Always On The Verge: A Look Back at Vernon Forrest
They say that deaths come in threes.
Such was the case for the boxing world, which, in addition to Alexis Arguello and Arturo Gatti, most recently lost another great fighter in the ring and a greater man outside of it, in Vernon "The Viper" Forrest. Often times in death, a person is spoken of fondly out of respect. With Forrest, it isn't just out of respect, it's because he truly deserved nothing less.
Born in Augusta, GA in 1971, Forrest would take to boxing at the tender age of nine when he would embark on his highly successful amateur career. On his way to compiling a highly impressive record of 225-16, he won the US junior welterweight championship and won a silver in World Amateur Boxing Championships in Sydney, Australia.
As a young man studying business management at Northern Michigan University, Forrest made the tough decision of leaving school to fulfill his dream of joining the United States Olympic boxing team.
The dream was realized when he bested Shane Mosley in the first of their memorable meetings and which earned him his spot in Barcelona's 1992 Summer Olympic Games.
And with that, Forrest knew he was on the verge of stardom and seemed destined for greatness, as he was favored to win the gold.
Such a scenario would never play out, though, as he fell ill with food poisoning a day before the first round of action, when he would drop his fight to Peter Richardson.
With his Olympic dreams behind him, he returned to America and relocated to the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas, as he looked to start a career as a professional prize-fighter.
Vernon's first fight would be at the junior welterweight division, where he made quick work of Charles Hawkins stopping him in the first round.
As his career progressed, Forrest found himself as an undefeated fighter picking up a few regional titles along the way, while his Olympic teammate, Oscar De La Hoya, was the face of the sport making millions in prize money and advertising deals. De La Hoya landed big fights against past and present champions. Even the man that Forrest beat to earn his place on the Olympic team, Shane Mosley, had made quite a name for himself in the professional ranks.
Still, Vernon felt that he was on the verge of the stardom the De La Hoya and Mosley had already tasted.
After nearly eight years and 31 professional bouts, Forrest landed a shot at a major world title as he took on Raul Frank for the IBF welterweight belt, vacated by Felix Trinidad, another fighter who achieved the fame that Vernon had sought.
After three rounds, the fight—nationally televised on HBO—was called to a halt in the third due to a cut stemming from an accidental headbutt.
Dejected but not deterred, Forrest went back to the gym and worked hard as he always did. And as in most cases, it paid off.
As May 2001 came along, as the undercard to the Trinidad-William Joppy fight at Madison Square Garden, Forrest and Frank would meet again. This time, the fight wouldn't be marred by a cut. Over the course of 12 rounds, Forrest simply outclassed his opponent, winning nearly every round on all three cards. The world was formerly introduced to IBF welterweight king, Vernon "The Viper" Forrest.
Forrest, who had throughout his career been mostly viewed as a high-risk, low-reward fighter, could no longer be ignored by the bigger names in the division.
Forrest would soon be stripped of his titel for not facing the IBF mandatory challenger. Instead, he opted to take a big money, bright lights fight with familiar foe and WBC welterweight champ "Sugar" Shane Mosley.
Mosley was just a year and a half removed from his biggest win over Oscar De La Hoya and looking to maintain his unbeaten record and his welterweight championship.
As Forrest sat in the locker room, on the verge of the biggest contest of his career, he would look back to the amateur days and his win over Mosley and the years of hard work that brought him to the moment where it could all potentially pay off.
Heading into the fight, Forrest was not only the underdog, but would be fighting the man who many considered the best fighter in the world at the time.
Forrest, the consummate underdog scored two knockdowns in the second round and never let Mosley get into his rhythm. Forrest went on to win the fight and the WBC and Ring Magazine welterweight belts with a lopsided unanimous decision.
Six months later the two would meet again and Forrest would prove that his upset win over Mosley was no fluke as he would once again win a unanimous decision.
Finally, it seemed, Vernon had made his mark as one of the sports elite fighters.
His newfound fame gave Forrest not just mainstream notoriety, but the chance to make more of an impact with charities that he had always made such a big part of his life. Vernon had always taken an interest in helping the less fortunate. Specifically, people who were mentally challenged. His organization—Destiny's Child, Inc.—was a group home that provides housing and assistance for people with special needs.
His career may have had it's ups and down, as he looked to land big fights in the past, but he always remained steadfast in helping out others.
Immediately after the Mosley fights, his promoter, Don King, had him defend his titles against his hard hitting Nicaraguan stablemate Ricardo Mayorga.
The WBC/WBA unification bout started off rocky for Forrest when he was floored in the opening round. He was never able to fully recover and was once again put on the canvas in the third in what would be the final round, as referee Marty Denkin waved off the contest.
And with that, the best of times in the ring for Forrest had come to an end.
A rematch later that year would give Forrest the second consecutive defeat in his professional career as Mayorga went on to defend his titles with a somewhat controversial split decision win.
The boxing world wouldn't see Vernon Forrest enter the ring for two years, as he would have multiple surgeries on his left shoulder and elbow.
His comeback wins, now as a junior middleweight, over Segio Rios and Elco Garcia in 2005, would lead to a higher profile fight in 2006 against fellow returning veteran Ike Quartey. Forrest's close controversial decision win led to the opportunity to fight Carlos Baldomir for WBC jr. middleweight title.
The lopsided points win gave Forrest his third title in two different division.
Despite winning the title, the back-to-back losses to Mayorga and two years away from the ring and out of the spotlight, once again made it hard for Forrest to land any of the current big name fighters.
Yet again, Vernon was on the outside looking in.
In 2008, Forrest signed to defend his title against Sergio Mora, who had pretty much been cashing in on his reality TV fame. Forrest would face another setback against Mora, who would turn out to be the final opponent of his career, as Mora pulled off the upset win via majority decision.
As was the case with all of Forrest's biggest bouts, there was an immediate rematch in which Vernon would turn the table and put on a masterful performance against Mora, taking a much wider points win.
For the fourth time in his career, Forrest could call himself a champion.
For the second time in his career, he would be stripped of his title as he would choose not to face WBC interim champ Sergio Martinez, instead opting to try and land a megafight with middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik.
It was a fight we would never get.
Vernon was killed on July 25th while putting air in his tires at a Mechanicsville, GA gas station. In an attempted robbery, Forrest was reportedly shot seven to eight times and was later pronounced dead at the scene. The suspects fled the scene and remain at large.
In his career, Vernon Forrest achieved success that few fighters do but always seemed on the verge of greater things.
In his death, he no doubt left the boxing world on the verge of tears.
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