Forrest, Vernon 1971–
Vernon Forrest 1971–
For the first eight years of his professional boxing career, Vernon Forrest sought in vain for a title fight for the welterweight crown. After compiling an undefeated record, some boxing experts claimed that Forrest was simply too good a fighter and that the various welterweight champions were hesitant to fight him and lose their titles. Others blamed the roadblock on Forrest’s public image, which lacked the spark and showmanship of some of the other fighters. In 2000, when Forrest finally gained a chance to win the International Boxing Federation (IBF) welterweight title, he was again plagued by bad luck when the fight was stopped after a head-butting incident in the third round. The following year Forrest returned for the IBF title fight and this time emerged victorious in a twelve-round decision. In January of 2002 Forrest took the next step in his career with another welterweight title fight for the World Boxing Congress (WBC) crown against titleholder “Sugar” Shane Mosley. After taking the fight in a twelve-round decision, Forrest defended the title against Mosley in another twelve-round fight, which he won again. Although the bouts confirmed Forrest’s place among the best fighters of his generation, he lost the WBC title in January of 2003 against slugger Ricardo Mayorga. “I abandoned my ability and engaged in a shootout,” Forrest told Gregory Leon of the Boxing Talk website after the fight, “And anytime you get into that with a guy who throws wild haymakers like that, someone is going to get hit. And he caught me before I caught him.”
Vernon Forrest was born on January 12, 1971, in Augusta, Georgia, where his father worked as a mechanic and his mother worked as a nurse’s assistant. He was the sixth of eight children in the family. He began boxing as a nine-year-old and demonstrated enough talent that he continued to train throughout his teenage years and eventually earned a sports scholarship to Northern Michigan University (NMU) in Marquette. He attended NMU for two years as a business-administration student but dropped out to pursue his Olympic ambitions. Having already taken the U.S. junior welterweight title in 1991 and the junior welterweight world amateur champion title in 1992, Forrest seemed to be a good bet to make the team. At the Olympic trials, however, he encountered a formidable opponent in Shane Mosley.
At a Glance…
Born on January 12, 1971, in Augusta, GA, Education: Attended Northern Michigan University.
Career: Amateur boxer, 1980-92; professional boxer, 1992–; Destiny’s Child, Inc. group homes, owner, 1999–; Champions Limousine Service, owner, 2002–.
Awards: U.S. junior welterweight national champion, 1991; junior welterweight world amateur champion, 1992; International Boxing Federation welterweight champion, 2001-02; USA Today Fighter of the Year, 2002; World Boxing Association welterweight champion, 2002-03; Phoenix Award, City of Atlanta, 2002.
Addresses: Office —Destiny’s Child, Inc., 2221 Peachtree Road, NE, Suite D-621, Atlanta, GA 30309.
Although Mosley, at five feet, eight inches, was dwarfed by Forrest’s six-foot stature and long reach, he was able to deliver a series of quick punches that would have flattened a lesser opponent. In the end Forrest took the fight by a six to four decision and made the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team. Considered a gold-medal favorite, Forrest was stricken with food poisoning shortly before his first-round bout at the Barcelona Games and was ousted from the competition without a medal. As he later remembered in a 2000 Los Angeles Daily News profile, “I walked around Barcelona like a zombie.” After returning from the games, Forrest moved to Atlanta and prepared for his debut in the professional ranks. Forrest finished his amateur career with a record of 225 wins against just 16 losses.
Forrest made his professional boxing debut on November 25, 1992, when the twenty-one-year old went up against Charles Hawkins in Las Vegas. Forrest won the fight on a technical knockout (TKO) after the fight was stopped after just one round. In 1993 Forrest had five bouts, each of which he won on a TKO. None of the fights went beyond the third round. The following year Forrest emerged with two more wins, one with his first outright knockout in the first round against Randy Archuleta. Forrest expanded his unbeaten streak through 1995 with seven more victories and added three knockout wins in 1996. In 1997 he continued his string of victories with five more wins. After winning three bouts in 1998 and another four matches in 1999, Forrest’s professional record stood at 30 wins and no losses, leading many boxing experts to ask why he had not yet been given a chance at a title bout.
One explanation for the lack of a title bout for the first several years of his professional career was the claim that Forrest was simply too good a boxer. With a reputation as a skilled and precise boxer, current title holders may have been reluctant to face Forrest in the ring. Another explanation was that Forrest carried himself with such quiet dignity in and out of the ring that he was perceived as lacking the dynamism that many boxing fans demanded of their champions. As a Los Angeles Daily News article headlined in January of 2000, “Forrest’s Problem: He’s Too Nice.” After detailing Forrest’s career the profile concluded, “Forrest is the last thing you want to be in the boxing business: a nice guy.”
