Thursday September 25th, 2008

As Shane Mosley was preparing for his WBA welterweight title fight with Miguel Cotto last November, there was one thought -- a new thought -- that kept forcing its way back into his head: retirement.

After a 14-year professional career that had been filled with exciting and occasionally brutal fights, and had seen Mosley, 37, strap on championship belts in three weight classes, "Sugar" was finally entertaining the possibility of hanging up his gloves.

"I thought about it, sure," Mosley told SI.com. "I definitely thought that fight could have been my last one."

Yet, when Cotto was announced the winner in a close, but unanimous decision, the defeat didn't have Mosley (44-5, 37 KOs) rushing to fill out retirement papers. In fact, it did just the opposite.

"I think in that fight, I proved to myself that I wasn't too old," said Mosley. "I proved I wasn't over the hill. After they announced the decision, I thought to myself that I really can beat this guy. I'm still a force out there."

Thus began a new chapter in Mosley's career -- a road to redemption, a path he hopes will eventually lead back to a welterweight title and a spot in boxing's pound-for-pound rankings. A journey that begins Saturday night against former junior middleweight contender Ricardo Mayorga (HBO, 10:30 p.m. ET).

To be certain, Mayorga -- a beer drinking, chain-smoking free-swinger, whose demeanor matches his surly personality -- wasn't Mosley's first choice. Option "A" would have been a rematch with Cotto, who spurned Mosley's request for a second fight, choosing instead the path of no resistance when he accepted a sparring session, er, fight against Alfonso Gomez. Cotto's decision to take on the light-hitting Gomez (Cotto destroyed him in a laughable fifth-round knockout) infuriated Mosley's camp, who felt their fighter deserved the rematch after losing by such a razor-thin decision.

"It was very disappointing," said Mosley. "He beat me, but he did it in his hometown. He had everything working in his favor. He said he wanted to fight a big fight; well, I'm a big fight. I think deep down, he didn't want to face me."

With Cotto occupied, Mosley turned his attention to Zab Judah, an outspoken former welterweight champion with the kind of credentials Mosley was looking for. A Judah-Mosley fight was signed but called off after Judah was injured during training, leaving Mosley scrambling for a viable opponent.

Enter Mayorga, who made a name for himself with back-to-back victories over Vernon Forrest in 2003. Since then, Mayorga has continued to fight the big fights -- he just hasn't won many of them. After securing two parts of the welterweight title in his wins over Forrest, Mayorga promptly lost them to Cory Spinks five months later.

Pastings at the hands of Felix Trinidad (an eighth-round TKO in 2004) and Oscar De La Hoya (who dropped Mayorga in the sixth round in 2006) soon followed. Only a less-than-exhilarating decision over Fernando Vargas last November has prevented Mayorga from slipping off the map.

Still, the 34-year-old Mayorga (29-6-1, 23 KOs) has been an effective stepping stone for fighters looking to revive their careers. Trinidad used Mayorga as a tune-up before his middleweight showdown with Winky Wright, while De La Hoya, Mosley's close friend and Golden Boy stable mate, shook off the rust of a 20-month layoff against Mayorga just before De La Hoya's showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Mayorga has another attribute that is appealing to Mosley: He still hits -- hard. Say what you want about Mayorga, but there is a reason he has won 23 of his 29 fights by knockout. When he connects with that right hand, he still has the power to put a fighter down. It's a skill he shares with another fighter, who Mosley has been keeping a close eye on for two months: current WBA welterweight champion Antonio Margarito, the most potent welterweight in the division. A guy who battered and bloodied Cotto last July

"Margarito, that's the big fight," said Mosley. "I like titles, but it's not really about them right now. I want the big fights. I want to prove that I'm still the best. It can be at welterweight, super welterweight, I don't care. I want to make a statement, that I'm still a force."

Naturally, Mosley hates to contemplate what a loss would mean, though speculation is that it would certainly impede his chances at getting a big (and lucrative) fight and would probably send him into retirement where another responsibility awaits him: helping his son, Shane Jr., a rangy 152-pounder, put his name on the boxing map. While it's a job Mosley is eager to undertake, it's not one he wants to commit full time to ... yet.

"I could fight for another two or three years," said Mosley. "As long as I believe mentally that I am still one of the best fighters out there, I'm going to continue to do it."

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