Monday Weisblog: One of the few good guys in boxing leaves us far too early

Vernon Forrest

Vernon Forrest

I am admittedly not a huge fan of professional boxing; still, I am mildly curious from time to time with certain fights. Seven years ago, I got the chance to watch “Sugar” Shane Mosley take on some guy named Vernon Forrest, who was already in his thirties and therefore past his boxing prime. Mosley was one of the hottest tickets in boxing at the time, and very few people gave Forrest any kind of a chance.

But a funny thing happened that day … Forrest thoroughly dominated Mosley – then did it again when the two fought a second time. Suddenly, this guy very few people had ever heard of was the talk of the pugilistic world.

This late bloomer showed it was no fluke by going on to win a total of three world championships over the course of his career. His last fight was a victory over Sergio Mora in September 2008 in which he recaptured the WBC junior middleweight title.

He wasn’t particularly flashy, he didn’t talk trash and he didn’t have the knockout power all the more marketable boxers have. But he was a master tactician in the ring, and he knew exactly what he was doing at all times. I immediately liked him because he let his in-ring work do his talking for him.

Long story short, I was so impressed by this no-frills guy that I decided to find out a little more about him. Turns out he did all kinds of wonderful things in the greater Atlanta area, including providing homes for people with mentally disabled children.

Last Saturday night, Forrest stopped at an Atlanta-area convenience store to put air in one of his car’s tires, and his 11-year-old godson went inside the store as Forrest went to work on the tire. Suddenly, a man approached Forrest and asked him for money.

According to several sources, Forrest had his wallet out when the man snatched it from him and ran. Forrest gave chase and eventually gave up and headed back to his car. With his back now turned to the unidentified man, the man then pulled out a gun and shot Forrest repeatedly in the back. He was dead on the scene. His godson was unharmed and did not witness the shooting.

Did he do the wrong thing by pursuing the perpetrator? Maybe. But if you’re a boxing champion, you’re supremely confident in your ability to defend yourself. We may never know for sure what transpired, but if this kind-hearted guy lost his life by attempting to help someone down on his luck (pulling out his wallet to give a stranger a few bucks), that is nothing but a shame.

It didn’t have to happen. Forrest had turned and gone back toward his car. The man had successfully robbed him … why did this guy decide to spin around and repeatedly shoot Forrest in the back?

The boxing world is full of people with questionable ethics and intentions. That’s why it is especially painful when a guy like Forrest gets gunned down while still in the prime of his life – with a still-strong boxing career even at age 38.

He leaves behind one son of his own and a boatload of fans. So far no suspects have been identified. I hope they find the killer, and soon.

If you’ve never heard of Vernon Forrest, that’s a shame because he was one of the best-kept secrets in sports.

UPDATE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Forrest was robbed by the man at gunpoint, and when he fled, Forrest followed him with a gun of his own. Forrest was shot SEVEN to EIGHT times in his back. His godson described the gunman to police and said he drove off in a red Monte Carlo. This new information makes this story a bit more unsavory, but I said it before – when you make a living defending yourself, you have loads of confidence in your ability to do so, and you never consider that you might come out on the losing end. But when guns are involved, it ups the ante to a life or death situation. Forrest certainly should have used discretion but did not, and paid for it with his very life. Truly a tragedy.

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