Interview with Vernon Forrest: “I’m looking to make a major statement at ’54.”
INTERVIEW By Coyote Duran (October 21, 2005)
Sometimes when hungry, hunting the prairie dog slowly and surely provides a filling bounty more effectively than chasing the quick and prepared.
Photo © HBO
That’s probably why Vernon Forrest is taking it slow.
Since the former World Welterweight Champion lost a rematch in July of 2003 against Ricardo Mayorga, who brutally, albeit temporarily, relieved him of his senses and his championship six months earlier, ‘The Viper’ has struggled with nagging injuries and surgeries along with coping with the loss of his undefeated record to a man who, by all practical purposes, should never have beaten him (this boxing, she is an unpredictable mistress…). But sometimes patience rules the day. In Vernon Forrest’s case, patience will indeed provide the bounty he eagerly and quietly waits for.
Since totaling Sergio Rios in two rounds on the pay-per-view undercard of the Bernard Hopkins-Jermain Taylor World Middleweight title match, Forrest, 36-2 (27) with 1 no contest, is steering into a whole new and different skid as he makes his Best Damn debut against Elco Garcia, 18-3 (8), on the wildly popular Fox Sports Net ensemble show The Best Damn Sports Show Period on Friday, October 21, 8 PM ET/PT (7 PM Central).
Fortunately, I caught up with Vernon and experience a better individual than I expected (and my expectations were pretty groovy). Forrest was accommodating, candid and confident while engaging me in a conversation that was anything but rushed. Vernon filled me in on how important fighting on Fox Sports Net is to him, his business relationship with Goossen-Tutor Promotions as well as reminiscing about what he fondly remembers as a wonderful viewing experience as a fan.
Oh, yeah. And he was in a movie, too. It’s all in here… Well, what are you staring at me for? This thing isn’t gonna read itself, Howlers! Read on!!
Coyote Duran: How've you been feeling lately, Champ? Rotator feeling alright these days?
Vernon Forrest: Things have been feeling pretty good. A lot better than I expected and a lot better than before so I'm pretty happy with the progress that I'm making.
Coyote Duran: Sounds good. Your opponent on the 21st of this month is Elco Garcia. Garcia says he'll be the second Latino to knock you out. How do you respond to such a brash claim and who is Elco Garcia to you?
Vernon Forrest: Elco Garcia is just an opponent and you've gotta be a big dog to make those claims. You talk the talk but you've gotta walk the walk to get it done.
Coyote Duran: Getting back to your injuries and leading up to your subsequent comeback fights, your elbow suffered as well as a result of compensating for the bad rotator cuff. How's it holding up with training and have you changed things up in consideration to keeping it in good shape?
Vernon Forrest: For this fight, I tried to work it as if though it wasn’t injured. It hurt at times and I had some discomforting pains at times but I don’t have the luxury to just sit and wait and see if it’s gonna completely heal. I have to get out there and I have to use it. I have a job to do. This is my career so I just don’t have the luxury to just sit back and see what it’s gonna do. I’ve gotta make do with what I have.
Coyote Duran: I understand that, Champ. This’ll be your second fight since moving up to junior middleweight. Would you say that this is a better weight for you to fight at or could you still make welter if you needed to without re-aggravating your past injuries?
Vernon Forrest: Well, I would like to go down to welter. Right now, junior middle is where I’m at and like I said, I do feel very comfortable at this weight. I feel stronger than I’ve ever been at ’47. It also had to do with my diet and the fact that I probably had one of the worst diets in professional sports. For the most part, I’m happy with my progress. I’m happy with where I’m at and I look forward to doing great things at junior middleweight.
Coyote Duran: That sounds good. Vernon, looking back at your second round knockout of your last opponent, Sergio Rios, was such an abbreviated fight out of consideration of ring rust or could it have had to do with nervousness? Did you feel that you had to close the show really quickly?
Vernon Forrest: If I get a guy hurt, I’m probably one of the best finishers in boxing. People think I wanna get a few rounds in. I don’t believe in that. I’m gonna do what I’m able to do in the ring and if I’m able to take a guy out then I’m gonna try to take the guy out. If I’m unable to take the guy out, it probably lasted because I couldn’t put the combinations together to get him out of there.
Coyote Duran: Well, 27 knockouts out of 36 wins kind of reflect that. Let’s say that Vernon Forrest wins on the 21st. What are your further plans at 154 pounds?
