By Thomas Hauser
When Shane Mosley versus Vernon Forrest first appeared on boxing's radar screen several years ago, the assumption was that, when it happened, it would be a blockbuster fight. Things didn't turn out that way. Mosley-Forrest never became a megafight, but it was a great one.
The two men entered the ring at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night as the best welterweights in boxing; undefeated champions in their prime; one of them arguably pound-for-pound the best fighter in the world. That was Mosley, who held the WBC crown. Actually, technically speaking, Forrest was no longer a "champion." The IBF stripped him of his belt for not making a mandatory defense against Michele Piccirillo of Italy. But once Forrest decided he wanted to fight Mosley, giving up the IBF title was a no-brainer. If he lost to Mosley, he'd lose the IBF title anyway. And if he won, he'd be the WBC welterweight champion and a boxing superstar.
Meanwhile, "no brains" was more appropriate nomenclature for everyone who contributed to the IBF stripping Forrest. That included Forrest's management team, which didn't ask the IBF for an extension of his mandatory defense so he could engage in a title unification bout until it was too late; and also the IBF, which will wind up with the winner of Piccirillo versus Cory Spinks as its 147-pound champion. But as Joe Dwyer (Chairman of the IBF Championship Committee) noted several weeks ago, "At least you know we acted on principle, because we would have gotten a much bigger sanctioning fee for Mosley-Forrest."
Regardless, even before he was stripped of his title, Forrest was cast in the role of challenger against Mosley and a 6 to 1 underdog. That irked him.
"I'm no second fiddle for Shane," Forrest said before the fight. "There's three belts. He has one and I have one, and his is no bigger than mine. He knows I'm coming for him, and I know he's coming for me. I was better than he was last time, and I'll be better on January 26th, too."
"Last time" was a reference to the one previous time that the two men met in the ring. Forrest defeated Mosley in the 139-pound division at the 1992 Olympic trials, and much of the pre-fight build-up focussed on that bout. Vernon Forrest, the story-line went, was the last man to beat Shane Mosley.
"He came out doing what he still does, trying to be aggressive," Forrest said of that bout. "But I outboxed him and took him to school. It was Boxing 101. We're both older, smarter, and more experienced now. This fight isn't about what happened 10 years ago. This fight is about who's the best welterweight in the world today. Shane has gotten a lot better, but it's not like I've been sitting in a time capsule. I've gotten better, too. Both of us are punching harder now. That comes with maturity. But I'm bigger than Shane and I'm stronger than Shane. This fight will be like Hopkins-Trinidad."
Meanwhile, Mosley had his own recollections of their 1992 encounter. "It was a close fight, but it was an amateur fight," he said. "And it was 10 years ago. When they raised his hand, I lost. That was it. After that, I put all that behind me. We were boys then, and we're men now."
Mosley also noted that, having lost to Forrest at the 1992 Olympic Trials, he became Forrest's sparring partner as the latter prepared for Barcelona. "We sparred about three times," Mosley remembered. "And I really lit into him in those sessions. I was steadily tattooing him with right hands and jabs. I just picked up on his style. When I sparred with him I learned him; so he's going to be very easy for me to take care of."
"This is a fight I've wanted for a long time," Mosley continued. "This man is the reason why I fight as hard as I do every fight. I'm already the best. Now I want to redeem myself. I don't have any beef or grudge or gripe with Vernon. I just want to go ahead and take care of business. I'm going to do a lot of damage on January 26th. I don't want to just beat Vernon Forrest. I want to knock him out. I'm going to show him how much I've learned and how great a fighter I really am. Power, speed, agility. I'm going to put everything into one fight and that's for Vernon Forrest. I'm so sharp and I've trained so hard. I've prepared to the utmost. I can't see him standing in the ring with me for six rounds. What I possess now is too much for Vernon, and he doesn't realize that yet. I don't think it's going to be too pretty for him."
So that was the setting. And January 26th was a memorable night. The Theater at Madison Square Garden was sold out. The place was alive. Arturo Gatti and Terronn Millett set the stage for the main event with a slugfest that looked like a fantasy movie and ended with Gatti reviving his career via a brutal fourth-round knockout.
Then it was time for Mosley versus Forrest. And all of a sudden, as Forrest had pledged, Bernard Hopkins versus Felix Trinidad seemed to be echoing through the Garden. For the second time in as many MSG fights, a fighter with a legitimate claim to the pound-for-pound crown went down.
Mosley started strong in round one, throwing lead right hands and going upstairs with a pretty good left hook. But two minutes into the fight, Forrest began to establish his jab. Mosley won the round. Clearly though, his hands were full.
In round two, they got fuller. Twenty seconds into the round, the two men clashed heads. Initially, Forrest seemed more stunned by the collision, but Mosley suffered a cut on the hairline above his left eye. The cut wasn't in a bad place, but it seemed to throw Shane off a bit. Then, with 1:20 left in the round, a huge overhand right staggered Mosley and backed him against the ropes, where a six-punch barrage punctuated by a hook to the body, a right uppercut, and an overhand right, all of which landed flush, put him down. Mosley was up at the count of four but badly hurt with 1:04 left in the round. At that point, Forrest was all over him. And suddenly the Garden was consumed by the kind of chaos that reigns when a seemingly invincible fighter is reeling and on the verge of defeat. Mosley survived, but barely as Forrest administered a fierce beating and a second knockdown just before the bell.
Thereafter, the drama never ceased. In round three, Mosley moved away from his foe, buying time to collect himself. In four and five, his strength returned. But each time he seemed to be getting back into the fight, Forrest took things up a notch and fired back harder. Still, Mosley persevered, showing enormous heart and courage. And by round seven, miraculously, he was back in the fight. Yes, he was way behind on points. But Vernon was tiring and holding whenever Shane got in close. Mosley won rounds seven, eight, and nine. If he ran the table, anything was possible.
Midway through round 10, the possibilities changed. At 1:30 of the round, Forrest landed a hellacious hook to the body, and an involuntary scream escaped Mosley's lips. After the fight, Shane would acknowledge, "The left hook to the body got me. I said to myself, 'Wow; that really hurt!' But my will and my pride wouldn't let me go down. I said to myself, 'He'll have to hit me again on the jaw to put me down.'"
Forrest did just that, following with a vicious right uppercut and an overhand right that sent Mosley's mouthpiece flying. The next 30 seconds might have been the worst half-minute of Shane Mosley's life, but he wouldn't succumb. Finally, there was a break in the action and referee Steve Smoger called time to put Mosley's mouthpiece back in. But for all practical purposes, the fight was over.
In rounds 11 and 12, Mosley survived on courage. Great fighters don't crumble; and he didn't, but he lost. The scoring of the judges was anti climactic: 115-110, 117-108, and 118-108. This observer had it 116-109.
One can look at the fight in one of two ways. The first is that a very good fighter had a great night, while a great fighter had a less-than-good one. The other possibility is that, when a great fighter meets a very good one, it can turn out that the very good fighter is great.
Either way, Forrest earned a lot of respect. He did things in the ring better than he'd ever done them before. He shut Mosley down, limiting him to single-digit connections in nine of twelve rounds. And he hit Mosley with more solid blows than Shane had experienced in all of his previous outings combined. Forrest hadn't been regarded as a particularly hard puncher in the pros. But against a pretty big puncher, he consistently landed the harder blows.
Afterward, Mosley said he wanted a rematch. Forrest promised he'd give him one.
"It was basic boxing," Forrest said at night's end. "I beat him before because I was a better fighter, and I beat him tonight because I'm a better fighter. Everybody was talking about his speed, but I've got speed too and power to go with it."
Mosley’s take on things was a bit different. "I fought it all wrong," he posited. "I should have done more boxing instead of attacking. And Vernon fought a perfect fight; he beat me. But my heart goes deep. I always said, if I lost a fight, I'd leave it all in the ring and put myself out one hundred percent. That's what I did tonight, and that's what I'll do if we fight again. My goal is still to beat Vernon Forrest."
Meanwhile, Vernon Forrest is still the last man to have beaten Shane Mosley.
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