The Boxer Next Door Dimpled--and undefeated--lightweight champ Sugar Shane Mosley, the 1998 Fighter of the Year, is putting a fresh, sweet face on his often sour sport

April 25, 1999

Nobody's marketing minivans to boxing moms, not yet, but it does
seem that the sport has become a little more suburban than we
remember it. Visits to promising athletes now take place in
split-level homes, not tenement blocks. Standing by are parents
(two at a time!), not wannabe mobsters hunched under the weight
of their gold-nugget jewelry. And is it just us or do we smell
more chocolate-chip cookies in training-camp kitchens these days
than we do cigars?

Where are the tattooed orphans, the repeat offenders, the surly
nose-bone-into-your-brain stars we've grown used to? Is it truly
possible that the sport has been taken over by a bunch of kids
with milk mustaches, guys who a year ago were playing trumpet in
the school band? In other words, does the changing face of
boxing now belong to Sugar Shane Mosley? And does it have to
have dimples?

If Mosley, the undefeated IBF lightweight world champion--who
last Saturday night in Indio, Calif., ran his record to a
pristine 32-0 with an eighth-round TKO of challenger John (the
Beast) Brown--is the standard-bearer for this new generation of
fighters, as many in boxing believe, then the sport really is in
for a transformation. It may never be civilized to the degree
of, say, contract bridge (point of reference: a faded and shamed
Mike Tyson remains boxing's biggest draw), but a good
citizen-fighter like Mosley, who can't bring himself to move
more than a block from his parents, could go a long way toward
reclaiming the sport as family fare.

Think about this past year in boxing. While Tyson was appearing
before state commissions to proclaim his sanity, and while his
fellow point men in the heavyweight division were engaging in a
series of dreary events, capped most recently by the
Holyfield-Lewis debacle, Mosley tore through the lightweight
level, creating excitement, not chaos. Since winning the title
in August 1997 from South Africa's Philip Holiday, Mosley has
defended it eight times, winning each fight by knockout. Honored
earlier this month by the Boxing Writers Association of America
as its Fighter of the Year, Mosley is a superb boxer and one of
the most accomplished body punchers to come along in years. So
dominant has Mosley been that the manager of one of his
opponents, Jesse James Leija, who was KO'd in the ninth last
November, pleaded with HBO to give his fighter one more chance
on the network, "against somebody human." Through it all
Mosley's entourage has held steady at one--his father and
trainer, Jack (who, not coincidentally, was named Trainer of the
Year by the boxing writers).

"He's the complete package," says HBO matchmaker Lou DiBella.
"He's got that rare combination of speed and power, and he knows
how to carry himself outside the ring." DiBella can afford to
gush, as Mosley's fights helped HBO to consistently higher
ratings in a year that was mostly devoid of big bouts. Indeed,
the normally gloomy DiBella is cheered by Mosley and a group of
like-spirited and similar-sized kids who have been reliable
ratings warriors for him and other promoters. "Mosley's part of
a new generation of young, quality fighters who are also pretty
good citizens--guys like David Reid, Floyd Mayweather Jr.,
Antonio Vargas. They all have the sense that it's more important
to be a fighter than a sideshow."

Until now, though, Mosley has been the best fighter nobody's
ever heard of. While his talent has long been trumpeted among
aficionados, it's been a secret elsewhere. "You could say that
he's been underpromoted," offers his promoter, Cedric Kushner,
"but you would be tragically understating the case."

Kushner does not indict himself for negligence. He didn't get
ahold of Mosley until 1997, three lost years into the fighter's
career. Before that, Mosley had been strictly a West Coast
fighter, having boxed all but three of his 23 bouts in his home
state of California. At that time Mosley was far more famous as
a sparring partner--warring with the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez
for $100 a week--than he was as a headliner. "It was a slow
start," Mosley says.

It was his own fault, you could say. He started boxing at age
eight, when he tagged along to a Pomona gym with his father. By
the time he was a teenager, he had become the class of American
amateurs. In 1990 the U.S. team coach, Joe Byrd, said, "He's
probably above and beyond any [amateur] in the world at his
weight class."

However, he never got to the Olympic springboard, the one that
sent Oscar De La Hoya (one of Mosley's amateur victims) toward
his superstar status of today. Mosley, shockingly, failed to make
the 1992 team, losing a questionable decision to Vernon Forrest.

Today Mosley says the upset never bothered him all that much. He
was eager to get on with his pro career, and he assumed he would
be ranked with his idol, Sugar Ray Leonard, in no time. That
rosy outlook ignored Leonard's own use of the Olympic
springboard. And it ignored boxing reality. A Southern
California promoter who was new to the business of boxing--his
money came from construction--could not move Mosley at all in
the heavily networked world of professional fighting. For all
his brilliance, Mosley remained a local fighter, far from the
notice of the East Coast crowd, which shapes national opinion
and offers TV contracts.

"I was worth millions, or so I thought," he says, "but I was
living in my parents' garage, making $1,500 or $2,000 a fight."

Not that the garage was any particular hardship. It might not
seem fair that while Mosley was double-parked at his parents'
house, a contemporary like De La Hoya was drawing up plans for
his Big Bear chateau, but Mosley doesn't complain. "That garage
was nice," he says. "I had cable, air conditioning, a lot of
space." Home cooking? "That, too."

But once Mosley's first promotional contract expired and he
signed with Kushner, a move up and out was inevitable. Kushner,
who operates in the big leagues and has a variety of champions
signed at any time, lured Mosley under his ample wing with the
prospect of fighting Holiday, a Kushner-promoted boxer who
happened to hold the IBF lightweight title. Mosley jumped at the
chance.