Vernon Forrest: Well, I’m looking to make a major statement at ’54 in this fight. I’m not looking past this fight but I’m looking to come back again on the Jermain Taylor-Bernard Hopkins (rematch) card on December 3rd. From there, I’m looking to comeback again, hopefully, in late January. What I’m doing is, I’m getting sharp. You know? I’m getting sharper. I think the problem with the media, the public and a lot of fighters is that you’ve got guys, for whatever reason, took some time off but then the wanna jump right back in right where they left off but they find that they’re not as thirsty as they were before they left. I sat back and I watched guys time and time again fail at doing that (coming back when not ready). So instead of me coming back and jumping right back in the mix of where all the top guys are, guys who have been fighting for the last couple of years, or like myself who have been sitting for the past couple of years, I decided to take it down a notch and get myself back into tip-top shape and get myself back into fighting shape and then I’ll take on the top guys out there.
Coyote Duran: So you’re making a slow, strong foundation with a good, calculated build-up.
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely! I’m not gonna go out there and say that I’ve been one of the best guys for the last ten years or whatever but I’ve been sitting and not doing anything and all the best guys out there have been fighting and working and getting sharper, but I can still beat those guys. No, no, no, no, no! What I’m gonna do is take my time and like I said, build up my body, build up my confidence. Get some fights under my belt. Get my timing down. Get my rhythm down. Then I’m ready to take on the world!
Coyote Duran: Vernon, you’re used to performing on HBO and, as of recently, the undercard of the Hopkins-Taylor July pay-per-view. You’ll be fighting on Fox Sports Net on the 21st. Do you think that fighting on a non-subscription, non-premium network will give you the chance to perform for a whole new audience that doesn’t subscribe to premium television?
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely! You said it as eloquently as I could ever put it!
Coyote Duran: Thank you!
Vernon Forrest: (Laughs) That’s exactly what the intention is! To open myself up to whole new, different market. Everybody that watches boxing watches all the HBO fights and some people don’t subscribe to HBO. For me and other fighters, and what HBO and the pay-per-view networks want is for their pay-per-view fighters to fight on free TV. You get that exposure! So when people pay that fifty dollars, they know what they’re getting as opposed to asking people to spend hard-earned money on fighters that they’ve never heard of who are fighting!
Coyote Duran: Here, here. Obviously, you know this as much as any other fighter who has fought on The Best Damn Sports Show Period, that’s opened up a lot of doors for the sport and gotten huge numbers for Fox Sports Net and has brought the sport to those who are more inclined to watch basketball, baseball or football on any given day because they also love the show and the people who host it so they follow it.
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely! It’s a whole different thing. The people who watch The Best Damn Sports Show and those fights are not necessarily fight fans but sports fans. Our intention is not to capture the boxing fans but to open up the doors to casual sports fans.
Coyote Duran: Maybe bring it back to the mainstream once again.
Vernon Forrest: And bring it back to the mainstream. Exactly!
Coyote Duran: How great would that be, dude?
Vernon Forrest: Ah, that would be fantastic. I remember watching (ABC’s) Wide World of Sports and watching those NBC shows and CBS shows and I long for the day that that era of boxing returns. Also, pay-per-view is cool and you have it on DirectTV but I think that closed-circuit television was a much better experience for boxing fans then having the fight at your house.
Coyote Duran: Right, because you actually had the feeling that you were going to the fight and congregating with a bunch of other hardcore fans. One of the best examples that rings through fight history was the closed-circuit set-up for Ali vs. Foreman. Fans dug it, man. It felt like they were there.
Vernon Forrest: It was just like you were there. They had closed-circuit at the arenas. I remember when Ray Leonard and (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler fought, we were at an arena watching the fight and we had the feeling that we were right there at the fight and we were watching it on television!
Coyote Duran: For this fight, you’re working with Goossen-Tutor. Is this gonna be a longer-term promotional arrangement and how helpful has Dan Goossen been to the process of taking your career in this direction?
