Forrest has new appreciation for career

Kevin Iole

After what Vernon Forrest has endured, getting out of the bed and walking across the street without getting a jaywalking ticket seems like a significant accomplishment.

The list of Forrest's injuries is longer than Yao Ming's inseam. And the 36-year-old Georgian is probably on a first-name basis with the staff at his local orthopedic surgeon.

For a couple of years there, Forrest probably had as many dark thoughts as anyone this side of Charlie Manson.

You'd have to battle these days, though, to get Forrest to complain about much of anything. It certainly won't happen in a year in which he won his second world championship, some six years after he won his first and only a short time after most had figured him for the scrap heap.

Forrest, who defends the WBC super welterweight title against Michele Piccirillo on Saturday at the Foxwoods Casino in Mashantucket, Conn., may be the world's most giddy champion.

"Oh, it's fabulous," he says of Reign No. 2 as a world title-holder. "I can't even begin to tell you how good this feels. Wonderful. Completely, totally fabulous."

Forrest is about six weeks shy of his 37th birthday, an age when most fighters either have trouble remembering their names or are looking into retirement benefits.

But he's coming off a dominating title-winning performance against Carlos Baldomir in July and is, as he said repeatedly, relevant once again.

The super welterweight division, which only a year or so ago was teeming with talent, is in a dry spell, with its best fighters less than household names such as Roman Karmazin, Sergei Dzinziruk and Joachim Alcine.

There isn't a defining fight in the division on the horizon for Forrest, but he doesn't want to hear that kind of talk. He's been a pro so long, they were calling Barry Bonds gangly when Forrest debuted in 1992.

Forrest prefers not to think of himself as old, but rather as experienced. And if all his years of hanging around gyms has taught him anything, it's not to overlook anyone.

It's a disgrace that Piccirillo is getting a title shot, given that his last bout was a six-rounder and that his last win of any significance was more than five years ago when he defeated Cory Spinks.

He's the kind of a lightly regarded guy who would have caused the 26-year-old Forrest to cut corners. But the 36-year-old Forrest knows better than to ever try that again.

And so, like virtually every boxer who is asked about his shape, Forrest raves about his conditioning.

Forrest the elder says he pushed himself in training because he knows that upsets occur largely due to complacency and that gaudy green belt means more to him than pretty much anything else in his life.

"If you beat me because you're better than me, that's one thing and I would just say congratulations," Forrest said. "But if you beat me because I didn't do what I was supposed to do, then that's when it tears you up on the inside. These titles are hard to win. I've learned that. You just don't get that many chances and when you get one, you have to fight like hell to keep it.

"As an older fighter now and as a guy with a bit of a name in this business, I realize guys are going to be gunning for me. I used to have the mentality that when I was fighting the big names, I'd do this extra running and work extra hard, but now, I train the same way for every fight, just in case that guy fights the fight of his life."

Forrest had to fight the fight of his life pretty much every time out for 10 years just to get someone to give him a shot. He was a teammate of Oscar De La Hoya's on the 1992 Olympic boxing team, but was as anonymous as a toll booth attendant for pretty much the first decade of his career.

He lost his first crack at a world title when an accidental head butt opened a huge gash on Raul Frank's head and forced their bout for the IBF welterweight title in 2000 to be declared a no contest.

He finally beat Frank for the belt on May 15, 2001, but it was lost amidst the hoopla of Don King's Middleweight Championship Series that was going on at the same time.

But Forrest didn't truly appreciate what being a world champion meant until he not only didn't have one, but was sitting on the sidelines for more than two years not even getting a chance to remind people of his wondrous skills.

He may not be as physically gifted at nearly 37 as he was at 27, though he won't concede that point. But even if he's not as good physically, he said he's a much better fighter now than he's ever been, even more than he was in 2002 when he defeated Shane Mosley twice and was named Fighter of the Year.

"If it was just a choice and you told me I could take the physical skills I had then or the wisdom I have gained through the years, I'd take the wisdom, without a doubt," Forrest says. "I realize now it's just as important how smart you fight as it is how hard you fight.

"Guys like James Toney and Bernard Hopkins constantly are proving that. James Toney is a genius in boxing. I love what he does in there. Bernard is another guy I admire, because he understands the game so well."

Forrest has watched them intently and has come to the conclusion that they have found a way to maximize all of their gifts and minimize their weaknesses.

And while he says, "I don't see me as being off my peak," his smarts are going to be the reason he gets past Piccirillo and remains relevant for at least a while longer.

"Most of the younger guys, it's all about aggressiveness," Forrest said. "But you get to a point if you're still around where you realize it doesn't make sense to fight that way. When you're younger, you can waste five, six, seven punches to hit a guy one time. I don't want to throw 20 punches to hit a guy five times. I want to throw five punches to hit him five times.

"I understand that now and so the only difference between me when I was younger and me now is that I'm not wasteful. I don't just throw punches to throw punches. Everything I do in there now has a purpose. I'm more efficient. Wouldn't you rather have a car that gets 40 miles to a gallon rather than one that gets 20?

"That's what I'm doing now. I'm just trying to take what I have and use it more efficiently so I get everything out of what I have to give."

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