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McGirt, sport mourns the loss of Forrest

26
Jul

It has been a hard month for trainer Buddy McGirt (left), who has lost two of his favorite fighters, first Arturo Gatti and now Vernon Forrest, to violent deaths. Forrest, seen here with McGirt and longtime trainer Al Mitchell after his 2007 victory over Michele Piccirillo, had a father-son relation with Mitchell, who had coached him since the amateurs. Forrest and McGirt, who was the fighter's head trainer in recent years, were close friends. Photo by Emily Harney/Fightwireimages.com

Vernon Forrest was the last fighter anyone expected to die before his time, the victim of senseless violence.

The Augusta, Ga., native was as calm and collected as his classic stand-up boxing style. He wasn’t a former street thug or the kind of wild personality who often finds a haven in boxing and sometimes meets a tragic end.

Forrest was a quiet, private man known more for his generosity and charitable deeds than his many boxing accomplishments, which is why he was expected to be a presence in the sport long after he hung up his gloves.



It is the reason his violent death — he was murdered in an attempted robbery in Atlanta late Saturday night — placed an icy grip around the heart of the boxing community.

News of his murder traveled through the boxing world quickly, flooring a sport that was already reeling from grief.

Forrest is the third respected former champion to die in the month of July.

Alexis Arguello was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to his chest in his home in Managua, Nicaragua on July 1. Arturo Gatti was found dead from strangulation at a Brazilian resort on July 11. His wife is a prime suspect, but accidental death and suicide haven’t been ruled out.

Few in the boxing industry have been hit harder by the recent tragedy than Buddy McGirt, who trained both Gatti and Forrest.

“I got a call about 5:30 a.m. in morning and I got up thinking, ‘Who the hell is calling me at this hour,’ but when I saw an Atlanta area code, I thought, ‘That’s not a good sign,’ and then when the person on the other line was crying, I knew I was going to hear more bad news,” McGirt told RingTV.com on Sunday. “I’m still in shock, to be truthful.”

McGirt said Gatti’s premature death was unexpected and tragic but not a complete shock given the popular slugger’s wild side, but Forrest’s murder caught him completely off guard.

“I never thought Vernon would die like that,” said McGirt, who was Forrest’s head trainer for the fighter’s last four bouts. “He wasn’t a street-type of guy. That’s what hurts so much. He was not one to be out in the streets. He lives out of town (in Atlanta), out in the woods.

“He would hang out and have fun, don’t get me wrong, but he wasn’t out partying and drinking. It’s heartbreaking. No one expected him to die early. No one expected him to die like this.”

McGirt said he kept close contact with Forrest after the fighter’s last fight, a unanimous decision rematch victory over Sergio Mora for the WBC 154-pound title last September. He said the 38-year-old veteran was in good spirits and looking forward to returning to the ring.

“He called me five days ago about getting back in training,” McGirt said. “He wanted to get on the (Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez) Sept. 19 card and asked me if I could start camp on Aug. 1. I was like, ‘Cool, we can do that.'”

McGirt said Forrest was financially set and did not need to continue boxing.

“Vernon was smart, not just in the ring but outside of it, too,” McGirt said. “He did smart things with his money. He didn’t need to box anymore to make his living. I respected him for that.”

McGirt said Forrest planned to have a few more significant bouts in order to solidify what was already a border-line hall of fame boxing career.

Forrest, one of the U.S.’ top amateurs in the late 1980s and early 1990s, made the 1992 U.S. Olympic squad in the 139-pound weight class. However, like everyone else on that underrated team, he was overshadowed by the sole U.S. gold medalist of those Games, Oscar De La Hoya, once they turned pro.

However, although Forrest was never able to lure De La Hoya into the ring, he “one-upped” The Golden Boy by twice beating Shane Mosley in 2002. When they first met in January of that year, Mosley, who had defeated De La Hoya the previous year, held a 38-0 (35 KOs) record and was considered to be the best boxer in the world pound for pound. Forrest, who had defeated Mosley in the Olympic Trials, refused to buy into the hype and not only dominated the fight with basic boxing fundamentals, he almost knocked the powerful Southern Californian out in the second round.

The sound boxing principles Forrest used to check Mosley — maximizing his height and reach with a well-timed jab and shotgun right hand — should have led to a longer welterweight title reign and even more success at junior middleweight, but back-to-back losses to Ricardo Mayorga in 2003 and recurring shoulder injuries almost forced him out of the sport in the middle of the decade.

He rebounded in recent years with victories over former champs Ike Quartey and Carlos Baldomir, which earned him a vacant junior middleweight title that he lost and then regained in a two-fight series with Mora last year.

McGirt said Forrest was looking to close his career out in the middleweight division.

“He only wanted to have two more fights before he retired for good, and he wanted to make them count,” McGirt said. “He told me he wanted to fight Kelly Pavlik for the middleweight title. He could still make 154 pounds, but he looked like a monster in the gym at 157 and 158 pounds. I thought he would have been great at middleweight.”

McGirt does not lament that his fighter didn’t get the opportunity to fight for a championship in a third weight class; he is sad because he lost a good friend.

The two had become acquaintances at the 2003 Boxing Writers Association of America annual banquet when Forrest received his Fighter of the Year award for his victories over Mosley the previous year, and McGirt received his Trainer of the Year award for his work with Gatti.

They quickly bonded after Forrest asked McGirt to train him before his 2007 fight with Baldomir, which Forrest won by unanimous decision.

“We were always laughing and joking around,” McGirt said. “I was joking with him the last time we spoke. He called me from (a restaurant) called Zachary’s, and while on the phone, he ordered a three-piece chicken meal. I told him if he wasn’t on with me, he would have ordered a nine-piece.

“It was great being around him. I’m going to miss the laughter. Vernon could be moody, but I never got that from him. I think he wanted me in his camp to keep things light. He and (longtime) trainer Al Mitchell used to butt heads in the gym, but I saw the love and respect they had for each other even when they had a disagreement.

“Al was like a father to Vernon. I know Vernon’s death is a big loss for him.”

Forrest was never married but he had one child, a 12-year-old son named Vernon Jr. who McGirt said was the center of the fighter’s life.

“Vernon talked about his son all the time, but we never saw him in camp,” McGirt said. “He kept his son away from boxing.

“Vernon’s death is a big loss for boxing, but it’s an bigger loss for his son, who will have to grow up without a father.”

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