At age 38, Mosley a rightful underdog

As Shane Mosley has now declared himself "a legendary fighter," I'm obliged to inquire as to the genesis of his fabled career. What might that be? What night of nights should he be remembered for?

"My signature win," he says without deliberation, "was my first against Oscar De La Hoya in 2000."

A night that approaches its tenth anniversary. So, while the gossips report a slur in his speech (couldn't say for sure on the phone Thursday, but Sir Laurence Olivier would sound punchy after fielding so many sportswriters' questions), Mosley is about to celebrate a full decade of legend-hood. That's a long time in any endeavor, but several eternities in boxing.

Think back to June 17, 2000, the date that apparently qualifies Mosley for immortality. The Republic was in especially dire circumstances, with a philandering president and no "American Idol" to distract the masses. Neither Kobe nor Shaq had won the first of their eight rings. No one had heard of LeBron James. Nine-eleven was a model of Porsche.

But all these years later, Mosley is coming off his most notable victory since that first De La Hoya fight. A ninth-round TKO of a terrible cheater named Antonio Margarito made him seem younger than his years. Still, that was 16 months ago. Now Mosley approaches his 39th birthday, an age that spells doom for every champion not named Bernard Hopkins. Hence, he'll go into the ring almost a 3-1 underdog Saturday night against Floyd Mayweather.

"The oddsmakers are making too much of the age," he says.

It's worth noting that Mosley has cheated, too. For at least one stretch leading to his 2003 rematch with De La Hoya, he was a client of BALCO, the famous designer-steroid emporium. Nevertheless, I find reasons to admire him. In contrast to Mayweather's vulgar alter-ego, the "Money" character, Mosley has managed to maintain a gentlemanly persona in a savage sport. What's more, speaking of grace under pressure, he's survived the indignities of divorce. Then there's the matter of style. Unlike the famously risk-averse Mayweather, Mosley's is more pleasing to a crowd. He'll engage, recklessly if needed, and has the bashed-up nose to prove it.

Where Mayweather considers himself the sweetest of scientists, Mosley sees himself as a warrior. Check the Maori-inspired motif that now adorns his left shoulder and arm. Tattoos are not a cause for confidence in men pushing 40, much less a fighter. I think of Mike Tyson: each of his epic tats -- Arthur Ashe, Mao, Che Guavara and ex-wife Monica Turner -- suggested a new level of weakness. Finally, by the time he had a tribal design needled around his left eye, Tyson could be seen for what he was, or had become -- a circus attraction more than a fighter.

"It's what I wanted, not what everybody else wants," says Mosley, explaining his first foray into body art. "It symbolized me being a warrior."

In keeping with this theme, Mosley argues that he's been tested by bigger, tougher guys than Mayweather would've ever risked fighting. "I don't think he was challenged the way he was supposed to be," says Mosley.

Who really challenged him? I ask.

Jose Luis Castillo, in their first fight, he says, citing the unanimous decision Mayweather received to capture the WBC lightweight title. "Castillo really beat him," says Mosley.

Fair enough. Judging from the chorus of boos that followed Michael Buffer's announcement, the fans at the MGM certainly agreed. It was probably the worst night in Mayweather's pro career. But it was nothing more than a disputed decision. And it was more than eight years ago.

In fact, the decade that began with Mosley-De La Hoya I has been much kinder to Pretty Boy than to Sugar. Consider Mosley's record after that supposedly transcendent win: 11-5, and a no-decision, stopped on a cut.

Among those wins were a lot of guys you probably never heard of again, like Shannan Taylor, Adrian Stone and Jose Luis Cruz. Then there were a couple of TKOs over Fernando Vargas in 2006, when The Ferocious One was already shot. The second win over De La Hoya -- closer than the first -- was also suspect, being chemically-enhanced. And the true merit of Mosley's penultimate victory -- the TKO over Margarito -- is similarly unclear. That evening's outstanding moment belonged not to Mosley, but to his trainer, Nazeem Richardson, who caught Margarito's cornerman wrapping his hands with a plaster-like substance. Maragarito wasn't so tough with regular wraps.

Take those away, and what do you have? A pair of de-mystifying, demoralizing losses to Vernon Forrest, a couple more losses to Winky Wright, and a loss to Miguel Cotto.

So what do you make of that? Three-to-one, Mayweather. Only a legend could beat those odds.