When Shane Mosley was at his peak, he was a lightweight in a welterweight's body.
As they used to say about the legendary Negro League baseball player James "Cool Papa" Bell, the lightweight Mosley was so fast he could be in bed before the lights went out. But it wasn't just Mosley's speed that made him one of history's greatest 135-pound champions. He had the power of a much bigger man and was relentless in his assault.
Power boxing, he and his father Jack used to call it.
The lure of money led Mosley to get big. And as good as he's been since moving to welterweight, he's never been as good, or as effective, as he was in the late 1990s when he was terrorizing the lightweight division.
But that may be about to change.
Mosley will face unbeaten WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto on Saturday at New York's Madison Square Garden in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout. It will be the first fight in a long time where Mosley returns to his lightweight roots.
Knowing it's his speed that will make the difference, Mosley will rely on speed to generate his power.
"I probably have more pop than anyone he's fought, but I know I have more speed than anyone he's fought," Mosley said.
Cotto is a brute who breaks a man's will with a withering assault on the midsection. He has left many quality fighters as mere shells of themselves.
He'd do the same to Mosley if given the chance.
But Mosley's speed is the X-factor. When Mosley was a lightweight, the secret he kept from most was that he really should have been a welterweight. He ended his amateur career as a 139-pounder, but instead of competing as a super lightweight when he turned pro, he opted for lightweight.
It's hard to second-guess that decision, since he became one of the great lightweights of the modern era. But he was forced out of the division he'd so thoroughly dominated by his fondness for lifting weights – as well as by Oscar De La Hoya.
Mosley moved to welterweight in late 1999 because he wanted to pursue a bout against De La Hoya, the game's biggest attraction. Mosley skipped the super lightweight division on the way and took out Wilfredo Rivera and Willy Wise in tune-ups at 147 before reeling in the bout with De La Hoya.
Much was made of his choice to bypass 140 and of whether he'd be ready to compete with De La Hoya, but Mosley would simply laugh. He knew how difficult it had been to cut to 135 pounds.
"Genaro Hernandez would always tell me when I sparred with him, 'I know when you're a lightweight,' " Mosley recalled. "He'd say, 'I always know because you're a lot weaker and you're slower when you get to lightweight.'
"He said, 'When you get to (145, 146, 147), you're so much faster, you're so much stronger,' because I was naturally a big 147-pounder fighting at lightweight in all those years and struggling to make weight. That's why I didn't stop at (140). I was like, 'I'm not stopping at 40 because it's too hard.' "
Mosley was 32-0 with 30 knockouts and was largely unchallenged before moving to welterweight. He is 12-4 with seven knockouts and a no contest since.
One of his problems after leaving the lightweight division was his competitiveness. He'd take on anyone. There were times you got the feeling he'd have fought Mike Tyson if offered the opportunity.
But he got to a point where his strength was no longer an ally and his speed by itself wasn't enough. When he faced Winky Wright – a super middleweight cloaked in a super welterweight's body – his power was no longer overwhelming and his speed meant little.
He has wisely returned to welterweight and even more wisely has also returned to emphasizing speed over power. With the speed, he knows, will come the power.
"To be honest, I feel like I'm punching with more snap now than I had when I was at (154)," Mosley said. "When I put on weight and was doing all that weight lifting, I lost a lot of my snap and I didn't have the power that I had before."
During his weight training years, he got involved in the BALCO performance-enhancing drug scandal when his ex-strength and conditioning coach, Darryl Hudson, urged him to visit Victor Conte in San Francisco in hopes of increasing Mosley's explosiveness in preparation for a 2003 rematch with De La Hoya.
Neither man knew they were getting anabolic steroids, and Mosley testified before the grand jury that he unwittingly took the infamous "the cream" and "the clear". Mosley paid Conte with a personal check, he points out, which he says he would not have done had he been trying to hide something.
"No way I was trying to cheat, because I even had them call the (Nevada Athletic) Commission to find out what would be legal," Mosley said. "I was really upset when the guy turned out to be a steroids guy, because that's not me. I know my body and I know what I put it in and I'm into natural stuff, organic stuff. I didn't want that."
Mosley also has laid off the heavy weights, emphasizing fast-twitch muscles and decreasing bulk, which fits his plan for defeating Cotto.
"Hard and fast, fast and hard," Mosley said. "I'm pretty excited because I've got the snap back and I feel faster than I've felt in a long time. I'm maybe not as fast as I was when I was at my fastest, but I'm pretty fast. I'm a pretty good combination right now."
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- Shane Mosley