Vernon Forrest: Boxer who won world titles at two weights and was admired for his work with the disadvantaged
Thursday 20 August 2009
Vernon Forrest won world titles at two different weights, controlled his career by refusing to sign away his rights, was ignored by many of his generation's best fighters and is perhaps best known for his charity. Forrest was a well-known fighter and charity worker in his adopted city of Atlanta, and late on a Saturday night he was on his way home when he stopped at a Chevrolet petrol station in south-west Atlanta to put some air in a back tyre of his Jaguar.
According to police reports and witness statements, two men in a red Chevrolet Monte Carlo pulled into the garage, got out of their car and mugged Forrest as he attempted to put air in the tyre. The two men were armed and as they turned to leave with the boxer's wallet and watch, Forrest reached into his car and pulled out a .45 calibre automatic pistol.
Forrest had a permit for the gun in both Georgia, where he lived, and Florida, where he trained. He called the gun his "heater", and 10 days before his death he had told friends that he dreamed he was the victim of a burglary in his home and that his "heater" was empty. "I'm going to make sure it is loaded," he said.
According to reports, Forrest chased one of the men while the other escaped in the car, and between 20 and 24 shots were fired before witnesses found the boxer in a pool of his own blood. He had been shot in the thigh and torso seven or eight times and it is thought that he was first shot in the back and then shot repeatedly once he collapsed. His girlfriend's son was with him but was inside the garage buying snacks during the incident.
Born in Augusta in 1971, Forrest began boxing at the age of nine, built up an impressive amateur record and was part of the American Olympic boxing team in 1992, although food poisoning meant that he was a shock loser in the first series of fights. Forrest had beaten the American amateur system's golden boy, Shane Mosley, to make the Olympic team. It took Forrest eight years, during which time he was undefeated in 32 fights, before he finally beat Raul Frank for the International Boxing Federation's welterweight belt in Las Vegas in 2000. Since his death many promoters have been kind with their words, but it was no secret that Forrest was a tough negotiator and that is why it took so long for him to get his world title fight.
Big fights with ring legends Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad were discussed, but fell through long before the obligatory exchange of contracts, and Forrest was matched once again with Mosley. At the time Mosley was unbeaten in 38 fights and had just beaten De La Hoya.
Forrest easily beat Mosley and repeated the win in a rematch six months later, but still the really big fighters ignored his form. In 2003, Forrest lost successive fights to Nicaragua's enigmatic Ricardo Mayorga, who it is calculated supports 3,000 people from his ring earnings in his remote village. A left shoulder injury kept Forrest out of the ring for two years, but in 2007 he won the World Boxing Council light-middleweight title, a belt vacated by Floyd Mayweather Jnr, one of the sport's most prolific earners, who had also ignored Forrest's attempts to secure a fight. Forrest was forced to relinquish the belt in April because of injury and was due back in the gym at the beginning of this month to prepare for an October title fight.
In 1997 Forrest created Destiny's Child Inc, a charity which provides housing and assistance for people with developmental, emotional and psychological disabilities. The news of his charity work filtered through slowly to the boxing public, and his status as one of the sport's truly rare "good guys" was secure when satellite giants HBO filmed Forrest with men from Destiny's Child Inc. The film was shown on American television before the rematch with Mosley and at ringside were many of the men from the film.
"People ask me why it took my career so long to take off," Forrest once said. "Well, I tell them that I work with people who take one hour to tie their shoe laces. It's worth the wait. I know about patience."
In recent weeks two of boxing's wildest characters, Arturo Gatti and Alexis Arguello, have died in brutal circumstances. The loss of Forrest at the bloody end of a random robbery is equally pointless.
Vernon Forrest, boxer and social activist: born Augusta, Georgia 21 January 1971; 45 professional fights (41 wins, three defeats, one no-contest); International Boxing Federation world welterweight champion, World Boxing Council world light-middleweight champion; one son; died Atlanta, Georgia 25 July 2009.
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