No more Mr. Nice Guy

Jeff Wald was doing what a promoter does the other day, trying to make what figures to be a one-sided match look as appealing to the unsuspecting boxing fan as Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns.

Wald promotes Sergio Mora, the winner of the first season of the boxing reality series, “The Contender.” Mora has done nothing since the show ended to prove he deserves to be considered a world-class fighter, but his name recognition from his time on NBC earned him a title shot against Vernon Forrest.

Forrest, one of the classiest men in boxing, will defend the WBC super welterweight belt against Mora in a nationally televised bout on Showtime on Saturday in Uncasville, Conn.

A 1992 U.S. Olympian, Forrest had a long, hard road to the title and then an even harder road after he won the belt. He sacrificed two years of his career because of a series of injuries. When he regained a title belt last year in Tacoma, Wash., of all places, he was nearly overcome by emotion because of all he had been through.

He’s long been known as one of the game’s good guys. He’s active in charitable work, he’s always respectful to his opponents and he’s been accessible and available to the media.

But something set Forrest off as he listened to Wald tick off upsets other “Contender” fighters had pulled. Wald cited Alfonso Gomez’ 2007 victory over a totally washed up Arturo Gatti and Brian Vera’s surprising stoppage of hot prospect Andy Lee later last year as proof that Mora had a chance against Forrest.

With little prodding, Forrest went off on Wald.

“The only real fighter you had on ‘The Contender’ show was the little guy, Stevie Forbes,” Forrest said. “That’s the only real guy you had on your show. He damn near won the show. So, I am going to call that little boys club ‘The Pretenders,’ not ‘The Contenders.’ Now, I’m going to beat the dog (crap) out of your main pretender on June 7. I want you to know that.

“So, don’t compare me with no Gatti or no Andy Lee. Don’t even put my name in the same breath with them.”

Mora then tried to make his case. He explained his rationale for turning down a middleweight title shot against then-champion Jermain Taylor, cited his reasons why castmates Peter Manfredo and Gomez got routed when they stepped up and said the opportunity to fight for Forrest’s belt is coming at the perfect time in his career.

Uncharacteristically, Forrest snapped and opted to try to intimidate Mora.

“Come to fight and they’ll take you out on a stretcher,” Forrest said to Mora. “If you come to fight and step up like a proud Mexican warrior, I’m knocking your mother (expletive) (expletive) out.”

Forrest later revealed he’d sparred with Mora and said he’d found Mora so inept, he began laughing openly at him.

Mora disputed that contention, but Forrest didn’t relent.

“I describe Mora’s style as garbage,” Forrest said. “We sparred before in Los Angeles. He was the first guy that got in the ring after my surgery. I beat him up with one arm. I was lighting him up.

“As a matter of fact, I was laughing. Ask his trainer. He was sparring and I was laughing. His trainer asked me: ‘Why are you laughing?’ I can’t believe they’re getting ready to pay Mora a million dollars to fight. I had to beat King Kong to make that kind of money.”

It’s almost inexplicable that it took Forrest so long to get to the top. As an American Olympian, he still had to wait eight full years and win 31 consecutive fights to get his first title shot.

And when he finally met Raul Frank for the IBF welterweight title in 2000, he still couldn’t celebrate. An inadvertent head butt opened a massive gash on Frank’s head in the third round, forcing the bout to be halted when he couldn’t continue and declared a no contest.

Forrest had to wait another nine months before Frank was healed and they could meet for the belt.

But even with a title, he was stuck in the shadow of men like Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley.

When he beat Mosley, who at the time was regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he finally seemed to hit it big.

But he took Ricardo Mayorga for granted, was knocked out, lost a disputed decision in the rematch and then was hurt seriously enough that he couldn’t fight for two years.

And so, perhaps Forrest looked at what he saw as an easy path to a championship shot for Mora and became enraged, thinking of his own arduous climb to the top.

He’s 37 now and knows the end is near. With a 40-2 record and championships in two weight classes, he seems a cinch for the Hall of Fame when he’s through, but he wants to add to his resume before he retires.

And he said he’s going to do what he has to do to get those big fights, even if it means going dramatically out of character.

His words are so vastly different, he’s like a pro wrestler who’s changed to a heel.

“I’m setting my legacy,” Forrest said. “Every fight is personal to me right now. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Those days are over. Nice guys always finish last.

“So people are saying, ‘Well, you know, you’ve changed since you’ve had the surgery.’ I haven’t changed. In order for me to go where I want to go and make it, there are certain things I have to do that some other people might not agree with. But so be it. This is my career and these are the things I choose to do. It is what it is.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jun 2, 2008