The fight against Holiday is considered one of his poorest,
although Mosley's performance had less to do with the presumably
stiffer competition than it did with a huge ingestion of muscle
builder. By his own admission Mosley took too much creatine the
day before the bout and became dehydrated by diarrhea. "He had
an upset tummy," is how Kushner puts it. By fight time Mosley
weighed 136 pounds, about 10 less than he normally would have,
and he didn't have the strength to take out Holiday, one of only
two opponents to have gone the distance against him.

Kushner kept Mosley busy thereafter, accepting small paydays in
less than glamorous venues just for the activity. Ordinarily this
would provoke a champion to bolt, but both Mosley and his father
were persuaded of Kushner's wisdom. And what might have seemed
like downward mobility--Mosley once fought for $75,000 less as a
champion than he had as challenger, and he bounced from HBO to
the USA network to Fox--turned out to be the path to fame and
fortune. By virtue of his relentless schedule, which was played
out almost entirely on the East Coast, Mosley became recognized
as the sport's rising star. In 1998 HBO signed him to a
three-year contract, validating his string of conquests.

This is a splendid payoff for Mosley, who at 27 does not have
time to spare. But he doesn't intend to relax much. "I like to
fight," he says. "I don't have time or focus for anything else."
In an age when athletes reach the top very quickly and then begin
planning alternate careers, Mosley is a throwback. "Ten more
years," he says. "What else am I going to do?"

He will almost certainly move up in weight, possibly as high as
De La Hoya's class (147 pounds), and earn commensurate purses. He
could turn out to be one of those rare fighters who is so
extravagantly skilled that it matters less whom he fights than
whether he fights at all.

If Mosley turns into a kind of performance artist--in the
fashion of a young Roy Jones Jr., for example--he will certainly
be a busy one. He doesn't enjoy downtime. Just weeks after a
recent victory over Golden Johnson, which was a sort of solo act
(highlight: a round in which Johnson failed to land a punch),
Mosley was back in the gym, working out and playing pickup
basketball twice a day. "If I'm not working out," he says, "I
get grouchy."

This might not be so much a matter of self-discipline as it is
hyperactivity. "He was always very, very hyper," says his mother,
Clemmie. "In nursery school they let me bring his Big Wheel so he
could ride around during nap time. All the other kids were
asleep, but Shane...."

The trick throughout his young life was to keep him busy, in
soccer, basketball, it didn't matter. But even if he couldn't be
contained by ordinary means, he was not likely to get into much
trouble. The sisters at St. Joseph's had a soft spot for those
dimples.

Mosley, who has two older sisters, had the luxury of one of
those "normal" childhoods that real kids--much less
boxers--never seem to have. His parents relocated from downtown
Los Angeles to comparatively bucolic Pomona, 35 miles to the
east, when Shane was a baby. Jack commuted 100 miles a day to
USC Medical Center, where he worked as a material manager, and
for a while Clemmie, who worked in the accounting department of
General Dynamics, commuted too. The sacrifice allowed Shane one
of those Leave It to Beaver upbringings, a sense of middle-class
prosperity as well as of family. It was one big world of
opportunity. If it occurred to Mosley to take up the trumpet,
then he did. If it occurred to him to learn Spanish, from tapes
and daytime soaps, then he did. And if it occurred to him to
follow his father, who boxed in local recreational club matches
and once served as a sparring partner for WBA heavyweight
champion Mike Weaver, to the gym to hit a speed bag, well, he
did that, too.

No wonder it's the idea of family that has stayed with Mosley.
Though he has a fiancee, Myoloe Gilmore, and his own son, Shane
Mosley Jr., age eight, he has not strayed far from home. Just
that one block, actually. Clemmie sometimes wonders what would
happen if she and her husband picked up and moved. "I kind of
think Shane would follow us," she says.

Of course, it's the father-son relationship that, in boxing
anyway, seems strangest. Shane and Jack get along like two best
friends, neither challenging the other, each accepting his role
in the partnership. It's comical when you see it, young Mosley
being alternatively assertive and submissive, but it seems to
work. Example: At one point in a recent conversation Jack tried
to say something on Shane's behalf, beginning, "Let me
interject...," and Shane just cut him off, saying, "Don't
interject nothin'." Champion talking. Yet seconds later when
Jack was spinning some yarn about how he showed up a bully
during his days as a child pugilist in Watts by giving the kid
"the bad eye," Shane had relaxed into a six-year-old, sitting at
his father's knee, just eating it up. Laughing, young Mosley
turned to his guest. "The bad eye!" Any father should be so
lucky that his kid still laughs at, or even listens to, his
stories.

In time, and in not too much of it, Shane will have all the
stories to tell. If his young career proceeds as expected, those
stories could very well describe how he changed the fight game,
turned it from spectacle back to sport, how he made it safe to
enjoy boxing once more. Dimpled instead of dour, he could be the
guy to do just that. Be sweet, wouldn't it?

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO On the rise Mosley, who fought in obscurity until two years ago, has taken his place as one of boxing's best. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Family planning Boxing's Fighter of the Year can count on having the Trainer of the Year--his father, Jack--in his corner. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY V.J. LOVERO Sugar lumps Last Saturday, against Brown, Mosley ran his record to 32-0 and put his mark on the Beast.

A good citizen-fighter like Mosley, who can't bring himself to
move more than a block from his folks, can go a long way toward
redeeming boxing.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)