Sergio Mora grew up as a Shane Mosley fan, awed by Mosley's rare combination of speed, power and tenacity and impressed by Mosley's eagerness to test himself against the greatest boxers of his era.
Mora fights Mosley on Saturday in a 12-round non-title super welterweight bout that is the main event of a Golden Boy Promotions pay-per-view card at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but that hasn't stopped him from gushing about the man.
"Without a doubt," Mora says, "Shane Mosley is a legend."
The 39-year-old Mosley still considers himself as such, despite a one-sided beatdown at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May, and says he hopes to land future fights with Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito and Miguel Cotto after Saturday's bout with Mora.
That's an ambitious schedule for a superstar in his prime. It's almost foolish for a guy who has been more down than up recently.
Mosley lost a decision to Miguel Cotto on Nov. 10, 2007; looked subpar in a win over a shopworn Ricardo Mayorga on Sept. 27, 2008; and was routed by Mayweather on May 1. Only an unexpectedly one-sided win over Margarito on Jan. 24, 2009 – the night on which Margarito was caught with an illegal knuckle pad in his hand wraps – has prevented the perception of Mosley as shot at this stage.
The burden of proof, clearly, is on Mosley to prove he's still capable of being the elite fighter he once was and is not en route to becoming a punching bag with a famous name, though Mosley insists he can fight at a high level until he's 47 if he so chooses.
Golden Boy matchmaker Eric Gomez , meanwhile, worries about Mosley. Gomez, a childhood friend of Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya, didn't like what he saw of Mosley against Mayweather and wonders if he's hit the end of the line.
"When you're a great fighter, like an Oscar or a Shane, you believe you still have that," Gomez said. "There are still guys out there Oscar looks at and I know he says to himself, 'I can beat that guy. I can beat that guy.' But let's be honest: Oscar isn't the same guy. His mind thinks he can do it, but his body doesn't react the same way it used to. The question you have to ask yourself with Shane is, was the Mayweather fight just one of those things or has he gotten to the same point as Oscar did against [Manny] Pacquiao?"
The most significant question is why Mosley didn't finish out Mayweather when he had him in trouble late in the second round of their fight. Mosley cracked Mayweather with a pair of right hands and Mayweather struggled to stay on his feet.
Most of those who have followed Mosley's career believe that a 28-year-old Mosley would have closed the fight quickly, efficiently and brutally had he hurt Mayweather that way. But as a 38-year-old that night, Mosley didn't have the kick to go for the finish. Mayweather survived the round and then won every round the rest of the way
There is a lot of speculation why Mosley didn't go for the finish, ranging from his age to his physical health to Mayweather's skill. Mora watched the fight and clearly has plenty of questions about what he saw.
"The one thing I was surprised about in that fight is why Shane Mosley didn't go all out after he hurt him," Mora said. "That's the only thing that surprised me – it shocked me, actually. He hurt Mayweather more than anyone has ever hurt him. He didn't jump on him. He didn't go all out. There's a reason why he didn't do that. I mean, it was the second round. He was still fresh. That right there makes me wonder what the hell happened. That's the only thing that happened that I question. Everything else that happened, there's a reasonable excuse.
"He had a lot of rust from the 15-, 16-month layoff, from the inactivity that he suffered. Me being a fighter who suffered through those periods where I didn't do anything, I understand it takes more than just a couple of rounds to pick it up. And that's especially when you're fighting a fighter who is as defensive as Floyd Mayweather. When you have nothing to hit, it discourages you even more."
Pressed for a reason why he believes Mosley didn't go all out when he hurt Mora, Mora wasn't willing to say.
"There's a lot of speculation out there and I wish I could be as free to say the things that most people are thinking," Mora said. "Whatever people are speculating, that's pretty much what is going on in my mind. It could be the inactivity. It could be the fact that he was tired. It could be the fact that he was missing something that he had before. Who knows? The bottom line is, Shane didn't jump on him the way any fighter would have done it.
"Can you imagine Sugar Ray Leonard hurting someone in the second round like that? Even if it was in the latter part of his career, when he was out of his prime, he still had that killer instinct. Shane's never, ever missed an opportunity to take someone out. I have no idea what happened that night. Everyone can just speculate, but it's something I'm always going to wonder about."
Mosley sloughed it off as one of those nights. He said he wasn't tired but noted that a sore neck didn't allow him to throw as many punches as he wanted. Still, he insisted that anyone who believes he's finished based upon that fight is in for a surprise on Saturday.
And while it's true it wouldn't have been that big of a deal when Mosley was 28, not many boxers are still elite at 38. Mosley is now 39 and has to prove that he's the same guy who destroyed Margarito and not the seeming has-been who got routed by Mayweather.
"Don't take anything away from Mayweather because he's real good," Mosley said. "He deserves credit and I give him that. But it wasn't my night, either. I wasn't on top of my game. I don't want to make excuses, and so I really would rather not talk about injuries or anything like that. I'm confident that I'll be back to being me in this fight."
If he's not, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer is probably going to have to have a long talk with him. Mora is no Mayweather, but he is a talented fighter who was good enough to have defeated Vernon Forrest to win the World Boxing Council super welterweight belt.
Like Gomez, Schaefer has seen things in Mosley that concern him, and he's not sure if Mosley can summon the greatness one more time.
"There's a saying in boxing I've heard that goes, 'Every great fighter has one great fight left in him,' " Schaefer said. "In Shane's case, I don't know if that one more great fight was the Margarito fight or if it's still going to come. Shane is clearly a legend and he's an all-time great, but you have to be honest and admit there are question marks.
"It comes earlier for some and later for others, but they finally get to a point where their brain tells them what to do and their body doesn't respond. We've all seen that with so many fighters. I don't know if that's the case yet with Shane, but I'm being honest when I tell you that I'm wondering about that myself."