Sweet Victory: An Honest Fistfight in Simulation City
By Alex Pierpaoli
Originally published on DoghouseBoxing.com Sept. 16, 2003
It can be difficult to see reality on the Las Vegas Strip. Much of the landscape is a reproduction, a clever and attractive facade that blinks, flashes, sings and smokes. From the striking replica of the Eiffel Tower to a Venetian palace that smells of sandalwood blended with Roman Catholic funerary incense, it is easy to be seduced by what Vegas offers its visitors: a fantasy. On Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Sugar Shane Mosley won a unanimous decision over the Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, to claim the WBA and WBC 154 pound titles. And, contrary to what Promoter Bob Arum, De La Hoya and especially HBO’s Pay-Per-View broadcast suggested, there was no scoring legerdemain or promotional “trickerations” that swayed the ringside officials, just mean hard punching and effective aggression that gave Sugar Shane his sweet, repeat victory.
Arriving in Vegas on Wednesday afternoon, this writer was able to sample the climate of Sin City and just about everyone I met was convinced Oscar De La Hoya would win. Many people didn’t know who Sugar Shane Mosley was, let alone the fact he had won their first encounter three years ago at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Who Mosley was didn’t matter, De La Hoya would get the win they all thought; he was the betting favorite as usual. Redemption and that promotional theme was to them one of those buzz words advertisers use to hype an event and sell the drama. The enormous banner over the drive up entrance to the MGM, which pictured both men, shirtless and back-to-back, was just another marquee screaming out at them in the din of colorful optics that is Vegas. What residents knew was De La Hoya was fighting, and that meant The Strip would be packed with traffic on fight night and the glitterati would stride into town from Los Angeles and elsewhere the way they always do for a big event. Not since Tyson had a fighter brought the same buzz for a bout on The Strip and for those who paid attention to the pre-fight promotion, this really was one Oscar might lose, he had lost the first meeting with this guy.
At Friday’s weigh-in, over 2000 fight fans filed into the MGM Grand Garden to see De La Hoya and the other guy get on the scale in their undergarments-an exercise which took all of 15 minutes after waiting two hours for Michael Buffer to pick up a mike and start announcing all the fighters on Saturday’s card. When Shane and his father, Jack Mosley climbed the steps to the scale they were greeted by a chorus of boos while Oscar De La Hoya’s arrival was met with frenzied applause and even a mariachi band. The crowd reaction certainly reflected the odds-two to one against Mosley, perhaps more.
On fight night, the crowd seemed even more hostile towards Sugar Shane. When the big screens showed him and his entourage arriving at the arena, he was booed loud and mercilessly. This was De La Hoya country; that much was clear. De La Hoya’s appeal, though cross-cultural to an extent, brought in mostly Latinos, there to support him and wave their flags of Mexico and banners which read: Oscar is # 1. Many brought their wives or girlfriends, who in turn brought more female friends resulting in a crowd that was predominantly composed of young Latino males with Oscar’s kayo power on their minds and scantily clad females with groupie-type fantasies on theirs. When Oscar was shown entering the arena on the big screen the roar was loud and if I had to guess, the ratio of De La Hoya fans to Mosley’s at the live event were more like 4 to one, a lot more substantial than the two to one odds against Shane winning the fight.
By the time the preliminaries ended, after Michael Buffer announced the list of celebrity attendees-of which former American POW Soshawna Johnson received the most applause by far-National anthems were sung, and the throngs of people made their way from the casino to their green plastic seats in the Grand Garden; the air was electric and we awaited the combatants. Mosley, being the challenger was first to enter, and De La Hoya followed soon after, sparing Mosley the extra time in the ring waiting, which is always the champion’s prerogative.
Behind me three solid rows of fans were already singing De La Hoya’s praise as if 4 rounds had already passed and Mosley had been taking a beating.
“Shane has no power,” one said.
“Mosley has never even fought at this weight,” said another.
“De La Hoya is going to knock him out quick. He wants to prove something.”
“Oscar is the bigger, stronger guy-look what he did to Vargas, look at his shoulders!” And on it went until the bell rang and both fighters came out to meet each other.
It was immediately obvious that De La Hoya was looking to use his jab and box from the outside while Mosley watched for an opening, looking to catch him with a counter punch. The left hook was the shot Mosley was looking for and about halfway through the round he cracked De La Hoya with one that stung the champion and made the crowd gasp. By round’s end Mosley had landed a hard body shot on De La Hoya while the Golden Boy used his footwork to try and stay out of the way of that left hook. It seemed from my seat-with no commentary from HBO-that Mosley had won the round, on the basis of the hard left hook which clearly stung the champ and the fact that De La Hoya spent most of the round throwing light jabs and moving, moving, moving to stay away from Mosley’s aggression.
In the second, Oscar boxed better and although a great many of his jabs missed, there were enough to keep Mosley away and ineffective for most of the three minutes. Behind me, De La Hoya’s rabid supporters were exhorting him to stand and fight, unhappy with his equivalent to a run and gun offense.
In the third Oscar boxed well-moving with a plan in mind, firing jabs and using the science of boxing (to hit an opponent when and where he cannot hit you) to his advantage, while Mosley stalked him. But in the last 25 seconds of the round, after an accidental head butt and a cut on De La Hoya gave him a new sense of urgency, Mosley landed the harder punches in an exchange and this observer felt Shane showed that he could hurt the champion and steal the rounds with his punching power.
