The welterweight superfight between Floyd Mayweather and Shane Mosley on Saturday in Las Vegas has few peers in modern history when it comes to overall athletic ability and boxing skill level.
Mayweather (40-0, 25 knockout) and Mosley (46-5, 39 KOs) bring a repertoire to the table that may have only been matched in the last 20 years by the matchups of Roy Jones-Antonio Tarver, Jones-James Toney and Mosley's first bout with Oscar De La Hoya.
Luckily for boxing, which suffers enough self-inflicted blows, there will be another such fight not too far down the road if power puncher Manny Pacquiao takes on the winner.
Mayweather and Mosley have been potential opponents for over a decade. If it's happening a few years too late their take-home pay certainly won't reflect it - both will gross double-digit millions after the box office and pay-per-view numbers.
On paper it doesn't look like a pick'em fight. Mayweather at barely 33 is 5 1/2 years younger than Mosley.
It also begs the question: How can a fighter with five losses be reasonably expected to knock off an undefeated guy?
But nearly all fighters, even the all-time greats, lose at some point in their career, and not so often to other undefeated fighters. Tarver had two losses when he starched Jones, and Bernard Hopkins also had two career defeats when he belted Felix Trinidad.
Mosley has also consistently fought a superior level of opposition than Mayweather, raising the odds he'd lose, and has only been beaten by three men.
He was beaten twice each by Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright, rangy, physically strong fighters. Their traits are largely dissimilar to Mayweather's.
Forrest and Wright were also able to defeat Mosley because they landed enough hard right hands to earn his respect.
It's an open question whether Mayweather can do the same. Mayweather has a sneaky right hand, but it's been a long time since he seriously hurt an opponent who wasn't coming up in weight to face him.
There's a big difference between wobbling Ricky Hatton or a blown-up Juan Manuel Marquez and hurting Mosley, who's only been in serious trouble in precisely one of 51 fights.
The most vexing fight on Mosley's resume is his 2007 loss to Miguel Cotto. To some degree it looks worse now because the Puerto Rican has suffered drubbings to Antonio Margarito and Pacquiao.
But Cotto was undefeated at the time, fighting in a New York venue in front of countrymen who've always buoyed him beyond the level of his performances in Vegas. Here again, Cotto's late round success only came after he got Mosley's attention with some hard shots to the head and body.
To hear some recount it, you'd think Cotto outboxed Mosley for several rounds. In truth, it was for about two rounds, it involved heavy amounts of bicycling and occurred because Mosley had stung him earlier in the fight.
Mayweather is in another universe than Cotto when it comes to boxing ability, but he doesn't run. He uses his legs, sure, but by degree. He bends his torso, leans back, tucks his chin behind his shoulder and moves laterally.
He's there, but not there, for most opponents. But most opponents aren't Shane Mosley.
Much has been made of the fact that Mosley will be coming off a 16-month layoff, the result of a scuttled bout in January.
The argument is that for such a mature fighter, that time off will be detrimental in terms of timing and ability to let punches go in the ring. It's a valid point.
But Mosley has fought twice since Mayweather called it quits for a time after a Dec 2007 fight with Hatton (a bout that came just weeks after Mosley fought Cotto).
Mayweather's only activity since then was in September against Marquez, who was fighting 10 pounds over his best weight. The fight told us absolutely nothing about where Mayweather's at in terms of being able to go 12 hard rounds against a bona fide, top-flight welterweight. It was a stroll in the park.
You can also make a case that at Mosley's age, and given the tough battles he's been in, it's a good thing for him to essentially be fighting once a year.
In Floyd's corner
Despite the fact that Mosley brings a blend of speed and power that Mayweather hasn't seen before, there'll be a distinct speed difference in the ring. Mosley is more busy than fast, and Mayweather faced a quicker foe in Zab Judah.
It would stand to reason that the fighter who's going to be the one to defeat Mayweather will have to employ a hard jab to keep him off balance and prevent him from setting or getting off first. De La Hoya did it with some degree of success in the early rounds of their fight and then completely abandoned it.
But Mosley's jab isn't usually among his primary weapons. He often buzzes with it to establish an area of comfort and to parry incoming fire instead of attacking with it.
Mosley, despite his athletic gifts, was never among the game's defensive best. Mayweather should be able to tag him fairly regularly with the right hand without great difficulty.
Most importantly, Mayweather is one of the best defensive fighters of all time and one of the best counter-punchers of all time.
In Mosley's corner
Mosley was, is and may forever go down as one of the best bodypunchers in the game. In the fights where Mayweather has had the most difficulty establishing space and countering, it was because Jose Luis Castillo and to a lesser extent De La Hoya, focused on the torso.
Mosley will be the harder, if not cleaner puncher, and he will be the physically strongest Floyd has faced. He also knows the tricks of the trade and only on a couple of occasions has shown his opponents too much respect.
While Mosley has been discouraged in the past, it's usually come against fighters who've possessed some degree of power. If Mayweather's punches are more a nuisance than truly hurtful, Mosley will continue to find a way to win until the final bell, something that can be said for only a few of Mayweather's opponents since he's left 135 pounds.
Mosley has displayed the mentality of a warrior. We've never seen over a prolonged period if Mayweather can dig deep through great adversity.
Remember the judges
De La Hoya's aggressiveness was only moderately effective against Mayweather, but four points was the widest margin on any scorecard in that much ballyhooed fight.
Mosley, meanwhile, was rewarded in his second bout against De La Hoya for punches that looked and sounded harder than his opponent's even though it appeared as if he was being outboxed much of the time. If Mayweather relies on a peck-and-poke strategy, he too could get himself into such a predicament. Most of the judges in Nevada like aggression.
There exists the possibility that Mosley will get old overnight or come out too respectful - a strong start is a must for him - but more than likely the judges will have the fighters separated by just a point or two at the halfway point. They usually do in fights between great fighters, and Mayweather himself usually contributes to this by fighting at a methodical pace.
Mayweather's fights are often snoozes but I don't think this one will be. He's dissuaded other opponents with just a few right hands and a web-like defence, allowing him to fight at a casual pace.
But they've been smaller men and not of the calibre of Mosley. The type of performances Mayweather gave against De La Hoya, Judah and Hatton were good, but he'll need another level against Mosley.
So there's a strong chance we'll be quite entertained - either Mayweather will be upset, or he'll have to fight at an activity level we haven't seen in a long, long time.
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