Naazim Richardson Is Shane Mosley’s Lethal Weapon (An Assassinator, If The People Ain’t Steppin’)

So continues our marathon coverage of Floyd Mayweather-Shane Mosley on May 1, one of the biggest fights of 2010. Previously: the meaning of Mayweather-Mosley. Next: keys to the fight.

Ice-T, riffing off a Rakim sample, once called his mind a “lethal weapon/an assassinator, if the people ain’t steppin'” For all of the things Shane Mosley brings to the table Saturday on HBO pay-per-view that present problems for Floyd Mayweather, the most important might be the old-school mind of trainer Naazim Richardson. That’s because the predominant view of why Mayweather will beat Mosley this weekend in a much lusted after welterweight match-up isn’t necessarily his speed or age but the thinking that Mayweather is as intelligent as a boxer gets and Mosley’s ring IQ is lacking.

Mosley’s boxing smarts aren’t as bad as some have made them out to be, but Richardson is as good an equalizer as one can find. He’s the man who, with Bernard Hopkins, made Antonio Tarver look like a second-class fighter; solved the previously unsolved puzzle of Winky Wright’s turtle shell defense; and exposed how an underdog could defeat the then-undefeated Kelly Pavlik. With Mosley, Richardson demonstrated how someone could go from massive underdog to demolisher of Antonio Margarito, who never was beat up like he was until the night he ran into Mosley and Richardson.

Mayweather likes to say there’s no blueprint on how to beat him yet. But if anyone can figure it out, why wouldn’t it be Richardson?

I can’t doubt Richardson, not after doubting his strategy for Mosley-Margarito. Mosley insisted he was going to go after Margarito and KO him. I thought it sounded crazy. I thought fighting from the outside was the wisest move. Mosley dismantled Margarito then shattered his indestructible chin in a fight where Margarito, who’d only ever lost close fights, rarely had a moment of success. As always, it’s hard to separate a fighter’s success from his trainer’s, but Richardson deserves at least part of the credit for Mosley’s strategy in that fight.

I’m not saying I think Richardson’s presence alone wins fights. But I am saying that when he utters things that buck conventional wisdom, I’m not going to dismiss it.

Once again, Richardson is bucking the conventional wisdom with the Mayweather fight. Asked by Grand Rapids newspaperman David Mayo how Mosley would cut off the ring against Mayweather, Richardson answered:

“First of all, I haven’t read the passage that says you have to cut the ring off,” Richardson said. “Nobody’s gotten that documentation to me yet. The gameplan I have is I’m bringing Sugar Shane Mosley to the table. I’m not bringing those other 40 guys that he (Mayweather) fought. I’m bringing Sugar Shane Mosley — I’m bringing another decorated, documented legend to the table. So some of the questions are going to have be asked of Floyd Mayweather, and what he’s going to have to do to deal with Sugar Shane Mosley”…

“You cut off the ring if that’s your purpose, to engage in that battle — you cut off the ring,” Richardson said. “If you don’t choose to cut off the ring, you don’t have to cut off the ring. You can’t document too many fights where Muhammad Ali had to cut off the ring. Cutting off the ring is a procedure you take when you’re trying to apply a certain tactic. We may not be applying that tactic, so cutting off the ring may not fall under the umbrella of what we’re doing”…

“Nobody said we’re going to come in and fall into the same cookie-cutter ideology as these other athletes, and the approach they’ve taken, when dealing with Floyd Mayweather,” he said. “We’re bringing Sugar Shane to the table.”

Mayo can hardly contain his disbelief. Check out the piece.

But I think Richardson has a point here. The book on Mayweather is that you have to pressure him. In actuality, that’s the old book. You can throw that book out now. Jose Luis Castillo successfully pressured Mayweather back in 2002. It was the last time anyone had any extended success pressuring him. Ricky Hatton had some moments of success doing it, but the whole time Mayweather was exacting a heavy toll as Hatton came in on him. Mayweather deservedly gets credit for adapting, sometimes within fights and sometimes between them. After Oscar De La Hoya’s jab disrupted Mayweather’s rhythm, the book on Mayweather was to jab him. Do you remember Juan Manuel Marquez, a fighter with an excellent jab, landing many jabs on Mayweather in his last fight? Me neither.

