‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley and Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright have both announced their retirement from the sport of boxing at 40-years-of-age. The careers of the two fighters have run almost parallel and while both are multiple-time world champions, they have a very different story to tell.
There was always a certain amount of expectation placed on the shoulders of Mosley. Not least when he choose to box under the same nickname used by boxing legends Ray Robinson and Ray Leonard. Born in Lynwood, California, he would spend much of his amateur career being compared with another exciting young prospect coming out of the Golden State, the ‘Golden Boy’ Oscar De La Hoya. The duo would often cross paths and along with Vernon Forrest, would carve out successful careers in both the amateur and professional game.
Forrest denied Mosley the chance to go to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona – ‘Sugar’ would go on to lose twice more to ‘The Viper’ in the professional ranks - while De La Hoya would earn his ‘Golden Boy’ moniker by returning home with America’s only boxing gold medal.
In late 1993 Mosley would make his professional debut and within four years had graduated from the small halls of Inglewood to fighting for his first world title against Philip Holiday - the IBF lightweight champion. Mosley had already amassed 23 wins and 22 stoppages, and was certainly made to work hard in the bout. It was his first full 12 rounder of his career, and in going the distance with Holiday, was crowned world champion, inflicting a first professional defeat on his opponent.
Thus began one of the most impressive reigns we have seen at lightweight since the days of Roberto Duran, the man known simply as ‘Manos de Piedra’ or ‘Hands of Stone’. Mosley would defend his IBF title on eight occasions, each time winning by stoppage before opting to gain 12 pounds in order to fight as a fully-blown welterweight.
The decision to gain almost a stone in weight was all in preparation for one man. It was time for Mosley to challenge the ‘Golden Boy’. De La Hoya was the darling of American boxing, a lucid and intelligent man who could charm female fans through looks that were equally as devastating as his punches inside the ring. Mosley entered the contest, billed as ‘Destiny’, as the underdog despite boasting an unblemished record.
For the next 36 minutes the duo proved exactly why they were regarded as two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. The 12th round is one that will live long in the memory as both men attempted to swing the judges verdict in their favour. Fully respectful to each other throughout, Mosley threw some huge right hands as De La Hoya looked for his trademark left hook. It was ‘Sugar’ who tasted sweet victory as he was awarded a split decision to claim the WBC welterweight title.
This victory propelled Mosley into the upper echelons of the sport. He could have cherry picked opponents and looked to maintain a perfect record, but this champion demanded that he fought only the best. He decided to look for redemption against Forrest, the man that cost him a spot on the Olympic team, but it would prove to be step too far as he suffered his first professional loss in a one-sided contest. An instant re-match was set but it was the same outcome. Mosley had met his nemesis, a man who he simply could not beat.
It took great character to respond from these defeats and Mosley decided to face De La Hoya less than 12 months after his second professional defeat. This time fighting at 154lbs it would be the same outcome as Mosley became a three-weight world champion. However, this time the titles would not remain in his hands for long as he got in the ring with an under-rated fighter by the name of Ronald Wright.
‘Winky’ had struggled to earn opportunities for a number of reasons. He was not a fighter with a huge following; he would struggle to sell Pay Per View tickets and was viewed as a dangerous opponent for any champion. Never was he handed an opportunity on a silver platter yet he twice beat Mosley with a display of slick defence combined with an aggressive come-forward approach. But more on Wright later.
By 2008 Mosley was believed to be heading towards the twilight of his career. Having produced five successive wins he suffered another loss when stepping up in opponent, this time to the hugely talented and hard-hitting Miguel Cotto. Some questioned Mosley’s speed which appeared be to waning, but his chin and heart was never in doubt.
Against Ricardo Mayorga it seemed we were watching the end. But with precisely one second remaining in the 12th round, Mosley produced a thunderous left-hook that forced the referee to instantly call a halt to proceedings. Four months later Mosley would add the WBA Super world welterweight title to his collecton, when he stopped the iron-chinned Antonio Margarito, in what we now know as his last ever victory.
One-sided losses to Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and Saul Alvarez proved that Mosley could no longer mix it with the best in the world. A fortunate draw against Sergio Mora must also have sown the seeds of doubt in his mind as to whether he could even beat a limited but young fighter.
The decision of Mosley to take the name ‘Sugar’ has certainly been vindicated. He showed, skill, heart and passion inside the ring and he will undoubtedly be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame alongside Sugar Ray Leonard and Sugar Ray Robinson.
Like Mosley, Wright called time on his career last weekend after a series of below par displays. Losses to Bernard Hopkins – where he did earn plaudits against his fellow veteran - Paul Williams and finally Peter Quillin have convinced him that he needs to leave the sport after 22 years.
In contrast to Mosley’s storybook career, Wright had to do everything the hard way. He was often undervalued as a fighter and spent the best part of a decade trying to convince people that he deserved the opportunity to mix it with the very best. Losses to Julio Cesar Vasquez, Harry Simon and Fernando Vargas somewhat blotted his copybook but a meeting with Mosley would prove to be the catalyst.
Wright had already held the WBO and IBF light-middleweight titles by the time he met Mosley in March 2004. There was only meant to be one result in this contest and it was certainly not viewed as a potential platform for Wright to proved he belonged among the world’s elite. Yet for 12 rounds the fighter from Washington would stalk his opponent and provide few openings. “He’s a defensive minded fighter that will walk you down, that is what is unique about Winky Wright,” came an observation from the ringside commentators.
The defensive southpaw, who had previously been forced to travel the globe in order to gain opportunities, showed a quality that was simply too much for Mosley. The judges agreed, awarding the contest 117-111 117-111 and 116-112 in favour of the new champion. Mosley immediately wanted a rematch but once again came up short, again by majority decision. Wright had finally arrived on the grand stage of Las Vegas and was showing the boxing public that he was a genuine world-class fighter.
Wright was back in the boxing mecca of Vegas just six months later against one of the most feared men in the middleweight division. Felix Trinadad had just one loss on his record to Hopkins, but had blown away another 42 opponents, including legends like De La Hoya and Pernell Whitaker. This was another fighter believed to be well above the reach of Wright.
Trinidad had a fanatic fan-base and most expected their man to simply blow away the challenge of Wright who in their eyes would crumble under a vicious attack from the Puerto Rican. How wrong they were. Wright was barely touched throughout the 12 rounds as his powerful right-hand jab kept Trinidad at bay to secure a one-sided victory on all three judges’ scorecards. This was a career defining performance and one that earned him a place in the hearts of all boxing fans.
That night against Trinidad will live long in the memory and although he continued to box for another seven years, he was truly at his best on that night. It guaranteed his place in the Boxing Hall of Fame and helped him establish a legacy as much more than just an awkward southpaw.
The always eloquent De La Hoya summed up Wright’s career with these words: "Winky Wright is a class act in and out of the ring and if you wanted to see what true skill was, you watched him fight. I congratulate him on his amazing career. I know we'll be seeing him in the Hall of Fame very soon. Winky, it was an honor to watch you in the ring and to promote some of your fights."
It was indeed an honour to be able to watch both fighters in action and both will be sorely missed.