"Sugar" Shane Mosley, one of America's greatest active pugilists, lounges in his Big Bear, Calif., chalet and looks across a forest of wind-whipped pine trees while "conjuring" how he will defeat Manny Pacquiao on Saturday in Las Vegas. Pacquiao, pound for pound the best fighter wearing gloves, is an 8-1 favorite, while Mosley is an afterthought to many sports fans who are frustrated that the Filipino isn't fighting another American, Floyd Mayweather Jr., the best defensive fighter in the world.
(Archrivals Pacquiao and Mayweather have never faced each other in the ring, despite lengthy negotiations. According to Pacquiao's promoter, talks broke down for a third time after Nelson Mandela's daughter tried to arrange the matchup in honor of her father's birthday. Mayweather allegedly demanded $100 million for himself, and the negotiations fell apart.)
Mosley, a handsome man with a whispery voice, has had a storied professional career that has spanned 18 years and earned him world titles in three weight divisions, but his matchup against Pacquiao for the welterweight championship is what he calls his "biggest moment, the pinnacle." Mosley, 39, insists that he will defy age and do what no boxer has done in six years: defeat the 32-year-old Pacquiao. But fight fans, already frustrated that they aren't getting Mayweather in the ring, aren't hot for Mosley, who has looked creaky in his last two battles. The fight will likely be the most-watched boxing event of the year because of Pacquiao's rising popularity as an athlete and as a crusader for the poor he will wear yellow gloves on Saturday as a show of unity with his country's impoverished residents. Mosley, fight fans argue, was chosen as an opponent based on name recognition and because he abandoned Mayweather's promoter, Golden Boy (a rival to Pacquiao's promoter Top Rank), to get the fight. Mosley's own trainer frets that Pacquiao is the "Rubik's Cube of boxing" because he is so difficult to figure out.
Given that Pacquiao has dominated the sweet science for a decade, it would be easy to dismiss Pacquiao-Mosley as a glorified exhibition. But the bout holds dangers for "the Pac-Man," as he is called, whose rags-to-riches story and exciting style have made him the sport's biggest star. Even at his age, Mosley still possesses decent foot speed and has a respectable right hand. Last year, it found the chin of Mayweather, the most elusive fighter in the world, and almost knocked him out.
In his mountain chalet, Mosley jumps off his leather couch to demonstrate how he will confuse and frustrate Pacquiao. Both men cite Bruce Lee, the iconic martial artist, as a role model in their ghostlike boxing styles. "I'm an illusion," he says. He moves back and forth, moving his torso and head in different angles, shuffling and stepping in different ways. "I can be there and not be there. I can be right in front of your face and not be there. I am not really there ... Here I am, I am ... gone ... See, see. Here I am; where am I? You can't find me, you can't punch me. And here comes my punch. Bam. Where did that come from?"
On Mosley's iPhone is a photograph of himself (5 ft. 10 in.) and Pacquiao (5 ft. 6½ in.) staring at each other. He likes to show it to people to prove that his longer reach (nearly eight inches) will play a pivotal role in the fight. "I believe I can knock Pacquiao out," he says. "I hit anyone square on the chin a couple times, he'll go to sleep." Mosley snaps his fingers, his blue eyes twinkling. Says Pacquiao: "Shane Mosley is still strong and moves like he is 29 years old. He is bigger than me and strong." But the Filipino may just be promoting his fight. He's never had trouble beating taller men.
Belying his bravado, Mosley followed his loss against Mayweather in May 2010 with a bout against Sergio Mora four months later and recorded a lackluster draw. Mora clinched and went backward throughout the fight, and Mosley looked tired. Both men were booed throughout the bout. Mosley says his last two performances were anomalies and that Pacquiao's constant offensive flourishes play into his counterpunching abilities. Pacquiao's style is risky, and he gives the appearance of being vulnerable because he lunges straight at his opponents. Still, his speed and ability to change direction make him virtually impossible to hit. Like others before him, Mosley says he admires the Filipino's style but insists that "it plays into my power."