TACOMA, Wash. – Carlos Baldomir and Vernon Forrest each must have experienced flashbacks Saturday night during their battle for the vacant WBC super welterweight championship at the Emerald Queen Casino.
Baldomir had to flash back to Nov. 4, when he was out-thought, out-hustled and outclassed by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a welterweight title match in Las Vegas.
And Forrest had to flash back to 2002, when he twice defeated Shane Mosley and boxed his way into the sport's elite.
Forrest was brilliant Saturday in winning a unanimous decision over Baldomir, who said after the fight he probably would retire.
Retirement was the last thing on Forrest's mind after he established himself as clearly the best in his division with a technically superb performance.
The significance of the occasion was not lost on Forrest, who lost back-to-back fights to Ricardo Mayorga in 2003 and spent much of the next 30 months battling shoulder and elbow injuries.
He largely was forgotten during his oft-grueling rehabilitation period, so he introduced himself Saturday to a new wave of fans.
They were treated to a masterful display by a vintage 2002Forrest. He dictated every minute of the fight, circling, jabbing and popping Baldomir with clubbing shots that proved the quality of the Argentinean's chin.
Five years after the best year of his life, when he was named Fighter of the Year and was regarded by some as the top boxer in the game, Forrest found himself back on the summit on Saturday.
He clearly was enjoying the view.
"It's sweet – very sweet," a beaming Forrest said afterward. "After all I've been through – whew – I have to give myself a pat on the back."
He nearly had to retire because of the problems with his left shoulder and elbow, which required three surgeries to correct.
Al Mitchell, who has worked with Forrest since he was a teen-ager, conceded there was plenty of reason to worry.
"Any time they operate on you, it's a risk," Mitchell said. "You never know. The doctors can tell you what they expect and they can do fabulous things, but until you get through it and get back, you just can't predict if you'll really be back.
"We were hoping he'd be back and expecting he'd be back. Anyone who knows Vernon knew he would do every bit of work he had to do to make it. But until the night comes when you see him do it, you can't be sure."
But Saturday was that night and now everyone's sure.
"Pretty good," Buddy McGirt, Forrest's lead trainer, said, nodding his head. "Pretty good for an old guy."
It would have been a pretty good performance for a 25-year-old who had been fighting regularly. For a 36-year-old who had just one fight in the last 21 months, it was extraordinary.
He connected on an astonishing 56 percent of his power punches according to CompuBox, dropping a right hand on Forrest's head repeatedly. Just so things wouldn't get boring, Forrest occasionally would connect with a left hook, sending the sweat flying from the top of Baldomir's head as it would snap back.
"I was surprised he was taking it, but he not only took it, he gave it back," Forrest said in tribute to his vanquished opponent. "That was even more surprising, that I would hit him with a hard shot and he came right back with a hard shot."
The hard shots were the result of Mitchell getting bloodshot eyes from watching tapes of Baldomir for hours upon end.
He dissected the Mayweather fight so carefully, he probably could do a play-by-play of it off the top of his head.
"I think he watched about a million tapes," Forrest said. "He'd call me up in the middle of the night and say, 'Hey, I just saw this.' "
The message was the same every time: You have to feint.
And Forrest's feints, along with his jab, were the key to the fight. Baldomir would react to the feints and move out of position, allowing Forrest to rake him consistently.
He took something off the fastball on most of them but loaded up occasionally just to, as he said, "earn my little bit of respect."
He praised Mitchell for devising the plan and McGirt for enforcing it on Saturday.
"I saw the Mayweather fight, and it was pretty obvious that if Vernon would feint him, he'd react to it," Mitchell said. "When we saw that, we knew that was probably a way that we could win the fight."
Referee Michael Ortega deducted a point for a low blow in the ninth round, one of the few mistakes Forrest made on this night. Judges Samuel Conde and Tom McDonough each scored it 118-109 for Forrest – the same as Yahoo! Sports – giving Baldomir just one round.
Judge Anek Hongtongkam had it 116-111, giving Baldomir three rounds.
That might have been generous, but Forrest wasn't complaining afterward. He conceded he had flashbacks to Mayorga in 2003, but he beat back the demon to win one of the most important fights of his career.
"I have to fight more than once every eight or nine months," Forrest said.
Who, the logical question was, do you want to fight next? With Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya out of the division and Winky Wright competing at 160 pounds, there are few in the division who would seem to be on Forrest's level when Forrest fights like he did Saturday.
Forrest, though, would have none of it.
"I've only been champion for five minutes," he said. "I just want to enjoy this before I thinking of fighting anyone else. I'm ready for a vacation."