Boxing’s history has been littered with guys like Jerry “Slugger” Forrest, talented fighters who never got the opportunity their ability suggested they deserve.
Forrest, who only recently quit his full-time job as a nuclear electrician, is 32 now and so is long past the stage where it’s fair to call him a prospect. He has a quality record — He’s 26-3-1 with 20 KOs, though no wins over ranked opponents — and proved in a shocking loss to Jermaine Franklin in 2019 that he can compete at the highest level.
The odds are against him ever wrapping a heavyweight title belt around his waist, though his new promoter, Lou DiBella, would take issue with that.
That he’s alive and able to talk about a boxing rebirth after signing a deal with DiBella is something of a miracle. His mother, Alvora “Lucy” Forrest, had complications during her pregnancy and her son was delivered via an emergency Caesarean section. Miss Lucy needed a blood transfusion, while infant Jerry was placed in an incubator with a grim diagnosis.
“The doctors told my family that in situations like this, the baby usually doesn’t last the night,” he said.
His grandmother, Dorothy Lee Robinson, was torn up. She walked over to the incubator where her newly born grandson, who had yet to open his eyes, was in a fight for his life.
She spoke to him.
“You have to fight,” she said to the child. “If you die, my daughter is not going to want to live, and we can’t have that. You have to be a fighter. You have to keep slugging.”
As she spoke, she stared intently at the baby. She noticed something significant. For the first time, he’d opened his eyes.
Doctors were pleased, but told the family that if he survived, he’d probably be in a permanent vegetative state. Each day, though, he got a little stronger, and on one visit, Robinson recalled her first words to her grandson.
“You’re a little slugger,” she said. “You’ve been fighting all this time. Keep it up.”
He managed to survive and from the time he was at home, he was always known as Slugger instead of Jerry.
“There are people in my family who only know me as Slugger,” he said, laughing. “Ask them about Jerry Forrest and they don’t know who you’re talking about. They know Slugger Forrest, though.”
He grew up to be a terrific athlete and excelled at basketball and football, though he never really had interest in it.
He believes he’d have at least been able to play collegiate football had he been interested.
“To be honest with you, I probably could have played for any college or university in the state [of Virginia] and probably in the country, but I never had the passion to want to do that,” he said.
He may never have become a fighter except that while he was a senior in high school in Newport News, Virginia, he got on the wrong side of the leader of the local gang. He was at a friend’s house where many other young people were, and trouble broke out.
A high school senior was beating up on an eighth grader, and so Forrest intervened. That led to trouble, where the feared head of the gang vowed to get him at school.
It was February of his senior year and he didn’t want to get suspended and possibly not graduate.
“My parents really wanted to see me walk across that stage [during graduation] and I was right near the end and I didn’t want to do anything that would make that not occur,” he said.
He didn’t want to go to school the next day so he could avoid the confrontation, but his mother wouldn’t hear of it. She told him not to start trouble, but that if someone started a fight with him that he needed to defend himself. And she told him that no matter how many guys came at him, he needed to fight all of them off.
He didn’t relish that, and the head of the gang was in his first-period class. So he decided to cut that class. A security guard ran across him and forced him to return to class.
He reluctantly went to his poetry class, but he didn’t learn much.
The gang member punched him in the back of the head. Forrest reacted and when it ended, blood was everywhere, security guards were in the room and the head of the gang was taken from the room on a stretcher.
That led to more fights with members of the gang, but it also led him to understand that fighting was something he wanted to pursue.
“I was born in 1988 and I grew up in the ‘90s and you had the ‘Karate Kid,’ the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ Jean Claude Van Damme, all that kind of stuff,” he said. “I always wanted to be a ninja. I wanted to become a detective. I thought it would be cool to be a detective who knew karate, like Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris. You know, there’s a crime and I get there and everyone goes, ‘Yeah, this crime is going to be solved because Detective Jerry Forrest is on the case.’”
His father, Duane, a Navy recruiter, took him to a gym to learn to box after his battles with the gang members. Duane Forrest fully expected his son to give up on it, just like he had other sports.
But Jerry had found his calling. He turned pro eventually, but never had a big-time promoter to look out for him. He didn’t get the right fights. He wasn’t seen by the right people.
And though he had some talent, he was just another of many of faceless boxers out there.
Until, that is, he lost a controversial decision in a fight last year on Showtime’s “ShoBox” series against Franklin. DiBella was watching on TV and was outraged at the decision.
“He got absolutely robbed in that fight,” DiBella said. “It was a disgrace. Anyone who saw it knows who won that fight and I don’t care what [the official decision] says. He’s a good fighter. He’s a talented fighter. He’s a contender.”
They didn’t hook up at first, but Forrest contacted DiBella this year and a deal was made.
And DiBella believes that this late bloomer could make some noise in the division.
“He’s got a lot of talent and he can actually fight,” DiBella said of Forrest, who worked twice as a sparring partner for former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. “Outside of that top group of guys, he’s as legit as anyone else there. We’re going to get him the right fights and give him a chance. He’s a fascinating kid and I think he can do some things.”
More from Yahoo Sports: