Usually the best stuff in a Ricardo Mayorga fight comes beforehand. Maybe he’ll mock his opponent’s dead mother, or perhaps he’ll step on the scale at the weigh-in with a slice of pizza in hand. But boxing’s ultimate villain has been rather tame this time around. That means we’re left with the actual in-ring business. Unfortunately both fights on HBO this weekend — the aforementioned Mayorga against Shane Mosley at 154 lbs., plus Andre Berto versus Steve Forbes at 147 lbs. — have the air of mismatch about them, such that the primary intrigue will be not if the favorites win, but how.
The “how” answers what comes next, and what comes next for Mosley and Berto could be very big indeed, if they deliver excellent performances. There’s talk of Mosley taking on Antonio Margarito and Berto taking on Miguel Cotto, which doesn’t exactly scream “easing back in” fights of the variety used to set up rematches, the June plan for Margarito and Cotto. So maybe those exact fights are not especially plausible, but quality performances by Mosley and Berto increase their odds.
You could make the case that Mayorga is always a live underdog, and that he might catch an aging Mosley with one of his wild power punches to pull off the upset knockout.¬ I won’t make that case. You could make the case that the crafty Steve Forbes is a very live underdog against Berto. I can see that. In a year that has featured a steady string of upsets, it’d be foolish to argue one or two isn’t possible Saturday night. But I won’t be watching for the “if.” I’ll be watching for the “how.”
MOSLEY – MAYORGA
When last we visited with Mosley, the then-36-year-old turned in what I saw as an excellent performance against the up-and-coming Cotto. That was all the way back in November of last year. We’d have seen him sooner, against Zab Judah, if that fight hadn’t been canceled because Judah hurt his arm in the shower. Among boxing observers, time has not been kind to Mosley’s performance against Cotto, a man who was 10 years his junior. I don’t know what fight the people who thought Mosley looked bad were watching. Some have said he looked slow. They’ve got it wrong; it’s not so much that Mosley looked slow, so much as it was that Cotto looked faster than he’d been perceived. For a 36-year-old man, Mosley was stellar, I thought — so good, he still resides just outside the pound-for-pound top 10 on several lists, including mine, and so good he’s the #3 ranked welterweight according to Ring magazine.
Certainly, at 37, Mosley’s not the wunkderkind blur he once was. He’s not the same fighter who scored 26 knockouts in his first 28 fights. He’s not the same guy who beat a prime Oscar De La Hoya twice. What he is the kind of guy who can beat a dangerous, tricky southpaw like Luis Collazo with relative ease, knock out a rather faded Fernando Vargas twice in a row and give a young superstar like Cotto a helluva hard time. Unless he’s picked up a considerable dose of rust with the long layoff, he’s still extremely fast. He still has considerable power, if not the one-punch authority he had back in his days at lightweight (135 lbs.), then enough to back up Cotto. He’s still about as tough and granite-chinned as ever, enough to take every power shot Cotto landed with stunning aplomb. And that’s plenty.
That all bodes poorly for Mayorga, who also isn’t what he once was. One of the major problems here is that Mayorga started off with less than Mosley ever had. When Mayorga stormed onto the scene in 2003 by knocking out Vernon Forrest — at the time, very highly esteemed for beating Mosley twice in a row, handing him his first defeats — he was unpredictable. Nobody’d figured out how to handle his wild charges. Nobody knew what to think when he stuck his chin out and offered to take his opponents’ best shots, only to storm back at them like some kind of uncontrolled, anthropomorphic windmill. He was intimidating not only because he was a big-time power-puncher, but also because he had a little bit of that stuff that Muhammad Ali used to frighten the straight-ahead intimidating Sonny Liston: He was crazy.
But then, piece by piece, that aura went away. Cory Spinks showed that he could be outboxed by a technician. Mayorga then moved up 13 pounds and got one of those career-shortening beatdowns that was Felix Trinidad’s specialty. In 2006, Oscar De La Hoya knocked him out even easier. What he is now? A guy who makes a great big racket promoting a fight and is still dangerous enough to barely beat a shot and retiring Fernando Vargas at 166 lbs. last year and get himself another decent money fight like this. It looks like the fact that Mosley’s too even-keeled to be offended by Mayorga has given the wild man very little motivation to raise the kind of racket he usually does. Mosley finds Mayorga’s trash talk hilarious, as do I. But it’s been in short supply, as Mayorga’s traversed the well-worn path of making jokes about Shane being the woman in his marriage, since his wife controls so much of Mosley’s career. There’s still time, Mayorga. Shake things up, please, even if the prudes give you hell for a lack of sportsmanship or professionalism.*
My prediction: Mosley by mid-to-late round knockout. And I don’t think it’ll be very difficult at all. It’s really just about when the accumulation of clean punches catches up with Mayorga. If he doesn’t knock out Mayorga, or at least thoroughly dominate him, I’ll join the Mosley skeptics club. Again, it’s how Mosley wins, not if, that will be most interesting.
Confidence: 99.9999%. Mayorga may have a “puncher’s chance,” but the only time Mosley’s even been decked was against Forrest, that I know of, and that was just because Forrest was his kryptonite. It takes a lot to hurt Mosley. I don’t think a lucky punch is enough to do the trick.
