigger than me and strong." But the Filipino may just be promoting his fight. He's never had trouble beating taller men.
Belying his bravado, Mosley followed his loss against Mayweather in May 2010 with a bout against Sergio Mora four months later and recorded a lackluster draw. Mora clinched and went backwards throughout the fight and Mosley looked tired. Both men were booed throughout the bout. Mosley says his last two performances were anomalies and Pacquiao's constant offensive flourishes play into his counter-punching abilities. Pacquiao's style is risky and he gives the appearance of being vulnerable because he lunges straight at his opponents. Still, his speed and ability to change direction make him virtually impossible to hit. Like others before him, Mosley says he admires the Filipino's style, but insists "it plays into my power."
Especially if Pacquiao isn't as fit as he can be. The Filipino seemed to be coasting through his last two matches. In the run-up to Pacquiao's last rumble against Antonio Margarito in November, the PacMan trained through a debilitating foot injury and took side trips to confer with the president of the Philippines, to campaign for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, and go off on numerous other non-boxing escapades. Despite the distractions and not being "in Manny shape" (as his fans call his optimum form), Pacquiao rattled the Mexican, who is five inches taller, with dozens of powerful blows, breaking the man's orbital bone. Pacquiao took some vicious shots to the ribs, however, and after the fight he was not his usual jovial self. Perhaps stung by his own mortality, Pacquiao seems to be training for Saturday's fight with more focus. Mosley is certainly a more threatening opponent than his previous two challengers. (See the top 10 boxing matches of all time.)
About Mosley, Pacquiao says, "He's big. He throws a power punch. I'm not going to underestimate my opponent." Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, says he has never seen the Filipino work so hard. "There were no distractions," he says. "No politics, no acting, no singing. He has been very focused because he knows this isn't an easy fight." Pacquiao - who is famous in boxing for having dozens of people in his entourage, many with dubious duties like holding exercise mats or making sure the Gatorade has the right water to powder mixture - did have a meet-and-greet with President Obama in February, but for the most part there haven't been many sideline activities.
To be sure, there is the ever increasing coverage and celebrity visits to the gym where he trains. Two weeks ago Don Rickles stopped by the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood to crack jokes and say hello to the champ; and Leon Gast, the Academy Award winning director of the Ali-Frazier documentary When We Were Kings, is doing a similar film about Pacquiao. Still, the ever-present Filipino journalistic entourage, which follow his every move, has been given very little drama to report. The biggest news? In the last few weeks Pacquiao signed an endorsement deal to be "the face" of a broccoli distributor and he released a single of the soft rock classic, "Sometimes When We Touch," making an appearance on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live to promote it.
So what's going to happen in the ring? Pacquiao, in the prime of his boxing career, will most likely bring his usual aggressive strategy and hyperkinetic energy: relentlessly attacking his opponent at complex angles. Mosley will probably try and get in close, avoid Pacquiao's punishing left hand (one sparring partner has described it as similar to getting hit by a baseball bat) and attempt to beat Pacquiao to the punch. If that doesn't work, he will try and contain Pacquiao's six-punch combinations by clenching him or use his superior size to keep him at arm's length. (See the top 10 disgraced athletes.)
Most boxing observers - and odds makers - believe Mosley won't be able to deal with Pacquiao's speed and rapid change of direction. Trainer Roach, a man not given to hyperbole, expects Mosley to get knocked out. And in the end, there will always be a Mayweather subtext. Mayweather beat Mosley in their fight, but wasn't able to knock him out. "If Manny can be the first person in the world to knock out Shane Mosley it will show the world that Manny is better than the other guy," says Roach.
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