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Mosley-De La Hoya Is in High Demand

September 13, 2003|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — When Shane Mosley pulled out his credit card earlier this week to make a purchase at the MGM Grand Hotel, the clerk asked him for identification.

Mosley paused, then produced his room key.

On the front of every MGM key this week is a picture of Mosley and Oscar De La Hoya, who will square off tonight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in a World Boxing Council/World Boxing Assn. Super-welterweight title fight.

Mosley's embarrassing moment at the counter illustrates both the incredible drawing power of De La Hoya and the frustrating fight for recognition by Mosley.

Tonight's main event, a rematch after Mosley's split-decision victory over De La Hoya three years ago at Staples Center, is not only the hottest ticket in town, but also the sport's biggest fight since De La Hoya-Fernando Vargas a year ago.

The MGM Grand Garden Arena, expanded to seat more than 16,000, has been sold out for several weeks. The pay-per-view buys may exceed 700,000. There will also be 2,000 closed-circuit sites.

And there is the buzz around town, an A-list of celebrity ticket holders and a preponderance of scalpers selling tickets for five figures, extraneous factors that surround those rare fights that transcend the hard-core boxing public.

So how does Mosley, who couldn't even draw recognition at a candy counter at the site of the fight, who couldn't draw more than faint applause at Friday's weigh-in, whose fame and fortune pales in comparison to that of De La Hoya, find himself tonight at the center of the boxing universe?

The answer both satisfies and rankles him. It is because of whom he is fighting -- and that he has beaten him.

The fans know, in De La Hoya, they will be seeing the biggest drawing card in boxing outside of those ever more rare Mike Tyson appearances; they will be seeing De La Hoya against the only man generally accepted to have beaten him; and they will be seeing him in perhaps one of the final bouts.

De La Hoya (36-2, 29 knockouts) states unequivocally, "Three strikes and you're out," saying that, if he loses for the third time, he will, at age 30, retire.

"There is a sense that the sand is running out of the hourglass," said Jim Lampley, an announcer for HBO's pay-per-view telecast. "There may not be that many more chances to see him."

Mark Taffet, HBO vice president, compares the buying frenzy to that which he saw before the De La Hoya-Felix Trinidad fight in 1999 -- won by Trinidad in a disputed decision. It drew 1.4 million buys, a record for a non-heavyweight match.

"I remember telling [promoter] Bob Arum before that fight," said Taffet, "that I had never seen anything like it. The pay-per-view numbers were spinning upwardly out of control. It was the way I would imagine it would be with a UFO sighting. It came, generated a great flash, and went. We're still not sure what happened.

"I sense the same thing happening with this fight."

While tonight's match may generate a tidal wave of revenue, Mosley has mixed feelings about the bonanza. He is guaranteed $4.5 million, certainly not a payday to scoff at, but Mosley (38-2, 35 KOs) boils because he is getting less than a third of the $17 million De La Hoya is guaranteed.

And to get that amount, the same guarantee he received for his first fight against De La Hoya, Mosley had to place a personal call to De La Hoya after negotiations had deadlocked.

Mosley clearly beat De La Hoya in the minds and on the scorecards of most ringside observers, even though one judge, Marty Samon, had De La Hoya winning, 115-113.

De La Hoya, stung by the loss to Trinidad, entered the Staples Center ring determined to not only beat Mosley, but knock him out. De La Hoya was clearly ahead midway through the fight, piling up points as he bore straight ahead, searching for the opening that would put Mosley flat on the canvas.

Jack Mosley, Shane's father and trainer, then adjusted his son's style, Mosley showing more movement and fighting in spurts as a southpaw. De La Hoya refused to react, his mind focused on the knockout that never came.

After a brief fling as a singer, De La Hoya came back bigger than ever, peaking with his TKO victory over Vargas.

Mosley, on the other hand, fought in small venues in front of tiny crowds against obscure opponents for paltry sums compared to De La Hoya's purses. When he stepped up in class to face Vernon Forrest, Mosley suffered his first and second defeats, the first coming in January 2002, followed by the rematch that July. Since then, Mosley's only ring appearance, against Raul Marquez in February, ended in the third round, ruled a no-decision when Marquez could not continue because of several accidental head butts.

Although De La Hoya is a 2 1/2-1 favorite, the fight figures to be close, especially after De La Hoya suspended sparring in his training camp because of pain in his chronically injured left hand. De La Hoya insists the hand is now sound.

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