It’s not possible to completely decode what Richardson’s plan is for Mayweather, but he’s offered hints. There was this quote, given to AllHipHop and repeated almost verbatim in an episode of HBO’s Mayweather/Mosley 24/7:

The whole thing about a fighter like Mayweather is you can’t assume there would be one mode of attack anyway. My assumption that I told Shane is I predict that he hits Floyd with a right hand, and Mayweather grows wings with fangs out his mouth like a dragon. And when he turns into a dragon I’m going to tell Shane to move laterally so that the fireballs don’t hit you, step on his tail, and drive shots to the body. Meaning even if he turns into a dragon we’re not going to surrender the fight. We’ll let the audience run out the dag on theater.

I’m going that deep as far as adaption for this fight in the ring.

I’m not sure what the audience/dag/theater line means, but it seems to me that the thinking is that at some point, somehow, Richardson’s plan for Mosley is to hit Mayweather hard enough that Mayweather has no choice but to fight Mosley harder, which is going to create openings.

But how is that first right hand going to come? Again, there are only hints of it, because Richardson is playing his cards close to his chest. I do think it’s interesting that Richardson has talked about how Mayweather never had to get into any fistfights as a youth. Is the plan to rough him up, a la Hopkins’ deliberate head butt against Wright, which bloodied him and weakened his vaunted defense?

I also suspect Richardson has played his share of mind games. Maybe it was also sincere, but Richardson struck at a potential weak point when he dragged race into things. For all of Mayweather’s associations with the hip-hop community, for all of his “I’m black and that’s why I’m not as beloved as I should be,” it’s surprising to me more black people haven’t called him out for a schtick that amounts to a minstrel show. In the last episode of 24/7, Richardson came close: “I’m embarrassed to be a part of your brotherhood.” If the idea is to drag Mayweather into a fight, you could do worse than a black man questioning whether Mayweather behaves the way a black man should.

Whatever the way Mosley and Richardson draw the dragon out of Mayweather, Richardson doesn’t expect it to appear very long. First from BoxingScene, then two excerpts from a different interview:

“So all we can do is get Shane in the best shape possible, and from there, we’ll orchestrate the plan – it’s gonna be about a lot of changes and a lot of adversity, and we’ll look for the success in it, which I think we’re capable of doing with this guy”… How has your training changed for this fight compared to the Antonio Margarito fight?

Richardson: We realize it’s going to be a faster fight. There will be opportunities. They won’t linger. The window will close up on them. So we have to take advantage of them. If we can pick it up and maybe get to the guy by the sixth or seventh round. We have to go get it because they may not be there… Would a win be good enough to win or do you want to make a bigger statement?

Richardson: It’s a combination of a partnership. In this partnetship [sic], I don’t get the luxury to just make a statement. I have to design a plan. I try to prepare my guy to win 14 rounds. In case they implement a new rule. I want my guy to be ready. I have to think like that. At the same time, I’m training Shane to be like a viking. Vikings didn’t take prisoners. Bottom line, he’s going to try to knock the guy’s head off.

Besides making constant references to putting Mayweather in a situation where he encounters different things than he expects, an additional theme Richardson keeps mentioning is changes and versatility. While there may be a specific-sounding plan, it’s also the case that Richardson has designed a variety of plans based on what Mayweather shows them.

This is really an exercise in futility, trying to figure out what’s in store for Mayweather via Richardson, whose name is rarely spelled the same way twice in print — so if we can’t figure out how his name is spelled, how can we figure out what he intends to do to Mayweather when he’s being deliberately vague?

And whether Mosley wins or loses, Richardson is exactly the guy to give him his best chance. There may not be a blueprint for beating Mayweather. But Richardson is nothing if not an architect eager to innovate. Or to borrow another of Richardson’s metaphors: “No one wants to be the 21st person at the buffet.”

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.