Forrest’s actions outside of the boxing ring added to his reputation for decency and dignity. In 1997 Forrest, his mother, and his girlfriend, Toy Johnson, began training to operate group homes for mentally disabled adults. They were certified by the state of Georgia in 1999 to operate residential facilities and together founded Destiny’s Child, Inc. (DCI) with one group home in Atlanta. Within three years DCI expanded to six group homes and fourteen employees. “The state tells you not to get attached to the clients,” Forrest told Sports Illustrated. “Real quick, you realize that if you’re going to give them enough love and support and attention, it’s impossible not to get attached. I feel as if they’re my thirty brothers.” In recognition of his efforts in working with the mentally challenged, Forrest received the Phoenix Award from the city of Atlanta in April of 2002. In addition to his management of DCI, Forrest also started Champions Limousine Service in 2002.
On August 26, 2000, Forrest finally got his first shot at a title match when he faced Raul Frank in Las Vegas for the IBF welterweight championship. The long-sought title bout quickly turned sour, however, when the referees stopped the fight in the third round for an alleged head-butting incident between the fighters. Although the infraction was later ruled an accident, the fight was declared a no-contest match. As a result the IBF title remained vacant for another nine months until Forrest and Frank boxed again in a second title fight. This time Forrest took the fight in a twelve-round decision that gave him the IBF welterweight title. Forrest held the title for less than a year, however, as he gave it up in order to fight in another championship match for the WBC welterweight title early in 2002. The fight matched him against the boxer he had defeated for a spot on the Olympic boxing team ten years before: Shane Mosley.
In going up against “Sugar” Shane Mosley in New York City on January 26, 2002, Forrest faced one of the most popular fighters of the day. Mosley not only had the crowd on his side going into the bout, he was also favored by most experts by as much as five to one to take the match. In the second round, however, Forrest sent Mosley down with an uppercut, the first time the title holder had been knocked down during his professional career. At the end of the bout, Forrest was declared the winner by a unanimous decision of the judges and became the WBC welterweight champion. “I’ve been preparing for this day for twenty-one years,” the new champion told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shortly after winning the bout, “This is what I envisioned how boxing would be when I was nine years old.”
Although Forrest enjoyed his newly won title, he faced the immediate challenge of a rematch with Mosley, which was set for July 20, 2002, in Indianapolis. The media hype over the rematch dwarfed the interest in their previous match, with Mosley boasting that he would retake the title. Their second bout again went the full twelve rounds and although the judges’ scores were closer this time, Forrest retained his title by maintaining solid defensive techniques throughout the fight. “[Mosley] came out with a different strategy for this fight, but I was still able to get some shots off,” Forrest explained to the New York Times after the fight. “When two great fighters are in the ring together, you can’t fight with reckless abandon. I had to be careful. His shots didn’t really stun me, but I knew he was a sharp puncher.” After retaining his title Forrest also gained a lucrative, six-bout contract with the HBO cable network, which put him in an elite league of fighters that included Oscar De La Hoya and Lennox Lewis.
In the first fight under his HBO contract Forrest faced Costa Rican fighter Ricardo Mayorga, a boxer managed by promoter Don King. Known as a slugger, Mayorga’s style contrasted greatly with Forrest’s more deliberate technique. During the January 2003 fight, however, Forrest abandoned the strategy that had served him so well in the past and attempted to match Mayorga punch-for-punch. The switch in tactics was disastrous and Forrest suffered a technical knock out when the referees stopped the fight after the third round. “It was the biggest mistake I ever made in my career,” Forrest told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Everybody makes bonehead mistakes. That was my one bonehead mistake. I’ve made it, I’ve suffered for it, and now I’m moving on.”
With five fights remaining on his HBO contract and an overall professional record of thirty-five wins and just one loss, Forrest remained in contention to reclaim his welterweight title. In March of 2003 he announced his intention to continue with his boxing career, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I decided, ‘At this point in my career, let me rededicate myself one more last time. Step back from all the stuff I’ve been doing and just really focus on this boxing thing one last time for the next twenty-four or thirty-six months. Then I can walk away a man who did what he wanted to do.’ I just want to make sure this mistake [in the Mayorga match] never, ever happens again.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 27, 2002, p. E1; January 30, 2002, p. C2; April 4, 2002, p. F5; January 27, 2003, p. D3; March 2, 2003, p. D4.
Daily News (Los Angeles), January 17, 2000, p. S21.
Dayton Daily News, July 22, 2002, p. D1.
Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2002, p. D1.
New York Post, December 12, 2001, p. 72.
New York Times, July 21, 2002, p. 6; January 23, 2003, p. D4.
Sports Illustrated, February 4, 2002, p. Z2; July 29, 2002, p. 52.
“Interview with Vernon Forrest,” Boxing Talk, www.boxingtalk.net/pages/leon285.htm (April 6, 2003).
“Vernon Forrest,” HBO, www.hbo.com/boxing/fighters/forrest/index.shtml (April 10, 2003).
“Vernon Forrest Career Record,” About Boxing, http://boxing.about.com/library/bl_forrest.htm (April 6, 2003).
“Vernon Forrest Notes,” Compubox Online, www.compuboxonline.com/notes/forrest_notes.shtml (April 10, 2003).
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