Former junior middleweight titlist Sergio Mora is hoping a victory on Saturday and a second world title goes a long way in silencing the critics who have followed him throughout his career.
Mora (28-3-2, 9 KOs) will challenge secondary middleweight Daniel Jacobs (29-1, 26 KOs) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in the co-main event of a Premier Boxing Champions card (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). Welterweights Danny Garcia and Paulie Malignaggi will meet in the main event.
Rising to fame in 2005 as the champion of the "The Contender" reality series' first season, Mora, 34, has won five straight since 2012. He faces Jacobs, who became boxing's first cancer survivor to win a world title.
Mora recently spoke with ESPN.com about the challenges he has overcome in his career to get to this point.
Your title shot against Jermain Taylor fell apart in January. How good does it feel to get a second chance on Saturday against Jacobs? I got the title shot because I worked my ass off to get back into this position, but working my ass off wasn't enough. It's a very political sport that wanted me out, and when the doors were closing for me, [promoter] Lou DiBella and [adviser] Al Haymon opened them for me. That's one of the main reasons I am back in this position -- because someone saw me and gave me an opportunity. I'm still a threat in the middleweight division; all I needed was an opportunity. After five good, solid wins, I'm back to being ranked and being a title contender.
Jacobs has looked very good throughout his comeback from beating cancer, but he hasn't yet done it against top competition. How do you gauge his talent entering this fight?
A good performance can be misleading and could really deceive a person for many reasons, as could a bad performance. It could be for many reasons: lack of camp, not having appropriate sparring partners, not enough time to prepare for the fight. There are personal distractions and injuries. You can never go off of one fight, but you can go off of performances that were big fights because, in those big fights, there should be no excuses. You should have all of your bases covered. Big fights are where you can judge a book by its cover. Danny Jacobs hasn't really had a big fight. His biggest fight probably has been against Jarrod Fletcher, and he's not really a big name. I think his biggest fight is against his most dangerous opponent in myself, and I think we are going to see what kind of fighter Danny is after this fight.
As you mentioned, you took the backdoor route to re-enter the title discussion. In what ways has being counted out so many times hardened your resolve and motivated you?
I know every fighter says it, but I literally had to take the back way. I called it the Marvin Hagler route because that's exactly what I have had to do from the beginning of my career. Even as an amateur, I wasn't given opportunities because USA Boxing already had their favorites. I would lose these close decisions, I would get points deducted, I would never make the U.S. team, or I would never make the finals of certain tournaments. It was a headache. Then when I turned professional, when I didn't want to sign with promoters like Top Rank and Golden Boy they thought I was a prima donna and pushed me out. They really didn't want to give me an opportunity again until "The Contender" came around. Me and my team had to go searching for our fights and work with small promoters just to get to 12-0. If it wasn't for "The Contender," I would have had a hard time being recognized because I didn't want to work with promoters or managers who take advantage of fighters at the beginning of my career. I've been doing this since the beginning of my career -- fighting inside the ring and fighting the politics outside of it.
Your style has always revolved around disarming your opponent of their best weapon by any means necessary. Yet in recent fights, you have mixed it up more often. Which style will work best against Jacobs?
If I was fighting in a neutral town, then I could fight my true style and be defensive, use my angles and slow down the pace. Bernard Hopkins could do that and win. But I can't do it in Brooklyn, in Jacobs' hometown. I'd rather keep my foot on the gas pedal because these close rounds are going to go Danny Jacobs. Another reason I have to do that is because even though I have had wins in my last five fights with three of them on ESPN, my last fight against Abie Han gives a lot of people a lot of motivation to go against me. But I wasn't supposed to fight Abie Han, I was supposed to fight Jermain Taylor. And that's the reason I hate fighting late replacement opponents. It was a blessing in disguise because you go from looking not so spectacular and pretty average against a tough guy right into a title shot. Now I'm appreciative for everything that happens in my career.
Your style has always been a very cerebral one, meaning there's a certain maturity level needed to properly employ that, especially at a young age. Where did model that from?
That's a great question. People just like to call my style pesky, in and out, annoying or frustrating. They use every f---ing word except damn good fighter. They use every word except to say that you are a smart fighter and a technical fighter. They don't use those words. I learned this style from my trainer, Dean Campos, who taught me everything that I know. He's a huge Roy Jones fan and Pernell Whitaker fan and Buddy McGirt and Sugar Ray Leonard. We pulled things from every fighter to develop our own style. We had to adapt to the fact that we came into this game late.
When you see Floyd Mayweather and Hopkins getting credit for using the same style that you often get vilified for, how do you react to that?
Listen, with time comes appreciation. I'm smart enough to know that. Bernard Hopkins didn't get appreciated until he was 35 years old, when he fought [Felix] Trinidad. I'm not anywhere near Bernard Hopkins. He's a legendary fighter and very special. That's why he fought so late into his career, because he preserved his mind and body and hunger, but also because he still has s--- to prove. This man has so much spite for the people not appreciating him and the money he hasn't made that he's finally in the limelight and getting all that appreciation. That's the reason he's doing it. And as far as Mayweather, it's similar with him. He didn't get recognized and appreciated until he fought Oscar De La Hoya even though he was already a serious, serious champion even way before De La Hoya. Now Mayweather is making these huge and ridiculous amounts of money and is a huge celebrity and that's why he is still around, too.
If winning your first world title in 2008 against Vernon Forrest validated your status as more than just a reality show champion, what would winning a second world title do in that same regard?
I'm really, really interested in discovering that for myself because you could win a world title or a vacant one off of guys like Jarrod Fletcher, but if you're accepted, then you are called a champion. But if you win a reality show and did it the hard way without a promoter and win a world title against a Hall of Famer in Vernon Forrest, critics will still find a way to not call you a champion or not consider you one. It's just really the politics of the game and what people think of you as a person. So this is just personal and has nothing to do with my fighting ability. So I'm curious to know how cynical and how bad natured people can really be. If I become a two-division champion, how cynical can they really be? What are they going to say, that I beat a guy that beat cancer? What the f--- are they going to say? If I do it in two divisions, that's special. So I'm curious.
Above all else, what motivates you at age 34 to continue to step through those ropes and chase your dream?
It was one of your first questions -- it's proving people wrong. It's the fact that I have never really got my just do. It's like growing up with parents who never tell you that you are good enough and you spend the rest of your life trying to prove them wrong. Even if you are the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, it's not enough, because that's the way you were raised. That's the way I have been raised as a fighter and that's the way that the sport has turned me, into a very ambitious, chip on my shoulder [fighter] who is ready to prove everybody f---ing wrong.
What has to go right for you in order for Saturday's fight to be a success?
I need the judges to really be neutral. I can say that comfortably here in New York because we are not in Texas. So God-willing we have some neutral judges. Fans are very fickle. Fans will go with the action. They take decisions into their own hands with boos and claps. So I'm not relying on the fans. They are [Jacobs'] fans, and I need to convert them with ability and heart. But it's the judges that aren't swayed by that. The judges will ignore the cheers and everything else. I need them to be neutral and I need to get Daniel's respect really early.