Sergio Mora started playing chess in high school so he wouldn’t flunk math. This may seem like an anecdotal aside, but stick with us here, because it actually says plenty about Mora’s mindset as a fighter.
“I had husband-and-wife math teachers, and they knew I wasn’t going to pass, so they told me, ‘Listen, there’s a chessboard over there, play chess.’” Mora recalls. “They saw that I was beating everyone in the class and they said, ‘Look, we’ll pass you with a D- if you can go beat one person in the chess club.’”
It took him awhile, but Mora did just that, dodging an F.
His knack for maneuvering pawns and rooks would presage his ability to later do the same with his fists and feet: Chess is strategic, predicated on being able to think ahead, set up one’s opponent, divine what’s coming next and act accordingly—the very same skills that Mora has successfully employed in the ring for years.
He’s a tactician through and through, calculating and cunning, not one to press the action, but not prone to making mistakes, either.
Thing is, boxing has its own glossary of terms, and in it, “strategic” is a synonym for “boring.”
There’s a reason chess matches don’t take place on pay-per-view.
This has been the knock on Mora in the past: Yeah, the guy is talented, but is he all that fun to watch? For boxing purists, seeing a technician like Mora embrace the fundamentals of the craft has its rewards. But for plenty of others, Mora wasn’t exactly must-see TV.
Mora recognized this the hard way, and as his recent fights have indicated, he’s done something about it.
“I deliberately started being a little more offensive, wanting to go for more exciting fights because I got blackballed out of the sport pretty much. I became a pariah after I fought Shane Mosley,” he says of his ill-fated 2010 draw with the future Hall of Famer. “No one wanted to deal with me.”
And so in 2012, when Mora became a free agent, he went back to the drawing board.
“I made it a point to set my feet down a little more,” he says, “not be a target, not go punch for punch like a Rock ’em Sock ’em Robot, but make it a point to get a little more aggressive, look for the opening and try to take [the other fighter] out in a smart way.”
The operative word here is “smart”: Mora still fancies himself a cerebral fighter, even if he’s stepping on the gas a bit more now.
“If I can’t take you out, I’m going to move,” he says. “If I feel that you’re weak, I’m going to back you up. If I feel that you have a tough chin, I’m going to take you to the body. If I see that I’m not going to get a knockout, I’m going to cruise to a decision. Those five things have happened in my last five fights.”
Mora has certainly been coming forward more in the bouts he alludes to, earning a pair of stoppages in the process—this from a fighter with but nine knockouts in his career.
Now, Sergio Mora will put this new approach to its toughest test against 160-pound champ Daniel Jacobs, who he faces Saturday at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center on ESPN (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT).
Despite Jacobs’ gaudy 29-1 record, Mora is less than impressed with the level of opposition Jacobs has faced up to this point.
“What has Daniel Jacobs accomplished and what has Sergio Mora accomplished?” he asks. “I definitely have the heavier résumé, only I don’t have his respect. He became a champion by beating Jerrod Fletcher. I became champion by beating a five-time world champion in Vernon Forrest.”
Mora believes that he has the edge over Jacobs in experience and quality of competition, which he thinks will be the difference when they meet in the ring.
“He’s gone a long way with athleticism and the right matchmaking,” Mora says. “But he’s never fought anybody of any importance or any kind of caliber. And the one time he did fight a guy with a good record, a former champion in Ishe Smith, it was a close fight. It could have been a draw.
“I beat Ishe Smith on The Contender and it was a close fight as well,” he continues. “[Jacobs is] not as ripe as he should be mentally and physically, and at 28 years old, he should be stepping it up pretty fast now. That’s what he’s doing with me, by the way.”
Regardless of what happens Saturday, Mora knows that his past will still loom over the present—he won’t just be facing Jacobs, but yet another round of questions about his age and his altered style in the ring.
Plenty of time has passed since Mora was last a champion. Now, he’s out to prove that time hasn’t passed him by.
“The critics will say, ‘He’s getting older,’” Mora sighs. “Teddy Atlas, God bless him, he knows a lot of things about boxing, he says the reason that fighters became more stationary is because they lose their legs. That can be true, but I proved in fights like with [Grzegorz] Proksa that I’ve got great legs.
“I’m not losing my legs,” he says emphatically, “I’m making a point.”
For complete coverage of Jacobs vs Mora, visit our fight page.