Vernon Forrest: Well, as you know, I pride myself as being independent. I’m an independent fighter. I understand promoters. They want fighters who fight on their cards to be on a contract with them. In my experience, I like the fact that I’m independent. I don’t mind working with any promoter and I like what the Goossens are doing and I like the association with them. But at the same time, let it be known that I’m an independent fighter. I’m not contracted with anybody and the reason why I like it like that is because I don’t want to be in no one’s stable of fighters. I don’t wanna be pushed on a shelf or pushed behind for someone else. That’s why I maintain my independence and that’s why I’ve been taking the risks for the past five years as an independent fighter. Yeah, I love the association with the Goossens and I think we can do a lot of work in the near future but as far as being contractually obligated to them? I don’t wanna be contractually obligated to them and therefore, they don’t have to be contractually obligated to me. We can do business without being contractually obligated to each other. You know, I’m not looking for a marriage. We can go out on a couple of dates every once in a while! (Both laugh) I’m not looking to be married to nobody! (Laughs)
Coyote Duran: I think that’s the mark of a progressive positive promotional outfit.
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely. And I think it’s just that the structure of boxing is changing and the economics of boxing are changing therefore guys like myself and others want more control of their careers. I wanna be independent because I wanna be in control of my career! I don’t want nobody else to be in control of my career.
Coyote Duran: With that in mind, as far as making deals and agreements, at the time of your rematch with Ricardo Mayorga, you were under contract with HBO.
Vernon Forrest: Yeah, I still have a deal with HBO in place. One thing about HBO is that Mark Taffet and the crew over there along with Kery Davis are geniuses when it comes to promotion and allowing their fighters to take different routes in getting new exposure. They understand that HBO is the best boxing network to be on. They have the best fights and pay the most money but at the same time, they understand when some of their marquee fighters are unable to perform for whatever reason from injuries to personal decisions or whatever. But their fighters are the most known fighters out there. You’ve got the De La Hoyas, the Mosleys, the Vargases, the Joneses. They’re still the most popular fighters out there and they’re household names so what they’re (HBO) doing for me is letting me get my engine clicking on all cylinders and just take my time. I’m my own product. I’m my own product and when I perform on HBO, I’m selling my own product which is Vernon Forrest. They’re allowing me, Vernon Forrest, to get my product back to a level where they can sell my product at a premium price. It’s been fortunate for me that Fox Sports has given the opportunity to showcase my product o their network as well. Anytime you get a chance to fight on TV, it’s great and even better when you’re fighting on network television. I think the Powers-That-Be at Fox Sports Net and Goossen-Tutor have given me the opportunity to get my product back out in the public so the public can see that the product of Vernon Forrest is a real, real nice product.
Coyote Duran: Two-part question here, Champ. One: Getting back to Ricardo Mayorga, what is your opinion on the WBC stripping Javier Castillejo to give a shot to a guy who really didn’t deserve it in Mayorga, interesting enough character that he is. Two: Will we see a possible shot at redemption now that the two of you are both in the 154-pound division.
Vernon Forrest: Let me answer that two-part question with the second question first. Yes, you will definitely see he and I in the ring again real soon. It’s definitely a fight that I want. It’s definitely a fight that I’ve gotta have and definitely a fight that’s gotta take place. As for the first part of your question, I don’t think it was right for the WBC to strip the champion of his belt. You’ve gotta remember, the champion was getting ready to fight another marquee champion in (Fernando) Vargas! I don’t understand why they did it that way. It wasn’t fair and it’s not good for boxing. It’s seems that every time boxing takes two steps forward, it shoots itself in the foot! (Both laugh)
Coyote Duran: Consider that they’re following the pattern of all the other sanctioning bodies that are stripping perfectly good, capable, unified champions such as Winky Wright or Jermain Taylor and taking their belts away from them because they (the sanctioning bodies) can’t make any more money!
Vernon Forrest: That’s right! I knew they (The IBF) were gonna strip Jermain. But why strip Jermain Taylor? He’s getting ready to fight Bernard Hopkins, the guy who’s been undisputed champion for, you know, forever. They’re saying Bernard’s fighting the last fight of his career. He’s been a gracious champion. He’s fought all comers. He fought everybody. He not only fought all the champions, he also fought all the number one contenders. If he was to beat Jermain Taylor, why not let him go out as the undisputed champion?
Coyote Duran: Why not? But then again, that belt means nothing. They could strip the belt from Jermain Taylor but, to me, he still is THE champion. That red belt means nothing.
