BY MIKE HOUSER
Ladies and gentleman, we have a split decision.
Of the three notable trainers polled Thursday by the Nevada Appeal, two picked IBF junior middleweight beltholder Ronald "Winky" Wright to upset WBA-WBC champion "Sugar" Shane Mosley, when the two square off Saturday in "The War at 154," a 12-round, unification bout, which will be televised on HBO from Mandalay Bay Resort-Casino in Las Vegas.
Mosley, of Inglewood, Calif., will be making the first defense of the belts he won from Oscar De La Hoya last September, while Wright, of St. Petersburg, Fla., will defend the IBF diadem for the fifth time since winning the vacant title by defeating Robert Frazier, on Oct. 12, 2001.
Mosley, 39-2, with 35 knockouts and one no-contest, is a -3.20 favorite (one would have to bet $320 to win $100) over Wright, 49-3 (25), who comes in as a plus-2.40 underdog (a bettor would win $240 on a $100 bet).
"I understand why and how most people like Shane to win the fight," said Teddy Atlas, who has trained former WBA-IBF heavyweight titlist Michael Moorer and is an analyst for the ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. "His movement, his speed - he has the ability to stay one step ahead of Wright. But I'm going to take a chance and go for Winky.
"Wright's an older guy (both fighters are 32) and he's been looking like he's been slowing down his last couple of fights (unanimous decisions over J.C. Candelo last March and Angel Hernandez last November), but he has a way of making guys get in his rhythm and fight his fight. He's tough, he's sturdy and he's a real pro."
Thell Torrence is in agreement with Atlas on Wright's skills, but sees a different outcome. Torrence learned to train under the guidance of the legendary Eddie Futch and will be in former IBF cruiserweight titlist Vassiliy Jirov's corner Saturday when he challenges undefeated heavyweight prospect "Baby" Joe Mesi on the undercard.
"Shane's on a high right now," Torrence said. "Winky will give him a little trouble - he has activity on his side. Shane will have a hard time beating him. It could be an ugly fight. You're not going to have a bang-out, knockdown, drag-out fight. Winky is smart, clever, but he doesn't have a lot of movement. Shane has to push it and take a few chances. It might not be pretty, but I see Shane taking it."
Former junior welterweight contender Ronnie Shields, who trains heavyweight contender Dominick Guinn and lightweight prospect Juan "the Baby Bull" Diaz, has a unique insight when it comes to beating Mosley. He was in the corner of Vernon Forrest when Forrest upset Mosley for his WBC welterweight crown in January 2002 and defeated him in the rematch the following July.
"Winky is awkward. Everyone has trouble hitting him," Shields said. "He's aggressive and he throws a lot of punches. I think he'll catch Shane. He's been fighting big 154-pounders and Shane hasn't. Shane's open enough for Wright to hit him. I think the uppercuts will be a big deal for Wright."
Forrest hurt Mosley with a right uppercut and subsequently put him on the canvas twice in the second round in his title-winning effort.
There are a couple of other considerations as well. While Mosley had an extensive amateur career, Wright had only a few before turning pro at 18. And although Wright also won the WBO 154-pound title in May 1996, defending it three times before losing it to Harry Simon in August 1998, Mosley has superior experience in big fights. He won the IBF lightweight belt in August 1997 and defended it eight times before moving up to welterweight and defeating De La Hoya in the pair's first meeting, taking De La Hoya's WBC crown via split decision in June 2000.
That said, Wright has an awkward southpaw style. In his last meeting with a southpaw - on February 8, 2003 - Mosley struggled for three rounds with former IBF 154-pound titlist Raul Marquez, before the pair clashed heads and the bout was declared a no-contest when Marquez emerged with two ugly cuts.
Atlas sees something else that doesn't bode well for Mosley.
"When Shane beat De La Hoya (in their first fight), he was in the position of having another mega-fight with Oscar," Atlas said. "(Mosley) figured he was where he'd have a marquee name, a household name. But he never really cashed in like De La Hoya did. It bothered him, I guess. Instead of having a rematch with Oscar for good money, he went the other direction and (after three defenses) fought Forrest. Instead of fighting Oscar for more money, he fought and lost twice to Vernon.
"He's in the same position now. The same thing's happening. He'd make more money against Oscar (for a third fight) than against Wright, but his ego, his pride, won't let him come to terms with making less money than Oscar (who wanted the lion's share of the purse if they fought again). So he goes and fights Winky Wright. (Mosley) said he'd never let that happen again, that he'd capitalize better economically this time (after beating De La Hoya). And here he is again, getting paid less than he would against Oscar."
Atlas said Wright isn't a fancy fighter and doesn't have the same talent as Mosley, but he's solid in other areas.
"Wright doesn't do one thing real great or one thing real bad," Atlas said. "He's just a real solid guy. And it's a defining fight for him. Outside of (his December 1999 loss to then-IBF titlist Fernando) Vargas, he's never had a real big fight. He's never had a great, shining forum to show his stuff. That's going to vitalize him. It's going to bring it all to the surface.
"Wright's going to come on late in the fight. He'll be there for the long haul. He's going to capitalize in Mosley's mistakes. As the rounds go on, he'll get his way. Mosley will be ahead early, but Winky will make adjustments and go to the body in the middle rounds. He finds a way to make Mosley do what he doesn't want to do."
And that's lose. If Mosley wins, he'll reportedly fight former weltwerweight, junior middleweight and middleweight titlist Felix Trinidad, who recently announced his return to boxing after retiring in 2002.
Contact Mike Houser at firstname.lastname@example.org.