" WEEEEEE REAAAAAAADY, UHHHH, WE REAAAAAAADY", were the general lyrics being sung by a duo of rappers that led Vernon Forrest into the ring this past Saturday night before his title defense against the dangerous and hard-punching Ricardo Mayorga.
The duo of hip-hoppers was loudly screaming their lyrics and the crowd at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, California was getting into the entrance. As was Forrest, who stopped about 30 feet short of the ring apron and stopped his entrance to bob his head to the beat and lip-synch the lyrics himself.
He soon made his way into the ring- followed by what seemed to be the whole 'dirty south'- who wanted to get some camera time as Michael Buffer announced the fighters. Forrest was working it; he had a flashy and fun intro, the enlarged entourage and a national audience watching on HBO, with whom he had just signed a multi-fight agreement.
Just a year ago he came into the ring at the Theatre at the Madison Square Garden as a virtual unknown to his opponent Shane Mosley. Forrest was brought into the ring by only his training staff of Al Mitchell and Ronnie Shields. How far he had come in only 364 days - and how quickly he would lose it.
Because Forrest, who had yearned for bigger paydays, a higher profile and future bouts on pay-per-view with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, seemed to forget that he was facing a guy that was just like him last year; hungry, focused and full of desire. Ironically, Forrest was a lot like Mosley, who before his first bout with Forrest talked off getting a new promoter, being marketed and transcending the game of boxing- only to get beat thoroughly by Forrest.
This time it would be Forrest who would be humbled as Mayorga would get 'the Viper' out of his game early, walk through his best shots in the second round and with one huge right hand in the third, unify both the WBC and WBA welterweight titles. For Mayorga come bigger paydays and a higher profile. Forrest, however, lost more than just his title. Out the window went his contract with HBO, his pound-for-pound status and any chance of getting a bout against Oscar De La Hoya in the near future.
The rap on Forrest coming into this bout was that while he was a patient and well-schooled boxer, he wasn't a particularly exciting prizefighter. And while he was a nice guy who did some great things civically, he didn't have a personality that really grabbed your attention. It seems that in an effort to shed that image, he came into the ring with flair and was going to fight in the same manner.
He boxed well for two-minutes-and-forty-five seconds of the first round, using his legs and jab to keep away from the heavy-handed Mayorga. Then, after a late exchange, Marty Denkin erroneously ruled a knockdown for Mayorga after it looked like Forrest was pushed to the canvas with a left hook that grazed his shoulder. Who knows what affect that had on Forrest mentally, but in the next round, Forrest seemed to have a sense of urgency that made it very clear that he wanted to erase his early deficit quickly. He landed some huge punches on the iron-chinned Mayorga, who threw some hard leather of his own. It was an exciting round- just exactly the type of fight that Forrest shouldn't have been in.
As the bell sounded to end round two, I commented to the guy next to me that this was looking a lot like Junior Jones against Kennedy McKinney in 1997. You remember that night, right? It was at the Madison Square Garden and New York native Jones was headlining underneath the American debut of Naseem Hamed against Kevin Kelley. Jones seemingly fought McKinney not just to win, but also to send a message to 'the Prince'- setting up a huge payday- and to impress his hometown crowd at the Garden. He knocked down McKinney early, throwing punches from all over, only to shoot his wad. Within a round, he was completely gassed and eventually stopped by McKinney.
As Forrest went back to his corner, he looked more fatigued than at any point in his career- this after two rounds. While he usually fights at a measured and methodical pace, he had just engaged in the most heated round of his career. The tempo of the fight was to Mayorga's advantage. A boxing clinic by Forrest had quickly turned into a shootout - which was bad news for Forrest.
Forrest had the skill, but Mayorga had the will and he would keep coming on strong, regardless of what Forrest threw at him. And as they exchanged left hooks that missed, Mayorga's right hand beat Forrest by a millisecond and landed on the temple of the lanky welterweight. Forrest wasn't so much knocked down as he was imploded, as he seemed to go down in stages. As he wearily got up, you got the sense that he had not fully regained his senses and Denkin would correctly stop the fight with about a minute to go in the round.
It was as exhilarating as it was shocking to see Mayorga (who was listed as high as a 10-1 underdog) pull the upset. ' El Matador', the chain smoking and beer- guzzling native of Nicaragua, was thought to have the proverbial 'punchers chance' which is really another way of saying: he's gotta land a lucky punch. And while he did take out Forrest with a single punch, it was more than just a lottery ticket that was punched. He had made Forrest fight his fight, took his best shot and put the heat on him throughout. His will was imposed on Forrest who wilted under the heat.
Leading into this bout, you always got the sense that Forrest had his mind on a lot of things: his status, his HBO contract, future paydays and his marketability. Everything but a hard-punching wild man who refused to be intimidated and had the guts of a burglar. Mayorga showed up to fight; Forrest seemed to show up as a formality.
In other words, he wasn't ready.
It was almost a year ago that Francisco Bojado was being hailed as boxing's next superstar. Only to come in completely out of shape and then out-hustled by journeyman Juan Carlos Rubio. It was one of the most shocking upsets of 2002. It was the classic case of a young fighter defeating himself.
Now, after going through some managerial disputes and hooking up with Floyd Mayweather Sr., he begins the long road back. He had his first bout with Mayweather in November, winning an eight rounder. This Saturday night he faces Frankie Santos on Showtime, as part of a tripleheader that features fellow Main Events prospects Rocky Juarez and Juan Diaz.
In addition to getting a new trainer, he has also picked up the services of physical conditioner Rob Garcia, who along with Mayweather work together with Oscar De La Hoya. This is his second bout with the team of Mayweather and Garcia and he should be in much better shape this time around.
" We didn't have very much time off between fights," said Garcia, who stayed in Big Bear for an extended training camp with Bojado and Mayweather." So we were able to build that strong foundation of discipline and fitness and then carry it over into this camp. So we can actually bring him along and give him drills that are going to acclimate him more to that championship level."
Garcia, who implements a combination of resistance weight training, plyometrics and stretching, says that Bojado's work ethic has improved greatly in the short time they have worked together.
" His demeanor, his whole approach has changed," says Garcia." The kids starting to realize that he has enough experience around him so that, just because he has all this talent, that he doesn't already know everything. He's really opened his mind up and he's learning a lot of what Floyd has to teach. He's realizing that the drills I run are very specific and they will make him quicker, they'll make him have balance and be a faster thinker."
Will Bojado be ready? Who knows, but we've seen how quickly things can change in a year.
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV