Boxing tragically loses ‘a good guy’

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

Vernon Forrest won the Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award in 2003 in a vote of members of the Boxing Writers Association of America, a richly deserved honor for a man who always was looking for ways to share his good fortune with others.

But Al Mitchell, his long-time friend, trainer and confidante, said no one can imagine how much charitable work Forrest actually did.

"He came from the 'hood and even though he became a world champion and a big success and had a lot of money, he never forgot where he came from," Mitchell said. "He was a guy who always was looking for something to do for someone else. It was like the money was burning a hole in his pocket. He wanted to give it to the gyms or some charity or just someone he saw who needed it.

"He wasn't looking for credit or tax breaks or anything else. He was a good guy who loved people and wanted to help any way he could."

Forrest, 38, was shot and killed Saturday during a robbery, Atlanta police said. One of his trainers and closest friends, Charles Watson, told an Atlanta television station that Forrest stopped at a Mechanicsville, Ga., gas station to fix a problem with a tire when the incident occurred. He offered money to a man who helped him and was soon surrounded by several men, who somehow took his wallet, Watson told WXIA-TV. Watson told the station that Forrest scuffled with the men briefly in an apparent attempt to regain his wallet. One of the men jumped out of the car and shot him in the back of the head and then shot him six more times while he was on the ground.

It was a tragic end to a life filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows.

Forrest was a highly decorated fighter, making the 1992 U.S. Olympic team and then earning two welterweight championship belts and two super welterweight championship crowns during a professional career that spanned nearly 17 years.

But he never really got the mega-fight he sought. He fought most of his career at welterweight, where bouts against men such as Oscar De La Hoya, his Olympic teammate, and Felix "Tito" Trinidad represented career-high paydays. Try as he might, however, Forrest could never land a bout against either man.

He did land a pair of 2002 bouts against Shane Mosley, but could never get any of the other superstars into the ring with him.

That, though, didn't surprise Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti, who was the matchmaker at Main Events when Forrest was promoted by the New Jersey company.

"There's a reason De La Hoya didn't fight him," Moretti said. "He was one of those guys you didn't fight unless you had to. He was a high- risk, low-reward fight for guys like Oscar and Tito."

As great as Forrest was in his career – he was 41-3 with 29 knockouts and was the 2002 Fighter of the Year – he was a better person.

He is best known for starting and funding Destiny's Child, which was a group home for mentally challenged adults. He was, said Ronnie Shields, his friend and long-time trainer, a guy who simply would melt whenever he saw someone in need.

"Everyone knows what Vernon did with Destiny's Child and that in and of itself was incredible," Shields said. "But there was so, so much more. He was a guy who was always laughing and smiling and thinking of ways to help underprivileged people. If you were his friend, he cared about you deeply and he would do anything for you. You couldn't have a better friend. If you needed him, he was always there for you."

Buddy McGirt took over as Forrest's trainer late in his career. McGirt is based in Vero Beach, Fla., and does most of his training there. But as Forrest prepared for a 2008 rematch with Sergio Mora, a bout which would be his last, he wanted to stay at home and train in Atlanta.

He asked McGirt if he could, for that fight only, make a change and work in Atlanta. When McGirt said yes, Forrest asked him what he'd need. McGirt was stunned when he arrived at Forrest's home.

"I got to his house and he gave me the keys and the alarm code and took me to a room and there's a big bed for me and a flat screen TV and a DVD player and everything I could possibly have wanted," McGirt said. "He told me, 'This is your house. I want you to be at home. Do what you would do if you were in your own house. Be comfortable. And if you need anything, ask me.' He was a thoughtful guy who had a knack for doing or saying the right thing."

McGirt was in Forrest's corner on July 28, 2007, in Tacoma, Wash., when Forrest routed Carlos Baldomir to win the World Boxing Council super welterweight title. Forrest was particularly elated after that bout, because he'd come back to win a championship after numerous shoulder surgeries that had caused him great pain.

A few weeks later, McGirt received a championship ring from Forrest.

"He didn't have to do that, but he was the kind of a guy who wanted to show appreciation to anyone who helped him," McGirt said. "He was a man's man."

Few realized how badly Forrest's shoulders were injured. He eventually had surgery and was out for more than two years. The comeback was excruciatingly difficult.

Shields said he'd see Forrest in the gym before the surgery and couldn't believe what he was able to do with the injuries he had and the pain they were causing him.

"I remember times when he couldn't even pick up a gym bag, he was in so much pain," Shields said. "The injuries were very frustrating to him, because they kept him from being what he could have been. He was in so much pain. I'd see him pick up something small and I'd notice him wince, but he did what he had to do."

That didn't come as a surprise to Mitchell, who first met Forrest when Forrest was 15 and he showed up at Mitchell's U.S. Olympic Committee boxing training center on the campus of Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich.

Mitchell always believed Forrest would be a star because of the work ethic and dedication he showed.

He worked harder than anyone else. He would run in the rain or the snow, when no one else would. He would be the first to arrive and the last to leave. He was consumed by making the most of his talent.

"There aren't a lot of people in this world like Vernon," Mitchell said. "I talked to him on the phone two days ago and told him I was going to Philadelphia. He was worried about me going into a bad neighborhood and he just kept telling me to be careful and don't get in the wrong place and all that.

"Nobody who knew Vernon has ever said a bad word about him. The first day I met him in our program when he was 15 years old, he told me he wanted to buy his mother a house. He was able to do that, but he did so much more. He worked so hard and made himself a good boxer that he made his bouts boring. But what I'm going to remember about Vernon is that he wasn't just a great athlete. He was a great man, a great citizen of this world. He left it a better place than he found it."

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