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A Wealth of Welterweights

In a dark underground parking garage, Watergate's legendary snitch, "Deep Throat" uttered three simple words which would ultimately topple a Presidency. Shane Mosley must have seen the movie on DVD, because his career has followed a pattern that would have made "Deep Throat" proud.

"Shane has done what many top fighters have done, follow the money," said HBO commentator Larry Merchant, who has covered virtually all of Mosley's fights since he first won the lightweight championship in 1997.

Mosley's journey began as a lightweight, where he was 32-0 with 30 knockouts. He then moved first to welterweight, then junior middleweight and now back down to 147 pounds. The reason for returning to welterweight?

"There are some serious money fights there," Merchant said. "He left lightweight to follow the money because Oscar (De La Hoya) was there. He left welterweight again to follow the money because Oscar had moved up to junior middleweight, and Winky Wright was also there. Now, although Shane is No. 1 in Ring Magazine's ratings at 154, he's doing the same thing by moving down to welterweight where the money is."

There is certainly an embarrassment of riches awaiting Mosley at welterweight, which has the deepest, most exciting pool of talent in any division.

The major money players are Floyd Mayweather Jr., Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito and possibly the unbeaten young sensation Paul Williams.

A step down from those four, but still very good TV fights with seven-figure paydays for Mosley are Zab Judah, if he rebounds from his loss to Mayweather and a six-month suspension, Carlos Baldomir and belt-holder Kermit Cintron.

Baldomir lost much of his Cinderfella luster when Mayweather shut him down in November. But losing to Mayweather is no disgrace. Everybody does. And several of Mayweather's victims have rebounded and done quite well: Diego Corrales, Jose Luis Castillo and Arturo Gatti come to mind.

Cintron could be the sleeper in the bunch. He is a tall, large-boned welterweight at 5'-11, and a hard hitter, with a record of 27-1 with 25 knockouts. That one loss, however, came in a fifth round TKO to Margarito in 2005. But that was before Emanuel Steward took over Cintron's training two fights ago. Since then, Cintron has moved from the relatively obscure King's Gym in his hometown of Reading, Pa., where he didn't get nearly the sparring and experience he gets now working out of Steward's famed Kronk Gym in Detroit.

Steward, the Hall of Fame trainer and HBO commentator, is never shy about over-praising his fighters, but he made a somewhat stunning statement - even for him -- in a conversation a few months ago with this writer. Asked who could beat Mayweather, Steward flat-out said, "Cintron can beat Mayweather. Floyd, like everybody else, has flaws." Never take lightly the words of a man who has trained two dozen champions.

So high is Steward on Cintron that in his travels for HBO, he takes Cintron along so he can spar with fighters in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It is reasonable to think that with the Steward extreme makeover, Cintron is a much better fighter now than he was when he fought Margarito.

By year's end, meanwhile, three others could work their way into the money picture. One is Joshua Clottey, who gave Margarito all he could handle in a close loss in December - despite a hand injury Clottey suffered in the fourth round. The unheralded Clottey left many wanting to see more of the compact, precision-punching Ghanaian, who could spell trouble for any of the division's leaders. Also in the wings are unbeaten blue chip prospects, Olympian Andre Berto and Demetrius Hopkins, nephew of Bernard Hopkins.

Before Mosley (43-4, 37 KOs) can pursue his personal gold rush, there may be a significant obstacle in his way: former champion Luis Collazo (27-2, 13 KOs), whom he will fight on HBO's "World Championship Boxing," Feb. 10.

Collazo, despite being the belt holder, was considered by many a designated body for Ricky Hatton in the Brit's American and welterweight debut in Boston last year. But Collazo gave as good as he got for 12 rounds, and while losing on a tight unanimous decision, 112-115 twice and 113-114, many feel he chased the British champion back to the junior welterweight division.

"Collazo is a tough guy, and Shane has never liked fighting southpaws," Merchant said. "This fight will be no walk in the park for Shane."

One could even make the case that Collazo should be unbeaten. His first loss came in 2002 to Edwin Cassiani, but was tainted when referee Jay Nady seemed to prematurely jump in and stop the fight in the third round.

Collazo's second loss was to Hatton, and again, many thought he had done enough damage with hard, clean shots to the Brit's head, which left both eyes puffy and blackened, to win the fight.

The Brooklyn native also had a very good amateur career. He is a former two-time New York Golden Gloves champion who participated in the 2000 Olympic trials. His crafty southpaw style makes him a tough target, and he has enough power to keep Mosley honest. As Merchant said, don't count him out.

Should Mosley get by Collazo, the degree of difficulty will increase significantly -- in more ways than one. Not only are there very tough fighters out there waiting to get a piece of him - and make no mistake about it, Mosley is currently the cash cow in the division - but there could be also be a serious roadblock in the way of his making some of the better fights.

