- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

I know there were a lot of people who fell victim to the illusion last month that the Lennox Lewis-Vitali Klitschko heavyweight title bout was a good fight. Please. It was a glorified Toughman contest, competitive only because Lewis was old enough and fat enough to have fallen to Klitschko’s level.

Tonight, though, there could be something worth watching on HBO that may not be an illusion — particularly for Washington fight fans, since a local boxer is on the show.

Vernon Forrest will face Ricardo Mayorga in a rematch of their January bout in which Mayorga stunned Forrest, knocking him down twice and handling him like a man against a boy in three rounds before the fight was stopped.

This a grudge match. Forrest — normally media friendly — has pretty much refused to talk to the press in the days leading up to tonight’s fight, walking out of Thursday’s news conference. He is single-minded in his determination to regain his welterweight title and to avenge the loss, which was far more than just losing a championship belt. Forrest was embarrassed in the ring, and Mayorga — a brash, macho Nicaraguan fighter — has done all he can since then to continue the embarrassment by questioning Forrest’s courage and dismissing him as an opponent.

This is not the only grudge match on the card at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. Washington’s DeMarcus “Chop Chop” Corley, the World Boxing Organization junior welterweight titleholder, will face former 140-pound champion Zab Judah in a continuation of a fight that broke out between the two at a news conference in Philadelphia.

Actually, it wasn’t much a fight. Judah (28-1, with one no-contest and 21 knockouts) — who nearly lost his Nevada boxing license when he physically attacked the referee who stopped the fight when Judah was pummeled in two rounds by Kostya Tszyu — took a cheap shot and hit Corley in the face. Corley (28-1-1, 16 knockouts) gets his chance to hit back tonight.

“The press conference was over and we were getting ready to leave,” he said. “Someone from Ring magazine made a comment about Judah and I finally meeting in the ring and talked about how I said I was going to destroy Judah. I made that statement at the contract signing to build up the fight. Judah said, ‘Destroy me after we sign the contract? We can do it right now.’

“At that point, my manager got into it with Judah’s manager,” Corley said. “I told him then not to worry about it and that I would take care of it at the fight. Judah still took it upon himself to get in my face and hit me with his left hand. It was a lucky punch, and he did it so he could feel like he got something off his chest. I started it, and he wanted to feel like he finished it. But I will finish him off.”

We’ll see. District fighters tend to wilt under the lights of the big time. It wasn’t long ago that we were touting Washington as the city of champions. There was William Joppy, the World Boxing Association middleweight champion; Keith Holmes, the World Boxing Council middleweight title holder; Sharma Mitchell, the WBA junior welterweight champion; Derrell “Too Sweet” Coley, the No.1-ranked challenger for the WBC welterweight title, and Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, the junior bantamweight champion and touted as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Four world champions and one top-ranked contender — all disappeared. Joppy is still technically the WBA middleweight champion, but no one takes that seriously. He lost his title when he was beaten in five rounds by Felix Trinidad in Madison Square Garden in May 2001. He got it back when Bernard Hopkins won promoter Don King’s middleweight championship tournament and won all three major titles, and the WBA came up with something called a “super middleweight” champion — not to be confused with the super middleweight division — which meant that since Hopkins held all three belts, there could still be a different WBA middleweight champion. Joppy has fought once in two years.

That’s once more than Holmes fought after he was embarrassed by Hopkins in a 12-round decision at The Theatre at the Garden the month before. He has not fought since then either but is scheduled to return to the ring Aug.9 in a show at Washington Convention Center.

Joining him on that card will be Coley, whose moment in the sun came when he faced Oscar De La Hoya in February 2000 at Madison Square Garden. He was outclassed until the fight was finally stopped in seven rounds and has fought very little since.

Johnson got beat by prison and age, and his attempted comebacks — including a lackluster win last month in Washington — have failed to put him back among the elite.

Mitchell lost his title in February 2001 to Tszyu when he could not continue after seven rounds because of a knee injury. He is the only one of the former champions who has been active, winning three fights in 2002 and stopping Carlos Vilches in four rounds in January. He was scheduled to fight Tszyu in a rematch in September, but the fight was called off after Tszyu was hurt, and, if it does happen, will not likely take place until next year.

This is the legacy that “Chop Chop” Corley follows when he steps into the ring tonight, and it may be greater to overcome than Judah’s cheap shot.

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