Sergio Mora has not been in the witness protection program. He hasn’t signed on as a member of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.
It only seems that way.
Mora is beginning anew five years after a promising reality-TV start.
But Act II of Mora’s boxing career begins in earnest on Saturday when he meets Shane Mosley at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in a non-title 12-round super welterweight bout in the main event of an HBO Pay-Per-View card.
After operating largely outside of the mainstream of the boxing establishment for the better part of the last five years, turning down middleweight title fights against Jermain Taylor and Kelly Pavlik along the way, Mora is now squarely in the middle of the mainstream.
And while the outgoing 29-year-old former super welterweight world champion has nothing but good things to say about his time on the late NBC reality series, “The Contender,” it’s like he’s getting a chance to start over while at the peak of his powers.
“I don’t regret doing ‘The Contender,’ at all,” Mora said. “Not for one second have I ever regretted doing that. It changed my life, literally. I thank God in my prayers every night, pretty much, that I had the opportunity I did on that show.”
Mora was the winner of the first season of the show in 2005, which was the only one broadcast on NBC. It was the brainchild of Mark Burnett, who created the hit reality series “Survivor.” The pledge at the time of the launch of “The Contender” was that it was going to clean up boxing and change its image.
Nothing of the sort happened, however. Saturday’s bout will be just Mora’s ninth since appearing on the show and just the third against a significant opponent. He’s also had two lengthy layoffs, one of 14 months and another of 19 months, that stalled any momentum he might have had.
By winning the show, he was contractually obligated to be promoted by the Tournament of Contenders. But the group acted more in a management role than as a promoter and wasn’t actively putting on its own shows. Rather, it was looking to place its fighters on cards promoted by others and then earn a management fee for doing so. The problem was, it wasn’t a licensed manager.
The result turned out to be a gradual drift back into anonymity for Mora, who earlier this year engaged the services of noted manager Cameron Dunkin and signed a promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions.
Dunkin quickly ended Mora’s inactivity by arranging a bout against Calvin Green on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones Jr. rematch in April. Mora stopped Green in the seventh round in the only good thing about that otherwise wretched card.
“He was with [the Tournament of Contenders] and it was almost like he wasn’t really in boxing and nobody wanted to touch him,” Dunkin said. “He talked to me and when I got him, I nearly worked out a deal for him with Top Rank, but Golden Boy came along and offered him more money. I asked him what he wanted to do and he said, ‘Let’s go with Golden Boy. I’m from [Los Angeles] and they’re here and it seems like the best fit.’ And so that’s what we did and now, I’m getting him back in the mix and back in front of the people.
“There was good and bad in that deal for him. He made a million dollars [for winning the show] and let me tell you, a million dollars is a million dollars and there aren’t many guys making that. When he turned pro, I tried to sign him and I offered him a $5,000 signing bonus. That’s the kind of money that was there. So he did good with that money, but it was like he was out on some island somewhere and people forgot about him.”
Mora is an intelligent, charismatic guy who hasn’t taken much abuse in fashioning his 22-1-1 record. He won the World Boxing Council super welterweight world title by upsetting the late Vernon Forrest in 2008, though he lost the belt in the rematch in what turned out to be Forrest’s final fight before he was murdered.
Mosley understands that Mora is no joke and insists he’s taking him seriously.
“If I know nothing else about the guy, I know he defeated Vernon and to beat Vernon, you have to be a great fighter,” said Mosley, who lost twice to Forrest in 2001. “Vernon could fight and he wouldn’t lose to just anybody. You beat him and that sends a big message. People may not realize how good [Mora] may be, but I guarantee you, I do.”
Mora is treating the Mosley fight as a coming out party of sorts. He knows a win over Mosley on Saturday will put him back onto the map and back in the hunt in the super welterweight and middleweight divisions.
There are a number of attractive fights that could be made, like bouts against Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams, but Mora first has to get past Mosley.
And though Mosley is coming off a near-whitewash loss at the hands of Floyd Mayweather Jr., Mora and his team aren’t expecting that listless and inactive Mosley to appear. They’re preparing for the guy who defeated Oscar De La Hoya twice and who was once considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Mora trainer Dean Campos has gone over many of Mosley’s tapes, but most of them are 10 years old. He’s only glanced fleetingly at the Mayweather fight.
“That’s the one I study the least,” Campos said of the Mayweather-Mosley fight. “I look at all [Mosley’s] younger days and when he was 28, 29, 30 and he was beating guys like Oscar … Those are the guys I look at and I sort of look at what he does. I’m impressed with what I see and, hopefully, we can defuse him a little bit and do some things that he’s not too comfortable with.”
Having competed on national television, Mora shouldn’t be too caught up in facing one of the sport’s biggest names. And though the casual fan will automatically assume a Mosley victory, it’s not necessarily a safe assumption.
Mora isn’t a big puncher, as his six knockouts in 24 pro fights will attest, but he’s as gritty as they come and he’s a slick, smart boxer just entering his prime.
“I feel lucky that I’m just hitting my peak as a fighter now and I’m with a promoter who is going to be able to get me the kinds of fights I need that will let me reach my goals,” Mora said. “The sky is the limit for me, honestly. I’m a late bloomer and I feel like over the next three, four, five years, I can do a lot of good things in this sport.”
Beating Mosley – even a 39-year-old Mosley – would be a good start for him. At the least, it would help him shed the unwanted label of boxing’s most anonymous man.