Vernon Forrest was born on February 12th, 1971. Like so many great fighters, he turned to boxing young. Starting from the age of 9, this sixth of eight children established himself as one of America’s best amateurs. Forrest had already had a storied boxing career before ever turning pro, with a 225-16 record.
In 1991, Forrest became the United States Amateur light welterweight champion. Now a member of the national team, he went to the 1991 World Amateur Championships in Sydney, Australia. There he advanced to the finals and, defeated by Kostya Tszyu, claimed the Silver. The next year, he defeated both Shane Mosley and Stevie Johnston at the Olympic trials to earn his berth at the 1992 Barcelona Games. A stablemate of Oscar de la Hoya, Forrest lost his first bout at the Olympics. It was an inglorious end to a fine run. He turned pro in November 1992.
Starting out as a 140 pounder, Forrest eventually grew into a six foot all welterweight with a 73″ reach. He was a tall, rangy boxer-puncher, armed with quick, sharp punches. For a fighter with a frame like Forrest’s, he had good stamina. He was never flashy, but instead used his talent with all-around solid technique.
It was probably that lack of flash that allowed him to get crowded out of the picture in the booming welterweight scene of the 1990s. Forrest had to work his way up the hard way, fighting journeyman like Ray Olivera when Oscar de la Hoya was challenging Pernell Whittaker for his 4th world title. Yet while Forrest was struggling in obscurity, he was doing it with style. Of his first 30 fights, he won all but 5 by way of knockout.
Forrest was not able to sink his hooks into a “name” opponent until he met Vince Philips in January 2000. A former 140 lbs champion who had stopped Forrest’s old rival Kostya Tszyu, the 36 year old Phillips was past his best, but only a year past losing his title and still had some stuff. With his long reach and stinging punches, Forrest utterly dominated the veteran with an overwhelming points victory.
That led to a fight with Raul Frank for Felix Trinidad’s vacated IBF title. The first bout ended with an unsatisfying No Contest, as a clash of heads opened a gash that ended the fight too early for a result. The rematch was nine months later, and Forrest dominated Frank as easily as he had Phillips to win the title.
The beginning of Vernon Forrest’s breakout came in January 2002 when he got his first big fight against old amateur rival “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Mosley was 38-0 and had won his title away by being the first man to score a clear win over Oscar de la Hoya. Forrest was lesser known, but 33-0, the IBF champion (although he was forced to give up the belt to fight Mosley), and Mosley’s tormentor from the amateur days. Although later years would show Mosley to be the greater overall fighter, as the axiom goes, “styles make fights.” As it turned out, in both the amateurs and pros, Forrest had the perfect style to stymie the Sugarman, and in their first encounter he utterly spanked Mosley. Knocked down twice, Mosley dropped a big points loss. Forrest was now the WBC champion, and top dog at 147 lbs.
Ever the gladiator, Mosley sought an immediate rematch. Meeting six months later, he improved on his performance but not enough to beat Forrest. Beating Mosley twice won Forrest The Ring’s 2002 Fighter of the Year award.
Easy Come, Easy Go
In January 2003, Forrest was set to defend his title against a puncher from Nicaragua, Ricardo Mayorga. Although he was the WBA Champion, Mayorga was lightly regarded because he had won the title from Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis, and therefore his pedigree was entirely outside the big names of the era. Mayorga shocked the world, however, when he dumped Forrest onto the canvas in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Rounds. After being knocked down by a crushing right in the 3rd, Forrest got back up but was waved off by the referee. Forrest had lost his title and his first fight by stoppage.
Courageously, Forrest immediately sought a rematch with Mayorga. Much like Mosley did against him, Forrest improved on his performance, but “styles make fights.” The Nicaraguan thug’s swarming, brawling style still had Forrest’s number. He was overwhelmed early and late in the fight, but “the Viper” still made it a tough, close fight by seizing control in the middle rounds. Mayorga walked away with a narrow Majority Decision win.
Following the back-to-back losses to Mayorga, Forrest took two years out to get operations done on his worn out shoulders. He then started his comeback at 154 lbs, and in August 2006 he met another comebacker from the 1990s welterweights: Ike “Bazooka” Quartey. Quartey took control of the early rounds by winning the contest of the jabs, as his jackhammer beat out Forrest’s longer spear. However, Forrest found his rhythm and came back, getting Quartey back out onto the point of his jab. Both men found themselves stymied: Forrest was unable to penetrate Quartey’s peek-a-boo guard, while Quartey was unable to penetrate Forrest’s jab. The close decision went to Forrest. He had won an important crossroads fight and was on his way back to title contention.
July 2007 brought a fight with former welterweight champ Carlos Baldomir for the vacant WBC 154 lbs title. The tough Argentine was another rugged pressure fighter, but unlike Mayorga he was no banger. Forrest found the mark for his 1-2, and took Baldomir to school in winning a solid Unanimous Decision.
2008 brought Forrest a winner from the boxing reality TV program The Contender, undefeated Sergio Mora. Mora proved very effective at using smooth movement to limit Forrest to landing one punch at a time, and when Forrest did make that punch sting, he clinched and smothered any potential follow-up. It produced a boring fight until the 9th Round, when perhaps sensing Forrest tiring, he came out swinging and drove Forrest onto the ropes. The action sputtered out again until the final round, when both men came out looking to put their own stamp on the final stanza. The hard-fought bout ended with Mora the winner by Majority Decision.
Forrest came back to the rematch a different man, however, and utterly dominated Mora in a boxing clinic. Winning by margins of 7 and 9 points on the cards, he took back the WBC Super Welterweight crown.
Forrest was shot to death in Atlanta on July 25th, 2009. Robbed at gunpoint at a gas station, Forrest retrieved his own gun from his car and pursued his attacker. It was only after he gave up and went back to the service station that his attacker sneaked up behind him and shot him to death. He was 38 years old, and held a record of 41-3-1 with 29 KOs and world titles in two divisions.
Sources: Live fight footage; The Ring; boxrec.com; http://www.hbo.com/boxing/fighters/forrest_vernon/bio.html