Monday, July 27, 2009

How I'll Remember Vernon Forrest

by Lee Payton

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

As you know, Vernon Forrest was murdered on Friday night. This summer has been hard on the boxing community as we have now tragically lost Arturo Gatti, Alexis Arguello and Marco Nazareth.

I just want to go over some of the memories I'll always have of The Viper.

Vernon Forrest will be forever known as the guy who had Shane Mosley's number. He was the one who kept Shane from heading to the 1992 Olympics, and years later he would violently snatch Sugar Shane's welterweight title.

I remember the negotiations for the first Forrest-Mosley fight. Shane was looking for another showdown with Oscar De La Hoya, but wanted too much money so the Golden Boy turned down the offer. There were two guys left to fight- Vernon Forrest and Winky Wright.

As a huge Mosley fan I didn't want to see either of those opponents. Rather than go up in weight to face Winky, Shane chose to defend his championship against Forrest.

I was a nervous wreck before the first bell, for I knew Vernon Forrest was a tough customer. He had the physical tools, a great amateur pedigree, and he was undefeated as a pro. But the scariest thing about him was his hunger. I knew he was starving. Shane... I wasn't so sure about anymore.

Forrest got the opportunity because he had been on HBO a few times before that, standing up to some heavy right hands from Vince Phillips and winning a belt on his second try against Raul Frank.

The first fight with Frank ended early because of a clash of heads. They did it again, and Forrest looked like he hadn't taken a day off in months. He weighed in very light and had put on almost nothing by the time they got into the ring, indicating that he may have been over-trained.

It didn't matter. After a rough 12 rounds Forrest was declared the winner. He finally had the title belt he wanted so badly. It was just the thing he needed to get bigger opportunities that were hard to come by for him.

I was depressed for over a week because of what he did to Shane, so I was jumping for joy when wild man Ricardo Mayorga stopped him with a right hand club to the temple. I actually thought the stoppage was a little premature, but hey...

They fought again and in a contest that could have gone either way Mayorga's crazy aggression won him the majority decision.

Mayorga is thought of as a bit of a joke these days, but in his prime he was obviously a load. He had big power that came from putting 100% of himself into every shot, deceptive quickness, brutal strength and a granite chin. Forrest just couldn't back him up or get him to sit still, which messed with his cool, technical long-range style.

Even getting back into the ring with the only man to ever knock you out takes a lot of guts.

After that his career was slowed to a halt by injuries. No one really knew if we'd see him in the ring again. He had money and unlike a lot of fighters, had no problem finding something to do when he wasn't fighting. He was deeply involved with a group called Destiny's Child, which helped disabled adults in their everyday lives.

Of course, he came back at less than 100% to beat Ike Quartey and Carlos Baldomir. He lost a very close decision to Sergio Mora in 2008, but dominated the rematch 3 months later.

I'll always remember Vernon Forrest as a good guy, even after what he did to one of my all-time favourites. He was a helluva fighter at one point. The type of guy I think many of the great welterweights would have had real trouble with. He had a very long, hard, quick jab that he really believed in. He could also punch like Hell when he sat down on his shots. In fact, Forrest is the only guy I have ever seen hurt Shane Mosley.

As far as boxing goes, he'll probably always be underrated, but his good deeds are far more valuable than anything he may have achieved in the ring. Rest in peace, Champ. Your legacy as a man is secure.

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