Sergio Mora's is the kind of story that could only happen in the age of reality television and the Internet. Five years ago he was an unknown boxer fighting for meal money in second rate casinos and Marriott Hotels.
Although he was 13-0, he only had 2 knockouts against mediocre competition. He was an east Los Angeles kid with no real future in the game of boxing.
The came The Contender television series in 2004.
The first series was a hit, produced by Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard. It featured a charismatic line-up including Peter Manfredo Jr., Mora, Jesse Brinkley, and Alphonso Gomez.
Mora Jr. went on to fight, and lose, to Joe Calzaghe. Alfonso Gomez beat Arturo Gatti and then lost to Miguel Cotto. Jesse Brinkley recently upset Curtis Stevens and was robbed of an opportunity to face off against Lucian Bute.
But of all the fighters on that first season, Sergio Mora is undoubtedly the most talented.
Yes, he won the entire show and $1 million. But it was his interviews to the camera that let the world know that Sergio Mora was no ordinary fighter. He was articulate, strategic, and seemed to religiously study the works of Sun Tzu and Machiavelli.
This was no ordinary east Los Angeles home boy.
After the season, he beat Peter Manfredo Jr., on two occasions and then fought a series of journeymen such as Eric Regan and Elvin Ayala.
Then things started to go south.
He fought only once in 2006 and once in 2007.
The strategic thinker, he refused to fight Jermaine Taylor in 2007 on Taylor's home turf in Arkansas. He knew he could never knock out Taylor, and getting a decision in Taylor's hometown seemed unlikely.
His career was on the downside. His Contender fame was a distant memory and he was being seen as little more than a lucky club fighter within boxing circles.
In fact, his success on The Contender generated snickers and even jealousy among more established and successful fighter who felt they deserved his fame and accolades.
He was labeled a 'television fighter.'
He wasn't getting the big fights. He was falling into anonymity.
Then, came Vernon Forrest in June 2008.
Mora finally got a big name in Forrest that could propel him to the upper echelon of the sport. It would be on HBO and expose him to a massive audience.
Most important, if he could beat Forrest, it would establish him as a legitimate contender in the eyes of the boxing public.
The odds were against him.
Forrest came in as a heavy favorite and was expected to knock out Mora and make light work of him.
Mora, ever the strategist, boxed Forrest to death and stayed away from him, using his jab to keep Forrest off of him and his quickness to circle and get in and out of danger.
He won the fight in a massive upset.
In a rematch just three months later, Forrest would take his revenge and soundly beat Mora on all three judges' scorecards.
At this point, Mora should have been on his way. Although he'd lost his rematch with Forrest, he'd also beaten a world champion and a respected fighter.
More big fights should be on his way.
And they were.
First, he had a fight with Kassim Ouma scheduled until Ouma pulled out.
Forrest was tragically murdered while changing his tire, making a third fight an impossibility.
He had a fight scheduled with Kelly Pavlik, until Pavlik pulled out with an injury.
Mora languished without fighting for almost a year and a half. He was falling back into anonymity. Finally, he signed with Golden Boy promotions in December 2009.
After an 18-month layoff, he beat Calvin Green in April of 2010.
The Pavlik fight was especially troubling for Mora. It was a fight that only he and his fighter thought he could have won, until Sergio Martinez dominated Pavlik and exposed him as a one-dimensional and immobile fighter.
Mora was, in his words, "depressed" watching the fight.
He had Pavlik figured out. He knew he could have beaten him. He even surmised that Pavlik's handlers had heard of Mora's great training sessions and pulled out to avoid an upset.
Mora would have been back on top and scheduled for massive paydays against the top middleweights in the world.
Now? Who knows.
I've always found Sergio Mora to be an immensely entertaining fighter. I'm also impressed by how articulate and intelligent he comes across in interviews.
He is quick, elusive, active, and a natural showman. He's a boxer without much power, witnessed by only 6 knockouts in 23 fights.
It's that last number that is troubling.
At age 29, Mora should have at least 30 professional fights under his belt, and probably more. Peter Manfredo Jr. has 40 fights and he's the same age.
Mora is a fighter on the fringe. He's in his prime and has a few good years in front of him, but he needs to step up and start fighting world-class guys on a consistent basis.
The fact that he's with Golden Boy should signal that he has at least one big fight in front of him.
Sergio should be careful what he wishes for.
He could be a sacrificial lamb thrown to the likes of Sergio Martinez, Marcos Maidana, or Amir Khan. A talented guy with a name who doesn't present any real danger.
He's good, but his lack of power means guys will come straight at him. That's exactly what Forrest did in his second fight and Mora was back-pedaling the entire time.
A quote from the movie Almost Famous is appropriate for Mora, "a mid-level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom."
Not exactly Led Zeppelin, but not exactly Men Without Hats, either.
Somewhere in between.
Mora is a good fighter, but I'm not sure he has world-class skills, he certainly doesn't have world class power.
He may want to consider fighting the likes of Ricky Hatton, Paulie Malignaggi, and even Kelly Pavlik. Guys he has a decent chance of beating, and can still bring a good payday.
It is good to see him back in the fight game. He has a match scheduled in July at the Mandalay Bay in Vegas. His opponent hasn't been announced.
I'll be watching it.