Mora could live up to title of 'Contender' -- in time

Updated: August 22, 2006, 11:09 AM ET
By Joe Tessitore | Special to ESPN.com

Is Sergio Mora going to end up being one of those era-defining TV names? You know the kind I'm talking about. It's the kind that was at the top of your consciousness long enough to be cemented as common knowledge but finishes off somewhere on the yard-sale table of your brain's garage.

Sergio Mora
Al Bello/Getty Images Sergio Mora celebrating his Oct. 15, 2005, victory over Peter Manfredo in Los Angeles.

I could sit around with my buddies and drop these names all day long. How about I bust out a ski jumping Eddie the Eagle mention? I could hammer you with a "Wasn't Justine Bateman on 'Family Ties' hotter than Tracey Gold from 'Growing Pains?' " Or would you prefer a Chuck Barris and the Unknown Comic reference?

Many of you are reading those names and grabbing hold of a certain spot on the pop culture time line. Others are saying: I'm glad I wasn't around for the early '80s.

Could Mora be heading down that road? Could the affable champion of "The Contender" Season 1 be in the midst of a pop culture phenomenon that has swallowed the likes of Cabbage Patch dolls, "The A-Team" and a Lisa Bonet-Lenny Kravitz marriage?

"I can't avoid the fact that I will be forever attached to 'The Contender.' I'm never going to shed that label, and I'm not looking to do that," Mora said. "What I am looking to do -- and this is why I work so hard -- is to stay undefeated and keep impressing everyone. I don't want to be like those other reality show guys. I don't want to be "American Idol"'s Ruben Studdard. I want to capitalize from that show and concentrate it on impressing fight fans."

Mora has impressed me for the past year. I like him a lot. In fact, he is one of the few pro athletes I truly enjoy talking with beyond the realm of our overlapping careers.

In my time spent with Sergio, I have found him to be passionate, thoughtful, grounded and fun-loving. I wish the best for him. Still, I can't let that cloud my feeling that what that best might end up being is a spot on the short list of names most likely to appear on VH1's "Remember 2005."

Please don't get the impression that Mora's career is over. I'm not here to cast "The Latin Snake" onto the scrap heap of "could've beens." He is very much in the midst of upward career progress in the ring.

This week, we will see unbeaten Mora (18-0, 4 KOs) in his next step. He faces 6-foot-4 Eric Regan on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2, 9 ET) in Regan's hometown of Sacramento, Calif.

"About the only problem I had with Eric Regan was getting sparring for a guy that tall. But I tracked down 6-4 Kingsley Ikeke [23-2, 13 KOs] and we have been kicking each other's ass for two weeks," Mora told us.

"My trainer told me: After being in with Kingsley, there is no way you'll have problems with this guy," Mora added.

The other concern was the fight's location.

"There have been decisions where Southern California guys go up to Northern California and they usually get robbed, or they don't get the right decision. That was a concern of mine, actually more than the height," Mora said

Make no mistake, Mora is favored to win this fight. He seems to be improving every time out and has enough natural ability, and physical tools, to accomplish the goal. But what really impresses is his mental makeup as a learned pro.

Sergio Mora
Danny Moloshok for Mark Burnett ProductionsSergio Mora (18-0, 4 KO) defeated Archak TerMeliksetian by TKO in the seventh round in Las Vegas on May 4.

For two straight fights against Peter Manfredo Jr., Mora overcame a cut above his left eye. Both times, it occurred in the first round.

The last time we saw Mora in the ring was this past May in Las Vegas. He was in against power-punching Archak TerMeliksetian. Sergio had a whole new experience that night. The 26-year-old instant millionaire was knocked down for the first time in his career. It was a left hook in the second round that caused the flash. He grew up right in front of our eyes.

Mora's adaptability, including his ability to balance smart fighting and aggressiveness fighting, was impressive. From the knockdown onward, he controlled the fight all the way to a seventh-round TKO.

"Maybe him knocking me down threw him off," Sergio offered. "But whatever the case is, once I got him into the middle rounds, I had him dominated, and that's what I expect to do with Eric Regan."

What more fight fans have been interested in is what he expects to do with Jermain Taylor. Yes, the Internet rumor mill has been grinding with the buzz of the reality TV-spawned ring star getting a shot at the middleweight world champ.

Both promoters acknowledge talks of a Taylor-Mora fight. When you think about the economics, as well as the career management of Taylor, it does make sense on many levels. After fighting Bernard Hopkins twice, then Winky Wright, Taylor could use a Little Rock, Ark., homecoming with a fighter he would be favored against. Plus, with Sergio's mainstream popularity, the event could get done with a big profit margin. That's what makes sense -- dollars and cents.

What doesn't make sense to plenty of boxing observers is thinking Mora has a legitimate chance at winning that fight. Not yet, anyway.

Teddy Atlas had an on-air exchange with Mora this summer where that point was discussed. Teddy knows he is a real fighter, and thus would not only take that fight but put forth a very good effort. But Teddy also recognizes that Mora needs further development. He needs development to make that title opportunity more legitimate.

I give Mora credit. Although he wants the fight, and believes he could win, he seemed very honest in properly assessing that analysis and not completely dismissing it. What might keep Mora in the now, instead of the pop culture past, are those smarts.

The rumblings we heard last week of a Taylor versus Kassim Ouma middleweight title fight sure didn't help Mora's promoter's cause. But deep down, maybe Mora knows enough to realize it does help his long-term cause.

"If Taylor wants to fight Kassim Ouma, that's a good fight for him. I think he beats Ouma, but I see Ouma going the distance in that fight. I don't know, though, if it's the fight he wanted. I see that as another bad performance where Taylor comes out with a win but doesn't impress."

So, Mora will wait his turn. You see he can be more than just a moneymaker. He could be a fully evolved competitive upper-level pro. Just give him a little more time to grow into it.

Remember, if I were hanging with a college football fan, I could always toss out a Nebraska fumblerooski line. Or if I were with an admitted WWF junky (WWE is so this millennium), I surely would enjoy recalling Superfly Snuka's pre-Piper's Pit coconut head smash glory. But for now, there is no need to place The Latin Snake into that box of trivial TV culture memorabilia. Let's see Mora build up a little more this week on "Friday Night Fights" and win over the masses even more.

Joe Tessitore is the blow-by-blow announcer on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights."

Joe Tessitore has been the blow-by-blow announcer for ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" and "Wednesday Night Fights" since 2002 and contributes a weekly boxing column to ESPN.com.

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