At -330, Mosley better be ready to fight

Mar 9, 2004 6:14 AM

Lennox Lewis retired to raise a family. Kostya Tszyu, Fernando Vargas and James Toney came up lame. A hell of a way to start the year. But before we throw up because George Foreman, Andrew (Foul Pole) Golota and Julio Cesar Chavez are threatening comebacks, at last there is a big fight coming up ”” big, as defined by the stature of the fighters.

Few are bigger than Sugar Shane Mosley. Take away Vernon Forrest, and Mosley is unbeaten and right up there with Roy Jones Jr. He’s still big after his second victory over Oscar de la Hoya. You can tell by the Mandalay Bay line for his fight Saturday with another of boxing’s best, Ronald (Winky) Wright. Mosley was minus $3.30, but don’t believe that line, which suggests mismatch. Mosley is in a fight.

Wright is one of those acquired tastes that gets better and better with age. There will be those who say Wright, in his last two defenses of the IBF junior middleweight title, looked more aged than vintage. But like many fine wines, the setting enhances the flavor. Wright may look like vin ordinaire against a J.C. Candeloor Angel Hernandez, but you don’t guzzle a great Burgundy with a Big Mac. Against someone as classy as Mosley, Wright will be exquisite. At plus $2.50, he is a bargain.

Caveat emptor: Not all bargains win. This is a close fight, and though the odds seem out of whack to me, there is still a belief here that Mosley is the superior man, though there is a terrific case to be made for a major upset.

Mosley doesn’t fight southpaws. Just doesn’t. That leads me to suspect, despite the protestations of his father and trainer, Jack Mosley, that left-handers bother him. It certainly looked that way when Mosley tested 154 pounds last year against Raul Marquez, his first venture against a southpaw in nine years. He seemed hesitant, unsure, but I don’t think we should make too much of this. When the bout had to be stopped in the third round because of cuts suffered by Marquez from accidental butts, it appeared as if Mosley was just getting ready to rock and roll.

Remember, he was coming off the two ego-shattering losses to Forrest and was moving up in weight again. It seemed he was testing his strength early in the fight, getting in shoving matches and, lo and behold, looked the stronger, sometimes pushing Marquez around. In another round or two, I thought he would be dominant. I had no fear that he was somehow finished and bet accordingly against de la Hoya.

His hand speed may not have looked the same at 154 pounds, especially against Oscar, but vs. Wright he must be considered the much quicker fighter. That, and his surprising strength ”” I believe Mosley and the lie-detector tests he has passed that he has never taken steroids — make him the logical choice to scrape by Winky and move on to Felix Trinidad Jr., a fight already agreed upon, pending the outcome at Mandalay Bay.

Mosley’s problem with Forrest was that against a much taller opponent, who possessed a superior right hand, he could not get inside and land multi-punch combinations. It was one, maybe two, and then he had to get out before being countered.

To a lesser degree, he’ll have to solve that problem against Wright. It is why I believe, with Winky’s determination to show how good he has been all these years (he’s been fighting for world championships for 10 years) to the general public, will make this a classic, not to be missed. The edge should be Mosley’s, but he’s certainly not worth laying 3-1, not against a man whose only other venture into top competition, against Fernando Vargas, showed he is right up there. I think it’s a distance fight and a close one.

The bet may be on the undercard where the over-rated and under-rated Baby Joe Mesi ”” yes, he’s both ”” may be worth any price below 2-1 against former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov. Last I saw, the unbeaten prodigy from Buffalo was minus $1.90.Yes, he’s been babied and did fade badly down the stretch last Dec. 6 against a somewhat long-toothed New York veteran, Monte Barrett.

A lot of wise guys I know think Jirov can finish what Barrett started in Round 6 of that 10-rounder at Madison Square Garden. Barrett, after looking very wobbly early, began growing in confidence when his body shots started taking something off Mesi’s punching power. Jirov is strictly a body puncher who usually gets stronger and stronger.

My guess, though, is that he won’t have time to build any momentum. Jirov is a plodder, not very difficult to hit. The very ordinary Dale Brown gave him fits early. Mesi, who should outweigh the former cruiserweight by about 30 pounds, will have no trouble landing his heavy artillery. He should take out Jirov early and make Ring magazine and the Boxing Writers Association look like dopes for voting James Toney fighter of the year.

No way! Manny Pacquiao or Roy Jones Jr. or Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Rafael Marquez were better choices. Toney struggled to beat the mediocre Jirov, then beat the washed-up Evander Holyfield. What’s next? Women and children? Nah, some of those are too tough.