- Graham Houston, Boxing
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When a fighter loses unexpectedly, he sometimes acts as if he can't quite believe what happened.
So it is with Vernon Forrest. Surprisingly beaten by Sergio Mora in June's junior middleweight title bout, he gets the chance to put the record straight in Saturday's HBO PPV show at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Forrest still seems to be struggling to come to terms with the Mora setback. It was a night when, after making a strong start, Forrest's fighting prowess tailed off into ineffectiveness.
"I was just flat," Forrest said in a conference call with the media in the countdown to the fight. "It was one of those days."
Being flat, he said, is when a fighter sees the moves he should be making but makes them two or three seconds too late. "It's like a delay in pulling the trigger," he explained.
Forrest is 37, but he is quick to say that his age had nothing to with his performance, pointing out that he had been fast and sharp in his two prior fights, against Carlos Baldomir and Michele Piccirillo.
One problem Forrest had before the last fight, he said, is that he was bored during a long training camp in Vero Beach, Fla. For this fight he has prepared at home in Atlanta, and he says he feels all the better for it.
Forest started preparing in February for the first fight, and long before June rolled around he was finding training a wearisome thing. He was just going to the gym to get it over and done with, rather than going to the gym with enthusiasm.
"We've got a better schedule of preparation and we can peak at the right time," Forrest said. "And so I guarantee you you'll see a much, much better performance out of Vernon Forrest. You will see a classic Vernon Forest kind of performance."
In his training, he said, he hasn't been focusing on any one thing in particular but has been mixing things up, bringing into play all the ingredients that made him a champion in two weight divisions. "I'm going to bring my A-game and get my championship back," he said.
The possibility exists, though, that Mora's style and tactics had a lot to do with Forrest's performance. Forrest dominated the fights with Baldomir and Piccirillo, but then they are both slower, veteran fighters.
Mora, 27, brought something different to the fight. The "Latin Snake" from Los Angeles was quick and tricky, making unexpected moves that seemed to take Forrest out of his stride.
Forrest is at his best when he is able to engage in a set-piece boxing match and control a fight with his excellent left jab and straight right hand, backed up by the hooks and combinations. The wild and unpredictable Ricardo Mayorga unsettled Forrest with rushes and rough stuff. Mora was able to discomfit him in a different way, by slipping punches and darting in and around the older man, changing direction, feinting with his gloves and shoulders and generally proving to be hard to hit and difficult to figure out.
In the first meeting it was like watching one man going steadily downhill while his opponent seemed to be growing in zest and confidence with each passing round.
Forrest seemed to be lost in a private world of exasperation and perhaps embarrassment, a world in which nothing was going right. His trainer, Buddy McGirt, exhorted him to "wake up." By the last third of the fight, though, it was Mora who was running the show, even dropping his hands and taunting Forrest. One judge had Mora sweeping the last four rounds; the other two judges had him winning three of the last four.
It was the sort of showing that can lift a fighter's confidence to new heights. Mora has always believed in himself, even if detractors didn't take his "Contender" title seriously. One heard the comments that Mora was "only" a reality-TV champ, as if somehow he had yet to validate himself as a fighter -- but Mora had the last laugh after producing the fight of his life against Forrest.
The question now to be answered is whether Mora merely flattered to deceive or whether he can give a similarly impressive performance against a presumably more focused, better prepared Forrest.
Mora, naturally, believes that what he did in June he can do again on Saturday.
Defending the title on Mexican Independence Day gives him an added boost, he said, calling the coincidence "a dream come true. I mean, that's like a storybook. And for me to go out there as the world champion is just unbelievable."
Mora knows that there are some who see the win over Forrest as a fluke. "I've just got to keep little by little changing people's minds like I did the first fight," he said. "And if I can put a stamp on the second fight, then maybe I can eliminate some more criticism. But there's always going to be people with negativity, always."
The only change in him since the first fight, Mora said, is that he feels somehow stronger, although he feels that this may be the psychological effect of being a champion. He has, though, been hurting sparring partners, he added.
Mora doesn't doubt that he will be facing an improved Forrest, but he says he will be up for the challenge.
"I am expecting a different fight from Vernon, even though in the first one he was very cagey," he said.
"This time around, I expect him to be more focused, and obviously we know each other a little bit better so he knows what to expect of me and I certainly know what to expect of him."
This time, the bout will be less tactical and more exciting, he believes, "because we're willing to take more chances on both sides. I know he thinks he can do more and I certainly feel I can do more as well.
"It's taken me a long time to get here and I plan on staying here. I've just got to work hard and focus and not get carried away with the emotion of the fight, with how big it is and certainly not get carried away with that shiny belt. Just, bottom line, be myself and go out there and be prepared for anything and adapt to anything."
It seems that Mora has exactly the right attitude, which is to go out and fight his fight and not take anything for granted.
This time Forrest is likely to seek to keep pressure on Mora, to be busier and generally more intense. The first fight was surprisingly close on the judges' scorecards. Just one more good round would have secured a draw for Forrest. He is a seasoned boxer and also the puncher in the fight. Now that he knows what to expect from Mora, it would seem reasonable to assume that he will fight with the urgency that he didn't exhibit last time and thus turn the tables on his conqueror.
It might not be that easy, though. Forrest is just four months away from his 38th birthday and he has been boxing professionally for 16 years -- and this after a long amateur career that saw him box in the Olympics and win a world championships silver medal. He has had a lot of 12-round fights, the highlight being his two wins over Shane Mosley, and he has battled through the pain of shoulder and elbow injuries that threatened to bring closure to his career. Maybe Forrest has simply passed the point of no return.
Mora, meanwhile, did enough to get the win last time and might even be able to improve in the rematch, because he will have the self-belief that will encourage him to be more adventurous.
These immediate rematches aren't easy to predict. For instance, it looked as if Carlos Quintana had Paul Williams's number -- but Williams wrecked him in one round in the return bout. The feeling here, though, is that Mora might indeed have Forrest's number, and that he will box a crisp, disciplined fight to repeat the points victory of the first contest.
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.
Unmotivated during training camp and listless in the ring, Vernon Forrest had a ready-made excuse after losing to Sergio Mora in June. But even if he returns stronger in the rematch, is it possible that Mora's just the better man?