The sweet science has always been known as a sport where headlines are made as much outside of the ring as they are between the ropes, and leading up to June’s big ticket bout between Manny Pacquiao and Tim Bradley, boxing lived up to that reputation.
In a span of mere days, there was a landslide of some of boxing’s biggest names of the past decade or more departing the sport, including Shane Mosley (at left) and Winky Wright (at right).
First, the once great Winky Wright returned to the ring following a near 38-month sabbatical, losing a wide unanimous decision to emerging American middleweight Peter Quillin.
Wright admittedly presented Quillin with a number of problems, and will leave the sport having given a promising young fighter his first stiff test. Wright also showed up to fight, and though many good years and savory match-ups were missed over the last five years (in which he only fought three times, all losses), he announced his retirement after the Quillin loss. He got out of the sport at the right time.
Wright hopefully sticks to this decision, where people can still recall him as one of the best and most unappreciated junior middleweights of recent memory, and perhaps the best since the days of Terry Norris, and previous to that, Thomas Hearns. Winky’s signature win was easily his defeat of Shane Mosley in March 2004. Mosley was atop many pound-for-pound lists prior to the slip up, and lost a subsequent rematch to Wright eight months later.
“Sugar” Shane Mosley would ultimately get the last laugh over his former adversary, as the surefire Hall of Famer announced his retirement just days after Winky said he was hanging them up. Mosley retired just in the nick of time, any more additions to his ledger would have risked his nickname deteriorating from “Sugar” to “Splenda,” as Shane just hasn’t been as sweet since destroying Antonio Margarito three years ago.
Mosley could honestly be considered boxing’s best B-side of recent times. Not big enough to carry a promotion on his back, Mosley was established enough with the casual audience that, when matched against a marquee name, his bouts would obtain an atmosphere that only a microscopic percent of all fights do.
Though his time at the top of the lightweight division lasted less than two years, Mosley was a busy and dominant enough champion that many find it hard to pick against him in mythical match-ups at the 135 pound limit. Mosley earned his first title, outlasting established, undefeated and dangerous Philip Holiday over 12 rounds to gave us a glimpse of what the southern California native was capable of.
After testing out the waters at welterweight against lower echelon fighters, Mosley would reach the pinnacle of the sport in defeating Oscar De La Hoya in a great fight in June 2000, but followed with subsequent defenses on major networks that just didn’t attract the kind of crowds that Oscar did. Mosley was able to rebound from two losses to an emerging Vernon Forrest before moving up to 154 pounds and beating De La Hoya in a rematch, and then met the junior middleweight spoiler that was Winky Wright. One thing that can be said for Mosley that can’t be said for some of his more popular contemporaries, he never ducked anyone.
Mosley was that first real test to an emerging fighter when he made up ground after falling behind early against Miguel Cotto, losing a close but spirited decision to maybe a prime version of the Puerto Rican.
After not looking spectacular before stopping Ricardo Mayorga in the final seconds of their September 2008 bout, many experts were recommending you wear black to Mosley’s next fight four months later, predicting the light might be turned out on Mosley’s career by a surging Antonio Margarito. Instead, Shane delivered a virtuoso performance, battering the seemingly indestructible Margarito for nine rounds before stopping the conqueror of Cotto in the 9th.
Since the Margarito win, Mosley has managed to put together a far from breathtaking 0-3-1 record. Among those fights were mega paydays against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, with whom he was competitive against in only one of their 24 rounds. With what Mosley gave to the sweet science over his career, it seems only fair he leave it with a little something in his pocket. What was a bit unnecessary was his fight in May against Saul Alvarez, though it could be viewed as a physical passing of the torch; Alvarez shows potential as one of the sport’s future big earners.
Though questions will always linger over Mosley’s connection to steroid pushing BALCO and his admission to unknowingly using illegal supplements, it surely won’t be enough to hurt his chances of entering the Hall of Fame, perhaps with old running buddy Wright five years from now.
More of an afterthought is the news during fight week of Pacquiao-Bradley that, despite dates having been lined up for his return to the ring, Antonio Margarito has called it a day as well.
Margarito’s career sufficiently is cast under heavy doubt after the affirmation that he attempted to use loaded wraps against Shane Mosley, as is his career best victory over a then unbeaten Miguel Cotto in one of 2008’s best bouts. Since the loss both to Mosley in the ring and the commission in a hearing, Margarito only scored a win over a journeyman opponent Roberto Garcia. Still, Margarito was a big enough heel to serve as good target practice for Pacquiao and Cotto, earning big money on his way out the door.
Fittingly coming off as more of a footnote, former United States Olympian Rocky Juarez also announced he was done taking punches for a paycheck a few days after his more credentialed compatriots had. Juarez was a fighter who was given many opportunities, compiling an 0-5-1 record in fights that were in some form or another “world” title fights.
His gamest performance was maybe in May 2006 when he lost a split decision to a fading but still great Marco Antonio Barrera. The bout was initially announced a draw, but was later changed to a close win in Barrera’s favor. It was perhaps a case where both Barrera took his opponent lightly and Juarez finally fought to his full ability. The Houston, Texas native was remembered as a guy who over-thought things in the ring, leaving you as a viewer pleading to him on the television to let his hands go in many of his highest profile fights.
That Juarez went without a win for the last three plus years of his career is a sad but fitting end. He was one of the few fighters to be featured extensively in boxing’s last incarnation on network television and was promoted extremely well except for one thing: His team often put him in higher than featherweight, where he enjoyed the advantage in a heavy punch, and didn’t have the same advantage above 126 pounds. That Juarez’s last three losses have come far away from the limelight is also unfortunately befitting.
With all these once formidable names departing the paid ranks of pro boxing, a once exciting name left a quick mark on the sport for hopefully one last time.
Former 130 and 135 pound force Acelino Freitas returned to the ring after more than 5 years away, climbing three divisions to hand unbeaten Michael Oliveira his first pro defeat, as he embarrassingly pummeled his 14-year junior around the ring before scoring the ninth round stoppage. Hopefully “Popo” finds enough satisfaction in this unexpected victory to leave the sport with no regrets. At least this time when Freitas was carried around the ring on somebody’s shoulders, it was after a victory rather than quitting in the corner, as was the case with his first retirement.
Larry Merchant often calls boxing the theater of the unexpected. In this case, a few great names as well as a few lesser ones intelligently decided their day had come and gone. Wouldn’t it be nice if that became the status quo?
Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed via Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarkEOrtega. Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly, and is a member of the Boxing Writer’s Association of America and RING Ratings Advisory Panel.