Sports

SHANE DOESN'T COME BACK

Just as casual sports fans were getting comfortable with welterweight boxer Sugar Shane Mosley, he lost to the relatively unknown Vernon Forrest, and Mosley's fall from grace could damage the sport more than anything that Mike Tyson could cook up.

Mosley was the boy next door with the good looks and the pleasant disposition—more or less the Anti-Tyson. The media were even beginning to overlook his dullness outside the ring.

But just as Mosley (38-1, 35 KOs) was about to cross over into celebrityhood, he was head-butted in the second round of last Saturday night's match at Madison Square Garden. As Forrest leaned in to throw a right hand, the shorter Mosley closed the gap to smother the punch, and the two clashed heads. When the fighting resumed with two minutes left in the round, it was apparent that Mosley was damaged. Instead of darting around Forrest (34-0, 26 KOs), as he had in the first round, Mosley stood right in front of the tall hard-hitter and absorbed right hands and an uppercut that sent him down to the canvas for the first time in his career.

Mosley went down again moments later, and for the rest of the night Forrest pummelled him; the decision was lopsided.

By Sunday morning, Sugar Shane had become yesterday's news, just like Zab Judah, Felix "Tito" Trinidad, and "Prince" Naseem Hamed, who all reached or were approaching superstar status when they lost bad. The victors—Kostya Tszyu, Bernard Hopkins, and Marco Antonio Barrera—took their places, but the mainstream public doesn't know who they or Forrest are. Casual fans would much rather go with the old reliable and watch Tyson bite somebody.


THE RANGERS: LOOKS AREN'T EVERYTHING

Just when it seemed the slumping Rangers would slide from NHL playoff contention like a greasy slab of cheese from a slice of pizza, they rebounded with three strong wins. Until now, they went only as far as their offense has taken them, because they've displayed no defensive proficiency. During their nine-game winless skid, for example, the Rangers managed only 12 goals while surrendering 34. In their three wins over the Islanders, Bruins, and Caps, they scored 19 and allowed 11.

And that is why—finally, after years of denial—the Rangers are trying to implement a proven defensive system, the dreaded neutral-zone trap. It's been 10 seasons since the Rangers fired coach Roger Neilson, in part for installing the trap, the sleep-inducing style that most teams now play to some degree. It ain't entertaining—and good entertainment is the MSG mantra—but it gets results.

Following last Saturday's 6-3 win over Washington, coach Ron Low alluded to the new tactic while praising the recent work of center Manny Malhotra. He casually mentioned that his team had made some changes in their system and young Manny was doing well as the "steer guy." Bingo. When the trap is well-played, it's the center's job to wait for the enemy puck carriers in the neutral zone, steer them away from the middle of the rink toward the boards and into a defensive formation where the only options result in surrendering the puck. "We did a really good job in the neutral zone," Low also remarked, and the proof was in the shots on goal. Chronically outshot by opponents all season, the Rangers limited Washington to 25 while taking 47. The Rangers began working on the trap during their slump, but the pressures of a compressed road schedule (six games in eight-and-a-half days) prevented them from getting it right.

A slow-to-develop former first-round draft choice, Malhotra has played with greater confidence since inheriting some playing time from injured Mark Messier, and his excellent skating speed makes him an ideal steer guy. Plus, in a subtle display of emerging leadership, Malhotra has been the last guy off the ice at the conclusion of each of the first two victories on the current homestand, waiting at the blue line to greet each teammate for a job well done. The detested trap just might save the Rangers' season and Malhotra's career.


JUST SKATING BY

The European figure skating championships, held two weeks ago in Lausanne, gave us a last chance to size up the competition before the Olympics. Although Russian Alexei Yagudin nabbed his first Euro title in three years, it was a hollow victory—the only man capable of beating him wasn't there.

Archrival/compatriot Evgeni Plushenko stayed home, pleading a groin pull (we reckon he actually used the time to keep training for the big O). If so, he must have been slapping his Lycra-clad thighs in delight at Yagudin's lackluster performance: A muffed quad jump, among other errors, won't cut it in Salt Lake City. While Yagudin fizzled, fourth-place Swiss Stéphane Lambiel stole the show. A fresh-faced youth of 16, Lambiel charmed in a snappy red-and-gold unitard with black gloves, hands flapping like a mime high on life (or Sunny Delight). Bonus: His coach is a dead ringer for Nicole Kidman. Guess we'll have to wait till the Olympics for the final showdown between the Russians. May the best thighs win.


CONTRIBUTORS: MITCH ABRAMSON, STU HACKEL, J. YEH
SPORTS EDITOR: WARD HARKAVY

 
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