posted on Jul, 7 2003 @ 10:44 PM
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - July 6, 2003
Vero Beach, Fla. --- It is back to sea level for Vernon Forrest, back to a steamy little gym a few blocks from the Atlantic where some of his earliest
pro fights were designed.
And back as well to the simplicity of the shaved noggin. Gone are the braids with which the fight crowd was just becoming familiar, shorn with the
serious purpose of a farmer reaping his wheat.
It's all about getting back for the former welterweight champion from Atlanta, about reclaiming himself as much as reclaiming any grotesque belt.
"I don't remember," Forrest said when asked the last time he fought without the braids. "I felt like going back in time." Were it only that simple,
barbers would rule the world.
"I cut my hair. I came back here to train. I made some small external changes and a lot more internal changes to get back to what made me successful,"
"Sometimes," said his co-trainer Ronnie Shields, "you got to check yourself and see where you are. That's what we did."
The new (old) Forrest (35-1) will leave this week for Las Vegas and his Saturday night rematch with the Managua Mauler, Ricardo Mayorga (24-3-1). Many
believed the Tampa Bay Bucs would win a Super Bowl before a fighter as skilled as Forrest would give up his title to a brawler such as Mayorga.
Actually, that happened the day after Mayorga caught Forrest flush to the temple in the third round and re-ordered the division.
In many ways, Forrest has found keeping his lofty perch in boxing more difficult than gaining it in the first place. He had waited almost a career,
and survived every swamp and tiger trap boxing has, just to get his chance to beat Shane Mosley twice. Comes the long-delayed fame and the big HBO
deal, and in his very next fight he gets knocked cross-eyed.
First, Forrest had to get Mayorga back into the ring as quickly as possible. Nothing a little money couldn't arrange, Forrest claiming he gave up a
million dollars on his end to make it happen. "I wanted this fight. I did everything I had to do to make this fight happen. Seven figures will do it
every time," he said.
Well, almost everything. What Forrest wouldn't do was sign any kind of long-term agreement with Mayorga's promoter, Don King, to get the rematch. That
is historically how King gains control (ask Evander Holyfield), but Forrest refused to become entangled in that web.
"Everybody knows how Don King operates," he said. "Everybody thinks by me getting this fight, I'm going to be a Don King fighter. I'm a Vernon Forrest
Then, having negotiated those Class Five rapids, there was the challenge of getting himself right to fight. Forrest trained for both Mosley fights at
altitude but decided to return to the site of some of his early fond memories. On his way up, Forrest once reported to Vero on just two weeks notice
for a fight with Adrian Stone. "Tough fight, but Vernon knocked him out in the 11th round," Shields said. If there was any of that sense of urgency
left in the room, Forrest wanted it back.
But it is going to take more than a change in scenery and a new haircut to fix Forrest. He must control the instincts that lured him into trying to
brawl with Mayorga instead of box him. Just as he must regain an edge before stepping through the ropes.
As Forrest admits, "With this guy, the concern wasn't there. I never thought this guy was in my same class. I just came off beating the best fighter
in the world. It was a psychological letdown. This situation [losing] has brought it all right back up again."
The preparation for this fight has been serious and muted. Forrest skipped one news conference to promote the fight and another teleconference this
week. Many assumed it was because he wanted nothing to do with Mayorga and his often outrageous tongue. Instead, Forrest just says, "I'm working."