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Thursday, September 15, 2005
Can Mosley reverse the decline in his performance?

By Michael J. Woods

Before 2002, a certified year from hell, he was Sugar Shane Mosley, and had a solid chance to gain entrance into the "only first name needed" club, with Lennox, Mike and Oscar. But after Vernon Forrest gave him the what for in 2002, twice, Shane Mosley was no longer undefeated. He became Just Plain Shane.

We dropped him down our pound-for-pound list, and looked for other candidates as potential saviors for our atrophying sport. But there were still grounds for a defense. It could be argued semi-convincingly that the two decision losses to Forrest came about because of matters of style, not because of a drop in skill. But, detractors said, maybe Shane's old. He turned 30 in 2001, and for a lighter-weight fighter dependent on hand and foot speed and reflexes, 30 is sometimes like 50 to you and me.

Shane Mosley/Jose Luis Cruz
Mosley needs to look sensational against Cruz (right) in order to regenerate heat for his career.

A year of redemption was needed in 2003, but a no-contest with faded Raul Marquez didn't shut up the fault-finders. Now fighting at 154 pounds, in a nod to the inevitable middle-age spread, Just Plain Shane wanted to blow out the past-his-prime former junior middleweight champion, but the two looked comparable as they tangled. A September rematch with Oscar, with both fighters conceding to age and going up a weight class from their first disputed scrum, ended with a win, but again, no conclusive redemption. Oscar landed 100 more punches in this waltz, and I had him winning by four points.

Mosley couldn't even luxuriate in the victory, though, as his name was thrown into the sordid steroid mix in October. Mosley, it is disclosed, had been subpoenaed by a U.S. Federal grand jury stemming from his visit to the designer steroid warehouse BALCO. Even if he simply has purchased legal supplements from BALCO, as he maintains, Mosley has been painted with the same brush that tainted the legacy of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others.

It is guilt by association, and we make our own judgments, based on gut instinct and our feeble detective skills. We compare before and after photos of Mosley's physique like the Warren Commission pored over the Zapruder film. We move him down a few more slots in our pound-for-pound list. Because even if this is boxing, the Combat Zone of the sports world, we still don't like cheating.

HBO PPV Saturday 9 p.m. ET MGM Grand
Las Vegas, Nev.
• Junior lightweight: Marco Antonio Barrera (60-4, 42 KOs) vs. Robbie Peden (25-2, 14 KOs), 12 rounds, title unification fight
• Welterweight: Sugar Shane Mosley (40-4, 35 KOs) vs. Jose Luis Cruz (32-0-2, 27 KOs), 10 rounds
• Lightweight: Leavander Johnson (34-4-2, 26 KOs) vs. Jesus Chavez (41-3, 28 KOs), 12 rounds, for Johnson's title

The slide continued in 2004. Mosley couldn't have performed worse if he brought Bob Shrum aboard as an advisor. He went 0-for-2 against Winky Wright, getting schooled in March and again in November. And the home front provided no respite. Simply Shane dumped his dad as his cornerman after the disappointment in March, and brought Joe Goossen aboard in an attempt to stem the bleeding.

Wright handled Mosley again with Goossen dispensing advice, and Solely Shane was running out of explanations, which frankly read like excuses. His wife took a strong hand in his affairs, and engaged in juvenile mud slinging with several fight writers. She showed no comprehension of PR matters, or any particular fight-game acumen, and simply made muddy waters even murkier. He defended her to the hilt, and it was his, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job" moment.

But 2005 arrived and some welcomed good news came with it. Mosley won his first decisive victory in almost four years when he showed glimpses of the old Sugar Shane on April 23. It must be said that those glimpses came against a respectable, but hardly world-class level fighter in David Estrada. Still, Mosley at least showed the determination in winning the battle of the bulge, as he dropped down to 147 for the affair.

On Saturday, Mosley (40-4, 35 KOs) will try to continue that modest run of good fortune when he meets Jose Luis Cruz (32-0-2, 27 KOs) in a 10-round welterweight support bout on the Barrera/Peden PPV card. It will be the second PPV appearance for Mosley, the second straight in which he will be in the unaccustomed spot of a supporting role.

His fans will hope that he has recovered from the depression that had to surface when he blew out 34 candles on the cake Sept. 7. His opponent is a known quantity to a select hardcore few, and one suspects he has been scouted sufficiently that a 34-year-old Mosley will hand the Mazatlan Mauler his first defeat. Then again, didn't a matchmaker think he knew what Zahir Raheem was bringing to the table against Erik Morales Saturday?

Mosley says he will be in that fine form of yesteryear. He maintains that he has shelved the flat-footedness that held him back in recent years, that he has corrected footwork deficiencies, which will get him moving like Astaire again, instead of FEMA.

But he can't correct the onslaught of time, and aging, and the bitter truth that is blazed into his head of 34 candles on that cake. Because the writing has been on the wall for a while now, so clear a blind man could see it. But Shane hasn't seen it, and that's how it always is. The fighter is always the last to know, and even when he does know it in his heart, he's the last to acknowledge it. Because aging ain't pretty for anyone, and it's twice as rough when 34 is old, and it's almost time to find a new line of work.