In the fourth, Shane doubled his efforts to work Oscar’s body and with his face bleeding and the occasional right to his side that could be heard thumping against flesh throughout the arena, Oscar appeared to be losing confidence.
In rounds five through seven, De La Hoya continued backpedaling while firing jabs and the occasional right hand that prevented Mosley from getting inside. Mosley did little but stalk the champion, waiting for openings that did not come.
In the seventh Mosley side-stepped after De La Hoya who tried to change direction only to have Shane move right back into his path, keeping him on the run though just out of Shane’s punching range. A De La Hoya fan behind me was disgusted by this and let the champion know it.
“Aww, don’t talk about redemption, man! You ain’t showin’ shit!” he shouted.
As the rounds passed and they got deeper into the bout, Mosley’s right hand, which he used whenever he could to spear De La Hoya’s left side, had left a rosy pink tinge to Oscar’s flesh from his navel around his back. By the ninth, Oscar was not throwing jabs as before and his guard was held low, near his waist. Undoubtedly, Mosley’s body punching had paid off and with De La Hoya visibly weakening he seized the moment and attacked.
A huge right hand by Mosley in the ninth buckled the knees of De La Hoya and forced him to clutch and grab. Once Referee Joe Cortez separated them Mosley worked to keep the pressure on, he scored with 2 big left hooks and had De La Hoya in more trouble than he had ever been in before as a professional. Though De La Hoya has been knocked down 4 times in his career, each was more of a flash knockdown, created by one clean punch. This was different; De La Hoya was grabbing at Mosley and holding on to clear his head.
De La Hoya survived the ninth, and though he boxed well to start round ten, Mosley was back on him by rounds end, landing hard left hooks to the head. Both rounds eleven and twelve clearly belonged to Mosley, who just as he did at the Staples Center, finished strong to seal the victory. Though on Saturday he did not fight at the same pace, he fought in the role of slugger and landed the big damaging shots when he needed them most.
While waiting for the decision to be read, the De La Hoya fans behind me complained about how Oscar “just didn’t fight” and “looked like shit” and all around the arena numerous fans started to file out as though their team was behind 8 runs to one in the bottom of the ninth. Once the decision was announced there were no boos, only cheers. One of the De La Hoya fans behind me grumbled.
“I bet they find out he took steroids and that’s how he won.”
The fight was not close. Watching it live left no doubt who should be declared the winner and when I saw De La Hoya’s face on the big screen talking to Larry Merchant first I wished the sound was played in the arena and wondered why Merchant didn’t interview the winner of the bout first which is clearly the tradition and the proper thing to do.
It wasn’t until the massive throng of 16,000 plus fans began to baby-step en masse out the only exit of the Grand Garden Arena towards the casino, that I heard any form of disagreement with the decision. Several media members were discussing Harold Lederman’s card and how he and Larry Merchant had given the fight to the Golden Boy.
By the time I reached the hotel and all the next day, the story was no longer one of sweet victory and a form of professional redemption after the consecutive losses to Vernon Forrest for Sugar Shane Mosley. The story had soured into one of whining and complaining by Team De la Hoya. Led by the fighter himself, De La Hoya vowed to launch an investigation into the scoring. Promoter, Bob Arum, who had the gall to be aghast at what he perceived as dishonesty on the judges part-this from a man who testified in court during the IBF trial that he had given bribe money to the organization to fix a fighter’s ranking-claimed he would never promote another fight in Las Vegas.
De La Hoya, who despite his good looks and tendencies toward crooning and pop-music, is a true warrior. When Shane Mosley hurt him he tried his best to rally and come back with his own hard punches and he had many strong moments in Saturday’s bout just as he did in the first fight three years ago. De La Hoya is no baby and should take a step back and look at his behavior of the last few days before he raises a stink that will stay with the sport for a while. He should go home and watch the tape of the fight, but with the sound off because much of the controversy raised by the decision was created by HBO PPV and their pro-De La Hoya love-fest.
HBO, just like the fragrant scents that are blown down toward visitors to The Venetian hotel/casino, perhaps unintentionally, surrounded the Pay-Per-View watchers in a smoky haze that simply did not represent the reality in front of them. Their comments were out of whack with what was actually transpiring in the same way The Venetian creates a classical renaissance ambience for their guests. Venice doesn’t smell like a men’s fragrance; it is subject to tidal changes, the flooding and receding of great amounts of water over many hundreds of years. The canals and the city itself smell more like seawater, earth and mildew. But that is not a scent you would want to duplicate and spray up the nostrils of your visitors.
In denying Sugar Shane Mosley of his close and very physical victory over their golden house-fighter HBO committed a sin that cannot be easily dismissed. Glitz and flash was given more credit than the stark reality of professional boxing-two men work hard to hurt each other and do more damage using their skills and strategy-Shane Mosley did exactly that, even if it didn’t look pretty or smell sugary sweet. It was as real and as elemental as the Venetian tides, which no designers could even try to simulate anywhere on the Las Vegas Strip.
Send comments or questions to Alex Pierpaoli at: KOFantasyBoxing@gmail.com