By Chris Mannix
April 28, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- Every punch Shane Mosley throws in the gym nowadays has a purpose, as if he is trying to knock out some of the misfortune of his past.

Bam! That's for you, members of the media, for lauding my accomplishments but never recognizing me as the top fighter in the game.

Bam! Bam! That's for you, Victor Conte, for introducing me to performance-enhancing drugs, which have attached a stench to me that I just can't shake.

Bam! Bam! Bam! That's for you, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, for costing me a critical year in my career by refusing to get in the ring with me.

His punches still have surprising pop too, in part because the crippling power is still there -- witness last year's destruction of Antonio Margarito -- and in part because, at 38, Mosley throws them with the understanding that he may not have many left. It's what makes Saturday night's showdown with Mayweather (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV) perhaps the most important fight of his career.

"I think at this point it will be the biggest fight," Mosley said. "You have a lot of viewers watching it. It's a fight that the world wanted to see. So it's a big fight. It's a very big fight and I'm excited to have this fight."

In many ways Saturday night represents an opportunity for Mosley to chase off some of the demons that haunt him. Despite a Hall of Fame-caliber career, Mosley has never been considered the world's No. 1 fighter. He was on the track to that title in 2000 when he defeated Oscar De La Hoya, but two subsequent losses to Vernon Forrest set him back.

He battled his way back into the discussion in 2003 when he scored a second victory over De la Hoya, but back-to-back losses to Winky Wright sent him plummeting back to the pack. Factor in his inability to match De La Hoya's popularity outside the ring and Mosley spent most of the last decade playing second fiddle to a man he had beaten -- twice.

Defeating Mayweather, however, would write a new chapter in Mosley's career. Peruse any pound-for-pound list and Mayweather's name rarely falls below No. 2. Most of those same lists have Mosley in the top five. While Pacquiao is entrenched at No. 1, it stands to reason that the winner of a No. 2 vs. No. 3-4-5 (depending what you read) deserves consideration for the top spot.

"Shane wants to fight so bad," said Mosley's trainer, Naazim Richardson. "They could've convinced Shane that Roger [Mayweather] needs to be one of the judges. But Shane would've agreed to it, because Shane just wants to fight. You can tell Shane, Look, you're going to have to tie one arm behind your back, and Shane's going to fight. We can hold it in Michigan in [Floyd's] backyard, and Shane wants to fight. Shane comes to the table already with the impression that as long as we're fighting, I don't care about anything else."

As important as it is to Mosley to step out of the shadows of Mayweather and Pacquiao, there is an even bigger one he is dancing away from. We may never know the depth of Mosley's involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. But his association with Conte -- the mad scientist inextricably linked to the Steroid Era in sports, who supplied Mosley with performance-enhancing drugs before his rematch with De La Hoya, according to leaked grand jury testimony -- and Mosley's unconvincing denials have created a perception that Mosley is the Barry Bonds of boxing. ("I didn't test positive" carries roughly the same believability with the public as "the dog ate my homework.")

Mosley's decision to pursue a reported $12 million defamation suit against Conte has kept the story in the headlines. Conte and Mosley's lawyer, Judd Burstein, have been exchanging verbal jabs, culminating with the release of a series of YouTube videos -- some by Conte, some by Burstein -- that show a flustered Mosley tacitly confirming in videotaped depositions that he had used performance enhancers.

Mosley, however, insists that is not the case.

"I've always been a clean fighter," Mosley said. "I've been knocking around everybody since 2003 and before 2003. I don't feel that I should be condemned for something that I never tested positive for. ... It's ridiculous now that the media want to make me the poster boy of steroids. Whatever. If [the media] want to continue to think that or put that out there, so be it. So be it."

Steroids will not be a part of Mosley's fight with Mayweather, thanks to stringent drug testing being performed (at Mayweather's insistence) by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. This form of random blood testing is groundbreaking in the sport and presents Mosley with an opportunity to claim a victory over an elite fighter without a whiff of doubt about how he got it.

"Actually, I like the fact that [USADA reps] come all the time," Mosley said. "I learned a lot of different things [like] eating natural and normal foods without taking any of the vitamins."

One fight may not wipe out parts of Mosley's past that he badly wants to erase. But winning would be a big step in that direction. The stakes are high for Shane Mosley. In fact, they couldn't be higher.

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