- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

Vernon Forrest has tried to be different than other fighters.

He manages his own career with the help of close advisers. He has tried to build a business resume outside of the ring by managing musical acts and other enterprises.

And perhaps in the vocation closest to his heart, Forrest, his mother and his girlfriend started Destiny’s Child, a group home in Atlanta, to provide housing and assistance to mentally challenged adults.

“Vernon Forrest has said many, many times that he wants to get out of this game in a short time,” fight promoter Lou DiBella said. “That’s because he thinks he has much bigger things to do outside of boxing.”

He might be able to accomplish these things in part because of his success in the ring, with two impressive wins over highly touted Sugar Shane Mosley in 2002 and the welterweight championship.

But in a matchup on the Saturday before the 2003 Super Bowl at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif., Forrest, the World Boxing Council title holder, was stunned by World Boxing Association welterweight champion Ricardo Mayorga in three rounds — a devastating defeat for Forrest and the children from Destiny’s Child who were in the crowd to cheer their champion.

Tonight in Las Vegas, Forrest (35-1, 26 knockouts) will seek to regain his WBA title, and win the WBC belt as well, in a rematch against Mayorga (24-3-1, 22 knockouts), and give the people who call him “Uncle Vernon” something to cheer about.

Destiny’s Child, a for-profit enterprise, offers a home and training for 30 mentally challenged adults in two houses and three apartments in Atlanta, offering 24-hour supervision by trained mental health professionals. “I don’t think I chose it,” Forrest said. “It chose me.”

Forrest, 32, is not just some athlete whose name is attached to this project. He is a big part of the operation and very close to the people who live in the homes.

“At first you think they need you, but after a while you realize you need them, too,” Forrest said.

But first and foremost, Forrest is a fighter. Born in Augusta, Ga., the sixth of eight children, Forrest began fighting as an amateur at 9. He had an outstanding amateur career, a 225-16 record, and beat another talented amateur, Mosley, on his way to earning a spot on the 1992 U.S. Olympic boxing team.

But he came down with food poisoning before he was ever in the ring and lost his opening bout. He went home, turned pro in November 1992 and quietly built an undefeated record.

He traveled his own path by self-management, with the help of advisers Al Haymon and Charles Watson. He achieved his goal when he soundly defeated Mosley in January 2002. At the time, Mosley held the welterweight championship after upsetting Oscar De La Hoya.

Forrest raised his profile further by beating Mosley again in a rematch in July 2002, showing boxing skills that put him near the top of the list of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the business. And he stood out as a role model in a sport often plagued by fighters’ personal woes and criminal activities.

He received the Thurman Munson Award a month after his devastating loss to Mayorga. The Munson Award honors people who have helped those with disabilities to lead richer, more productive lives. Previous recipients include Joe Torre, Bobby Valentine, Al Leiter, Bernie Williams, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Willie Mays, Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, Jorge Posada and Wayne Chrebet.

“I spent a large part of my personal money to finance the home when we didn’t get the support from the state we were supposed to,” Forrest said. “A lot of our residents had been in other group homes where they had been abused beyond belief. They ate food that rats and roaches had eaten out of. Most of them had even been kicked out on the streets until we took them in.

“The state tells you not to get attached to the residents,” Forrest said. “Real quick, you realize that if you’re going to give them enough love, support and attention in order for them to grow, it’s impossible not to get attached to them. I feel as if they’re my brothers. We share holiday dinners together, we go to sporting events, we sit together at church, I teach them how to use the Internet and I will take their calls at all hours.”

Forrest’s mission now, though, is to regain the welterweight crown and his reputation in the ring, which took nearly as big a beating as he did when he got into a slugfest with the unheralded Mayorga.

“I got caught, but I think they stopped it too quickly,” he said.

Still, it did not appear that Forrest was able to hurt Mayorga and also could do little to keep the Nicaraguan challenger off him. Mayorga knocked Forrest down in the first and third rounds, and he was relentless in his attack.

Mayorga came out of nowhere. After a lackluster start to his career in his first 12 fights — 8-3 with one no contest — he found a winning style that has him undefeated in his last 17 fights. He won the WBA title by giving another beating to previously undefeated champion Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis in March 2002, stopping Lewis in five rounds.

Mayorga has been the anti-Forrest leading up to the fight. He smoked cigarettes and drank beer in the ring after his win over Forrest and has showed contempt for the former title holder, declaring that he will knock Forrest out within two rounds in the rematch.

“Vernon Forrest is scared,” Mayorga said.

Forrest refutes Mayorga’s claims. “I fear no man,” he said. “If I was scared, I wouldn’t have demanded that my next fight would be Mayorga again.

“I took him lightly,” Forrest said, evaluating his loss to Mayorga. “I didn’t think he could punch, and it cost me. But the loss brought back my perspective and showed me what I need to do to stay on top.”

And then there are the people of Destiny’s Child, who rely on their champion. They have given Forrest a perspective that he also carries into the ring with him. “They have taught me about patience and perseverance,” he said.

He will need both — and a strong left jab — to win back his welterweight championship.

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