On April 30, 2020, ESPN’s Steve Kim posted a piece titled Shane Mosley:  The day I almost KO’d Floyd MayweatherThe article condenses remarks by Shane Mosely concerning the May 1, 2010, Mayweather-Mosely fight.  The interview is well-worth reading in its entirety for boxing fans but especially for those who, like me, remember the Mayweather-Mosley fight.  In this article, I will focus on one very interesting passage where Mr. Mosley describes Mr. Mayweather as being difficult to defeat because Mr. Mayweather was terrified of defeat.  First, however, I will provide some background about Mr. Mosley and Mr. Mayweather and the Mayweather-Mosley fight for those who are not familiar with the event and the dramatic personae.

The Fighters: Mosley and Mayweather

Mr. Mosley and Mr. Mayweather are two of the greatest and most well-credentialed fighters of the past three decades.  Each won titles at lightweight (135 pounds), welterweight (147), and junior middleweight (154), and Mr. Mayweather also began his career with a lengthy reign atop the junior lightweight (130) division.  Going into their May 2010 fight, they were both recognized by Ring Magazine as being among the top three fighters in the world along with then-and-current-welterweight title-holder Manny Pacquiao.  Mr. Mosley had a record of 46-5 (39 KO) and was coming off a dominant win in January 2009 against Antonio Margarito.  Mr. Mayweather entered the fight with a 40-0 (25 KO) record, coming off a decisive September 2009 shutout win over Juan Manuel Marquez at a 144-pound catch-weight (Mr. Mayweather, however, weighed in at 146) which had been preceded by a nearly-two year “retirement” from the ring.

TI-89 graphing calculator for Mosley-Mayweather, accompanying article about Mosley on Mayweather.
Typed on TI-89 graphing calculator and captured with TI Connect software.

(Before offering a brief summary of the fight, I must note that the fight was billed “Who R U Picking?”  That promotion was dumb enough that it made putting down my share of the pay-per-view cost mildly embarrassing.  I kindly corrected it on my TI-89 graphing calculator, posted supra.  But I digress.)

Mayweather-Mosley: The Fight

After a relatively uneventful first round, Mr. Mosley caught Mr. Mayweather with two hard right hands in the second, with the second right forcing Mr. Mayweather’s knees to buckle.  The moment made for high drama, as Mr. Mayweather had never officially been knocked down, much less been in apparent danger of being knocked out.  To his credit, Mr. Mayweather hung on, avoided dropping his guard after the second punch, turned the tide near the end of the round, and survived to take control of the fight going forward.  For those interested, Mr. Mosley describes the sequence of events and what was going through his head in detail in the ESPN article.

You can watch the entire fight here or jump the memorable second round here.

Mosley on Mayweather’s Confidence and Fear

Mr. Mosley explained why, in his view, fighting against Mr. Mayweather was so difficult:

“You can’t be in there at 70, 80 percent, you have to be in there 110, 200 percent because the way he works out, the way he trains, the way he approaches a fight – he’s terrified to lose.”

-Shane Mosley on Floyd Mayweather

Mr. Mosley then highlighted the key point in a more complete way:

“He’s got confidence that he’s going to win, but he’s terrified to lose.”

-Shane Mosley on Floyd Mayweather

While only Mr. Mayweather knows the truth about how he approached fights, I find Mr. Mosley’s analysis compelling.

My View: On Confidence

To start, I agree with Mr. Mosley that Mr. Mayweather was always confident that he would win.  Mr. Mayweather’s bravado in fight promotions was calibrated to sell his fights, but it was based on his genuine belief that he was the best fighter in the world. Mr. Mayweather was a transcendent talent in the ring and, by most accounts, the best boxer of the current century.  He was the most talented fighter in the ring in all his fights, and he combined that with some good fortune to retire with an undefeated record.

My View: On Fear

In Mr. Mosley’s account, Mr. Mayweather’s being “terrified” of losing is not to be taken pejoratively.  Here, Mr. Mosley does not refer to Mr. Mayweather’s fear in the same sense as do those who are of the opinion that Mr. Mayweather excessively ducked difficult fights – a long debated topic  beyond the scope of this article.  In the context of the quote, Mr. Mosley suggests that Mr. Mayweather’s fear of defeat made him more difficult to defeat.  Mr. Mosley suggests that because the idea of losing a fight was so terrifying to Mr. Mayweather, Mr. Mayweather trained and fought in a way to ensure that his hard work and talent would always win out, and he would never see the referee raise the hand of his opponent in victory.

The vast majority of great fighters – such as Mr. Mosley himself – lose fights in their career.  Over enough fights, even the best fighter may fall victim to an upset, lose a fight to another top contender, or simply fight on too long.  A boxer can do everything right, only to be the loser on the judges’ cards after the final bell.  Mr. Mayweather came to define himself by his undefeated record nearly as much as he defined himself by his love of money and outrageous public persona.  He chose his fights carefully, trained for his fights hard, and avoided having the kind of bad night that could have resulted in a defeat.  Taken together, Mr. Mosley’s analysis that Mr. Mayweather was driven to make the most of his considerable talent by his fear of losing seems quite plausible, if not more likely than not true. 

Points of General Interest

Mr. Mosley’s analysis of Mr. Mayweather is interesting when separated from Mr. Mayweather.  It recognizes, correctly, that confidence and fear can exist together, and that fear can paradoxically lead to buttressing confidence.

Whether confidence is well-founded or baseless often depends, in part, on effort and attention to detail.  To that extent, if fear motivates one to work hard and proceed carefully in order to avoid failure, it can make one justifiably confident in achieving a desired outcome.

Whether fear, even in the ideal case that Mr. Mosley described, is a healthy motivating factor, is a different and more complicated question.  I will leave further analysis of the issue for another day, but leave with a quote from the twelfth maxim in Epictetus’s Enchiridion, as translated by Elizabeth Carter in 1790:  “[I]t is better to die with hunger, exempt from grief and fear, than to live in affluence with perturbation…” Even if fear leads to work to justify confidence and achieve desired outcomes, is it conducive to genuine self-improvement and living well?  I submit this question for your consideration, and for me to pick up anew on a later date.