Why former ‘Contender’ star Sergio Mora is in the right situation

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

It was boxing politics, no more, no less, that allowed Jermain Taylor to even fight for a version of the middleweight title recently, let alone win it.

But Taylor, the 2000 U.S. Olympian and one-time undisputed 160-pound king, did exactly that even though he'd had zero qualifications to fight for the sport's highest honor.

Sergio Mora lands a punch against Milton Nunez during a 2013 victory. (USAT)
Sergio Mora lands a punch against Milton Nunez during a 2013 victory. (USAT)
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It was outrageous on a number of levels, but when Taylor, 36, defeated an injured Sam Soliman, 41, in October to win the IBF version of the belt, it did have one good side effect: It opened the door for a guy like Sergio Mora to fight for the championship.

Mora is a boxing lifer, a 34-year-old who has, for the most part, toiled in the shadows. He won the first season of NBC's boxing reality series, "The Contender," and won a super welterweight world title by defeating the legendary Vernon Forrest.

Mora, though, has given a lot more to boxing than he's gotten out of it.

Mora lost the championship opportunity when Taylor was arrested Jan. 19 after he allegedly threatened to shoot a family at a Martin Luther King Day parade in Little Rock, Ark. Taylor is in jail and was ordered by a judge to undergo a mental competency evaluation.

Taylor actually won the belt only a few weeks after being arrested and charged with two felonies in the August shooting of his cousin.

Mora, a guy who had done everything correctly, lost out because of Taylor's failures. He'll still compete Friday in the main event of an ESPN2-televised card in Biloxi, Miss., against Abie Han, but the dream of winning another world title was put on hold.

Lou DiBella, Taylor's promoter, said his fighter had also broken a rib, but the bottom line was he wouldn't be able to compete. Mora lost the chance he'd been dreaming about for years, ever since losing his title in a 2008 rematch with Forrest in his last fight before he was tragically murdered.

Mora, though, has been through this before and so it softened the sting of disappointment.

"If this was the first time, I would have been devastated," Mora said. "But it's the second time I've been through this. I went through this with [former middleweight champion] Kelly Pavlik and it played out in exactly the same way. Two weeks before the fight, they pull out with what I think is a sketchy excuse.

"I don't think his rib was an excuse. I think his mental stability is the issue. We all know he's not right. Jermain Taylor has a problem. Of course, it's depressing [to lose the opportunity], but it would have been more depressing to have fought him and hurt him in the ring in the state he was in."

So Mora will instead fight Han, a lesser fighter with a lesser reputation, but one who might be in better shape and hungrier than Taylor would have been.

Mora has for much of his career been an outsider, largely because it seemed he was never with the right promoter and didn't get the right push.

He is 27-3-2 with nine knockouts, and though he had two cracks at Forrest and one at Shane Mosley – going 1-1-1 in those three matches – he was always the B-side and didn't have powerful backing.

Sergio Mora signed a deal with Haymon Boxing. (AP)
Sergio Mora signed a deal with Haymon Boxing. (AP)

That's why he opted to sign with Haymon Boxing. Al Haymon is the most powerful man in the sport without question and is in the process of a sea change in how it operates. Haymon is preparing a series of high-level fights that will be broadcast live in prime time on NBC. They are bouts that otherwise would have been main events on HBO or Showtime.

"If you have the right people representing you, i.e., Al Haymon, it means you're going to get the right opportunity, the bigger money and the televised fights," Mora said. "I ended up signing with Al Haymon and I have 100 percent trust in him. He pays his fighters very well and he treats his fighters like VIPs. Everything you need, it's there.

"He has so many amazing people working for him, and it's so good to know that if anything comes up, there is always someone there to help. If this opportunity [to sign with Haymon] didn't come along, I probably would have retired, to be honest with you. This sport is more about the connections you have and the availabilities that are presented to you than your actual ability inside the ring."

Mora likes Haymon's idea for the Premier Boxing Champions series that will air on NBC, NBC Sports Network and Spike, and most likely will appear on that series after the fight with Han.

From his time on "The Contender," which was aired prime time on NBC in 2004-05, he has a good sense of the impact it's going to have on the sport.

"These guys fighting in these fights on NBC, they're in for a rude awakening," Mora said. "They think they were Mr. HBO and Mr. Showtime, whatever, and people knew them, but let me tell you this: They're going to go into a completely new stratosphere. They'll be recognized everywhere they go. It's not just the hard-core fight fans. It's going to be moms and pops and grandparents and kids, everybody. They're going to have their eyes opened and they'll recognize the power of TV."

Mora could be on that level, assuming he defeats Han. He said he's punching better than he ever has and feels like even this late in his career, he's about to elevate his game considerably.

He's clearly one of the game's good guys and has more than paid his dues. As things in the sport appear to be changing for the better, so, too, does Mora.

He doesn't have to worry about having the right people on his side or losing opportunities because he's not connected politically.

From this point forward in his career, Sergio Mora will depend on his talent and his performance in the ring.

As he'd tell you, no fighter could ever ask for more.

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