My allegiance: There’s much I like and dislike about both fighters. I enjoy Mayorga’s villain act and his in-ring fearlessness, but he doesn’t have the polished skill set I like my favorites to have. I like Mosley’s professionalism, his desire to fight anyone and everyone and his polished skill set, but I haven’t thought of him the same way since his steroid use was confirmed and he offered some fishy excuses. As entertaining as the upset would be, though, I would very much like to see Magarito-Mosley, to test my hunch that a speedy boxer type could really give Margarito fits.
Berto, like Mosley, has caught more hell than he deserves. It’s true that the 24-year-old mega-talent hasn’t fought world-beaters, which is the biggest knock on him. But first off, he’s 24, so there’s no need to rush. Maybe some 24-year-old sensations might’ve been moved faster, but Berto’s got some holes in his game and he’s been working on them, making tremendous leaps in his defensive accumen over his last several bouts. Second off, despite that, he’s fought a nice assortment of borderline contenders — like Cosme Rivera and David Estrada — and his opponent, Forbes, is another step up in the quality of his competition. No, his last opponent, the game but limited Miki Rodriguez, did not deserve to fight Berto for a vacant title. But we’ve recently reviewed how useless the alphabet titles can be, and Berto-Rodriguez only helped prove the point. That Berto got his belt via lame methodology shouldn’t be a mark against Berto. It’s called “the way alphabet organizations do business.”
Berto’s exciting. He hits hard and fast and puts together some of the more draw-dropping combos in the sport today. He’s getting better all the time, and after a couple straight step-down fights against underwhelming foes, he’s taking on a bigger challenge in Forbes. Good enough for me. Probably not good enough to beat Cotto at this point in his career, but that’s not the caliber of opponent his team is talking about should he make it past Forbes, no matter what Cotto promoter Bob Arum wants from Berto. They’re talking about Zab Judah, Carlos Quintana, Kermit Cintron, maybe even Josh Clottey. All very reasonable, with my preference being sooner over later, if he looks good against Forbes.
Forbes, for his part, is exactly the kind of guy who can make his opponent look bad. Just ask De La Hoya. De La Hoya defeated him on the scorecards by a wide margin this summer. But I had a feeling Forbes would give De La Hoya some problems. He’s crafty and he’s got some kind of chin. I thought De La Hoya’s performance was good enough, but the fact that he wasn’t able to knock out the much smaller Forbes. Forbes, despite having fought at 135 for a time, was on “The Contender” fighting men 20 pounds north of that. And he’s speedy and gritty. He can’t punch much, but he can punch enough to break a bone in De La Hoya’s face.
I don’t think Berto’s ever fought anyone quite like Forbes, and that’s a good thing. Berto needs to figure out a guy like Forbes to enhance his game. His advisers took Forbes on purpose, they said, to indirectly see how Berto’s career has progressed, using the tough fight De La Hoya got from Forbes as a measuring stick. If Berto can be the first to knock out Forbes — who’s never even touched the mat in a pro fight — then Berto’s in pretty good shape.
My prediction: Berto by relatively wide decision. I think Berto’s going to be too busy for Forbes, and I don’t think Forbes is going to hit Berto hard enough to keep that from happening. I actually think Berto is more likely to knock out Forbes than I thought De La Hoya had a chance to, because of Berto’s combination punching. I don’t think it would be that strange if he did, but he’d get a lot of “how” points with a KO. I might even jump out of my chair and say — sorry, I have to do this, because I don’t think anyone has before — “Oh Boy, Oh Berto!” Like the beef jerky, “Oh Boy! Oberto”! Get it?
Confidence: 80%. Despite thinking Berto is more likely to score a knockout than De La Hoya’s earlier chances, I also think a Forbes upset is more likely here because of Berto’s comparative lack of experience. De La Hoya’s seen it all by the time he fought Forbes. Berto may find Forbes’ crafty vet routine problematic, and if he doesn’t figure out how to put his superior physical abilities to use in decoding it, Berto could be in for a very frustrating night.
My allegiance: I respect Forbes, but I’m all about Berto.
*Maybe Mayorga hasn’t been up to his usual snuff, but he’s still been pretty entertaining. Choice quotes from a recent news conference courtesy Don King Productions below:
Mayorga to Mosley: “I’m glad you’re throwing out the first pitch at the Dodgers game tonight.¬ You should be a catcher for the way you take take right hands.”
Mayorga to talkative Mosley cutman “Captain” Cassius Green, who always wears his trademark captain’s hat, after Green heckled Mayorga from the audience: “I’m glad this guy has his captain’s hat on because he and his man are going down like the Titanic on Saturday.”
Mayorga after shaking Mosley’s hand: “It’s cold and sweaty.¬ I know Shane’s afraid of me.¬ All I ask of you [Mosley] is that you come and fight like a man.¬ Don’t run or else I’m going to buy you roller blades and a pink outfit to go with the pink gloves I gave to you at the last press conference.
“I already retired Fernando Vargas, an L.A. boxing icon, and I plan to retire another on Saturday night.¬ Mosley needs to be at home doing the dishes for his wife.”