Wily vets still pack a punch

1/25/2009 - Boxing

LOS ANGELES -- Saturday was photo shoot day, when HBO brought its new generation of stars to Tinseltown to publicize the next wave of boxing's champions.

Alfredo Angulo was there, as was James Kirkland. So too were Victor Ortiz, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Chad Dawson and Chris Arreola.

Turning the spotlight on a new generation is laudable. But there's one small problem.

The old generation isn't ready to leave the stage yet. Not by a long shot.

What Bernard Hopkins did to Kelly Pavlik in October, Shane Mosley did to Antonio Margarito on Saturday night -- and then some.

Hopkins took the heralded young middleweight champ to school.

Mosley took the reigning welterweight king to the woodshed and beat him up.

"I saw there was a problem right away in the first round," Margarito's trainer, Javier Capetillo, said.

The problem he was referring to was that the defending champion looked slow and vulnerable to Mosley's crisp right hands.

The real problem was the opponent himself, a man who, as Hopkins had before him, turned back the clock and turned in perhaps the most masterful performance of his storied career.

"It was my strategy and my game plan that won the fight," Mosley said after achieving the seemingly unachievable and knocking out the granite-chinned Margarito in the ninth round in front of 20,820 rabidly pro-Margarito spectators.

"I had a great coach. It was a tough fight, but I knew we had a great game plan."

That coach was the same who had been the architect of Hopkins' upset victory against Pavlik, and whom Mosley had brought on board for this contest precisely because of his ability to pick holes in an opponent's arsenal.

"We turned [Margarito's] pressure against him," Nazim Richardson said about how he and his fighter had tamed and slain the beast from Tijuana, Mexico. "We turned it against him and killed him with it."

It was all so familiar -- not only in the way Richardson had masterminded an improbable victory by an older fighter against a younger, supposedly stronger opponent, but also in the things he had done before the fight had even begun.

It was Richardson, after all, who picked up on the way Felix Trinidad had wrapped his hands in New York in September 2001, who had complained to the commission and forced Trinidad to wrap his hands again. The undefeated Puerto Rican walked to the ring that night and was taken apart by the underdog Hopkins from the first round to the last.

Richardson objected again Saturday night, reportedly prompting the commission to bag a "plasterlike substance" from beneath the bandages that encased Margarito's fists and forcing a delay while the Mexican's corner began layering the bandages around his knuckles again.

And then, he helped Mosley do to Margarito what he had helped Hopkins do to Trinidad and Pavlik and many others in between: identify his weaknesses and turn them against him.

As Margarito came forward, Mosley kept throwing punches to body and head, refusing to yield, refusing to let his dangerous opponent get set, firing off combinations time and again.

On those occasions when Margarito did appear to be turning the tide -- walking his man down, getting within range -- Mosley tied him up, muscled him backward, roughed him up and frustrated him. And then, once more at the distance Mosley wanted, Mosley landed one combination after another, punctuating them with overhand rights that landed with increasing frequency and ferocity until the famously invulnerable Margarito finally succumbed.

There might be attempts at rationalization. Perhaps Margarito hadn't taken Mosley seriously. Perhaps July's war with Miguel Cotto had taken its toll on Margarito's chin. Maybe he had weighed in too light.

But Richardson had cautioned against making such excuses beforehand, and he emphasized his point again after the fight.

"You said [Margarito] was a monster, and we conquered a monster, so don't take anything away from [Mosley]," he said.

More than 20,000 people came to Staples Center to crown their new champion. They screamed for Margarito and cheered for him, expecting him to turn back his latest challenger as he had done so many others.

But the coronations will have to wait.

The old rulers have taken back their thrones.

Kieran Mulvaney covers boxing for ESPN.com and Reuters.