Mosley - Vargas: A Bright Light in a Dark Time

13.07.06 - By Chris Ireland: Where is greatness found? Is it on the cover of magazines and newspapers? Is it becoming synonymous with "pay-per-view event" and "box office blockbuster"? Or, if you're Antonio Tarver, is it having your name on the correct side of the television screen? Or is greatness found not in the bright lights of the mainstream media and superstardom, but in the darkest moments of one's career? Is it when the fire that once lit up a fighter's career fade, and all he has left is one chance to rekindle the brightness? Indeed, that rekindled brightness, even if it's only a flash on a Saturday night, is where greatness is found. The best always find a way to come back.

There was a time when Shane Mosley and Fernando Vargas were two of boxing's brightest young stars. Shane was a remarkably quick pound-for-pound king who won over fans with his charming personality. Fernando was a destructive machine fueled by anger who forced instead of finessed his way to becoming the youngest junior middleweight champion in history. It's been too long to remember what side of the television screen they appeared on, but Mosley and Vargas had made the cover of several magazines and newspapers and were worthy of mega fight status.

Every fighter has his wall. Whether it's an opponent, punishment, or merely age, it brings his career to a violent halt. For Mosley the wall was Winky Wright, whom he lost to twice in 2004. Vernon Forrest had destroyed Mosley's status as the best fighter on the planet, but "Sugar" was able to reclaim elite status with a victory over Oscar De La Hoya in 2003. It was Wright that made him look shot. For Vargas it was punishment. "El Feroz" bravely put his undefeated record and WBA title on the line against Felix Trinidad in 2000. In front of the boxing world Vargas transformed from an up and coming kid into a battle hardened warrior. He fought valiantly, but was brutally knocked down five times on the way to being stopped in the final round. He then took on his hated rival, Oscar De La Hoya, in a battle of Mexican pride. Vargas again waged war with a superstar of his era, only to be brutally taken out in the late rounds. All he was after that, it seemed, was damaged goods.

Vargas and Mosley then found themselves in a downward spiral. Each man was involved in a scandal and each looked ordinary against opposition meant to make them look great. Both also went through a bit of an identity crisis. Mosley changed trainers from his father to Joe Goossen to John David Jackson. "El Feroz" began to fancy himself a boxer. Vargas began using shoulder roll and speed techniques against the likes of Raymond Joval, Javier Castillejo, and Fitz Vanderpool. To steal a line from the immortal Larry Merchant, it was like "watching a rottweiler at a dog show."

Mosley too had his trouble with ordinary foes. After his second loss to Wright and fourth in six fights, Mosley took on David Estrada and Jose Luis Cruz in the welterweight division in 2005. Instead of surging back into the limelight via the comeback trail, Mosley stumbled through a rocky path, decisioning Estrada and Cruz in bland performances. Creeping up on his mid thirties, Shane's nickname nearly went from "Sugar" to "Shot."

It was at that point Vargas and Mosley found themselves with their backs to the wall. Signing on to fight each other in February, the fire that had once lit up their career had dimmed. All that was left was a chance to rekindle the fire. The situation (not exactly the stakes) wasn't unlike that of Ali-Frazier III or Hagler-Leonard. It's that point in time, when two declining fighters square off to see who goes home and who stages one last hurrah, is when great fights happen. It's when great fighters win. It's where greatness is born.

What Mosley and Vargas did was what so many of their fans had hoped: they rekindled the fire. Mosley, returning to the days of using his blinding hand speed to overwhelm slower opponents with combinations, jumped out to an early lead. Vargas, no longer the bull in a Matador's clothing, gradually powered his way back into the bout to even it out at the halfway mark.

But while the drama of the increasingly even bout unfolded, Vargas' eye began swelling shut. Despite warnings from his corner that the bout soon would be halted, Vargas refused to abandon his game plan and continued to charge Mosley. Mosley, recognizing that he was fighting a cyclops, targeted the swollen mass and fired away repeatedly with the right hand as the bout entered the late rounds.

By the tenth, Vargas' eye was a punching bag for Mosley: as easy to hit and nearly as big. Nonetheless, the Mexican warrior refused to give up, just as he had done against men who many thought had destroyed his career. Joe Cortez eventually, however, halted the bout midway through the round. With all three scorecards having the bout scored either way by a point, both men felt they were winning when the bout was stopped. Before his eye had blown up, Vargas seemed to be seizing momentum with his power punching. Mosley had jumped out to the early lead and busted up Vargas' eye. A rematch was soon signed.

So we return to the same point we were at five months ago. With the first fight providing the classic feel that is simultaneous with the return to form of boxing superstars and an inconclusive finish, both Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley once again have their backs to the wall. For Vargas, a fourth loss in a major fight may end his run as an elite fighter, even at 28. For Mosley, a fifth loss in ten bouts at age 34 would bring back whispers of the "S" word.

Together, they rejuvenated their careers in the first meeting. Now they'll try to destroy them. If again they are able to rekindle the fire that they flashed in February, we could see another great fight. The thought here is it's Vargas who will walk away the winner this time. In the first meeting, Vargas became increasingly effective with power shots and, had his eye not blown up, might have come out with the victory. Fernando has also come into camp in much better shape than last time, meaning he won't be as weak on fight night as he was in the initial meeting. It's this writer's opinion that Mosley and Vargas will wage war early with the faster man gaining a slight edge. By the late rounds, however, Vargas will wear Mosley down with power shots and win an exciting, slim unanimous decision. Trilogy, anyone?

Article posted on 13.07.2006

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