Vernon Forrest: Right! He’s still the champion but at the same time, Jermain Taylor is the champion, the undisputed champion and he’s getting ready to defend his belts against the guy who he took the belts from. So why shouldn’t he go in as the undisputed, unified champion as opposed to just the unified champion? That’s not even right. They (The IBF) say “We’re gonna strip him for not fighting his number one mandatory” but who is his number one mandatory? What has this guy (Sam Soliman) done to break up the undisputed middleweight championship? He hasn’t done anything!
Coyote Duran: Well, I guess if there’s a bright side, The Ring World title’s at stake and that’s 4% less in crap fees that Taylor’ll lose in the end. I guess that’s the only upswing.
Vernon Forrest: Well, I think that if the belts are won in the ring, they should be lost in the ring.
Coyote Duran: Absolutely.
Vernon Forrest: When I was an IBF champion, in order to fight Shane Mosley to unify (the World Welterweight title), I had to give up my belt.
Coyote Duran and Vernon Forrest: (At the same time) Now what sense does that make?
Vernon Forrest: It don’t make no sense! But guys do what they have to do. Look, you can take it a step further. Look at when Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson were fighting for the undisputed light heavyweight championship. They weren’t even thinking about the belts because both of ‘em had to give up their belts to fight each other!
Coyote Duran: Yeah. And it made the best 175-pound fight in I don’t know how long.
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely. Absolutely! But yet still you don’t even know who the light heavyweight champions are. Who has the belts?
Coyote Duran: Well, to me, the light heavyweight champion of the world is Antonio Tarver, without question.
Vernon Forrest: Absolutely.
Coyote Duran: A non-boxing direction here, Vernon. In coming back to the game, how heavily involved are you these days with the Destiny’s Child organization?
Vernon Forrest: I’m not that involved. I pretty much took a step back from pretty much everything. I’ve realized that I’ve had a few things on my plate before I became champion and then I had a lot of things once I became champion. What I’m doing now is I’m kind of emptying my plate and just concentrate on boxing. Between training two or three times a day and resting, I pretty much don’t have any time for anything else. Although I still own the business and I still have my family taking care of the business, I’m just really concentrating on my career at this point. I figured that I’ve got a few good years left in this game, in this sport and I feel as though to take this career to where I wanna take it and finish my career how I wanna finish it, I’m not gonna have any distractions. I’m just gonna be full-fledged boxing. I was acting (in his downtime). I was out in L.A. doing some acting, making some movies.
Coyote Duran: Anything of note we should look out for?
Vernon Forrest: Well, I did a movie called Tournament of Dreams. It’s a basketball movie and it’s a female version of Coach Carter. The movie should be out probably in November sometime. I was out there. I just woke up one day and thought, you know what? What made Vernon Forrest who he is today is what he did in the ring. In order to get back where I wanna be, I need to cut back on a lot of things and get back to the roots and that’s fighting and this is what I love to do and I know that there’s a timetable on my body and I know that my body is only gonna allow me to do this for so much longer so I just want to be able to fight. I wanna be able to fight at my best and if my best isn’t good enough, then you know, hey, it’s time for me to bow down and let the younger guys take over the sport.
Coyote Duran: Life is too short, buddy. I know where you’re coming from. Before we go, do you have any parting words for your fans out there, Vernon?
Vernon Forrest: Well, just say to ‘em that there’s a lot in store for Vernon Forrest and also let me throw this out there: I came up in a solid program that’s called the Olympic Education Center in Northern Michigan University. Some of the best amateur fighters that came through that same program such as myself, David Reid, Jermain Taylor. Both have been world champions and it’s a great organization. In 1996, a quarter of the Olympic team came out of that program. It’s a great program, so look into that program and see if you can find it in your hearts to donate and help that program because it’s a great amateur program. Some of the best amateur fights come out of the program and we were putting guys on the Olympic team. Those guys are coming out of the Olympic arena and turning into and becoming great professionals and winning World Championships and really, truly ambassadors of the sport. It’s called the Olympic Education Center in Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. Look into it and find out a little bit more about it.
Coyote Duran: Well, on behalf of Doghouse Boxing, I’d like to wish you the best of luck against Elco Garcia on the 21st.
Vernon Forrest: Aw, I appreciate it! Thanks!
Very heavy Coyote-style thanks to Vernon Forrest for taking the time to spill his guts on everything leading up to his bout with Elco Garcia. Thanks also to the very lovely Rachel Charles of Goossen-Tutor Promotions and Kelly Swanson for arranging such a terrific sit-down.
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