Bob Arum promotes both Cotto and Margarito, and in case you have been off the planet for a while, the on-going feud between Mosley's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, and Arum has been heating up to a boiling point ever since Manny Pacquiao covered all his bases and signed deals with both Golden Boy and Top Rank. Each promoter is suing the other, and De La Hoya has made it crystal clear he won't co-promote with Arum, although Arum is willing.

"There could be a problem for Mosley fighting Cotto or Margarito because of the animosity between Oscar and Arum," Merchant said. "Those two fights look like hard ones to make."

Still, if bitter rivals Arum and Don King can work together on a promotion, as they did with the Mayweather and Judah fight last April, never say never in boxing.

"He left lightweight to follow the money because Oscar (De La Hoya) was there. He left welterweight again to follow the money because Oscar had moved up to junior middleweight, and Winky Wright was also there. Now, although Shane is No. 1 in Ring Magazine's ratings at 154, he's doing the same thing by moving down to welterweight where the money is."

Right now the biggest money fight out there for Mosley would be Mayweather, doubly so if he should beat De La Hoya in their May 5 mega-fight, and even if he loses but gives the bigger, 154-pound champion a tough fight. After that, Merchant sees the unbeaten Cotto, who has won championships in two divisions, as the next best cash fight. But that could easily change.

"If Margarito beats Cotto in their June fight, then he would obviously be the bigger fight for Shane," Merchant said. "And I don't know if Margarito is as good of a match-up for Shane as Cotto. Margarito is a very tough guy and he's a big welterweight, and Shane has had problems with bigger guys (see: Vernon Forrest and Wright)."

Should Cotto beat Margarito, Merchant thinks Mosley would be viewed as the underdog in a fight with the Puerto Rican. "If Cotto came to Shane through Margarito, he might be the favorite over Mosley. But Mosley has a serious chance to beat Cotto."

And then there is the dark horse in the field, the 25-year-old, power-packing Williams (32-0, 24 KOs), the oversized welterweight who stands 6'-1 with a freaky reach of 82 inches, which is eight more than Mosley's and longer than three of the four reigning heavyweight champions. Only the seven-foot Nikolai Valuev, who has a bald eagle's wing span of 85 inches, has longer arms.

Williams is probably a long-shot to get a crack at Mosley or any of the other top dogs any time soon for several reasons, not the least of which is none of the money players seem eager to face him in what would be a high-risk, low-gain fight. Williams is the No. 1 mandatory for Margarito's belt, but Arum says a wrist injury his fighter suffered on Dec. 2 when he beat Clottey, has not sufficiently healed to meet the time frame mandated by his sanctioning body.

All indications are that Margarito will not fight until his June match with Cotto, leaving Williams in limbo. The sanctioning body can strip Margarito of his title, allowing Williams to fight for the vacant belt. But Mosley and Collazo are ranked second and third respectively by the sanctioning body and unlikely to fight him, followed by little known Michael Jennings and Kevin Anderson. The sanctioning body, because of the injury, could also grant Margarito an exception, but mandate he has to fight Williams after -- and if -- he beats Cotto.

"As for Williams," Merchant said, "no one is going to give him a chance right now. He will have to make his bones fighting others and force his way to the top. He is a tantalizing young fighter, but he's a little wide open on his defense and tends to get hit. Only when a Mosley hits Williams, and Williams hits a Mosley, will we find out how good he is. Hey, I like him. He could very well be the fighter who beats anybody in the division."

Who will emerge as the key players in the division come June, will depend on two fights -- Mayweather's versus De La Hoya, and Cotto and Margarito. Mosley, if he gets by Collazo will almost assuredly go after the Cotto-Margarito winner, or Mayweather.

Mayweather, who will turn 30 on Feb. 24, announced after beating Baldomir that he would have one more fight and then retire. Merchant scoffed at the notion. "Nobody really believes that. That's just him talking," Merchant said.

If all this sounds confusing, consider it a blessing if you are a boxing fan thirsting for excitement. So many terrific fighters in one division makes for a boost to a sport whose heavier divisions tying to regain the same appeal.

What it all boils down to is this: if you are a boxer who happens to weigh 147 pounds, your catch-phrase for 2007 should be what Cuba Gooding Jr. said to Tom Cruise in the 1996 movie, Jerry McGuire: "Show Me The Money!"

If all this sounds confusing, consider it a blessing if you are a boxing fan thirsting for excitement. So many terrific fighters in one division makes for a boost to a sport whose heavier divisions tying to regain the same appeal.

Posted 12:00 AM | Feb 10, 2007

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