Those who felt Sergio “the Latin Snake” Mora could beat Vernon “the Viper” Forrest were almost a secret minority.
As soon as someone said Mora would beat Forrest they were met with stares of disbelief.
But the East Los Angeles fighter Mora proved last Saturday that his style, speed and strength were enough to topple Forrest from the berth of the WBC junior middleweight title in front of a national audience.
Now Mora could possibly be the choice to replace the now retired Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the scheduled September card against another East L.A. fighter, Oscar “the Golden Boy” De La Hoya.
It would sell out the Staples Center, no doubt. Think about it: two East L.A. fighters meeting to decide who’s the best out of that region known for putting out boxers.
“Tell Oscar, we can make this happen,” said Mora by telephone immediately following his majority decision win over Forrest. “It’s a natural.”
This year is De La Hoya’s last as a prizefighter and he had hoped to avenge his loss to Mayweather, and then possibly fight one last bout against another big name fighter. That plan collapsed when Mayweather retired last week.
But Mora’s win suddenly sheds sunlight through a storm of clouds that could have left De La Hoya with no alternatives. Now he has a real option.
“It makes perfect sense,” said Doug Fischer, editor of Maxboxing.com, who was one of the few that felt Mora would beat Forrest. “Sergio Mora and De La Hoya would make a good fight.”
Golden Boy Promotions did not return several phone calls.
They almost met in the ring years ago when De La Hoya was preparing in Big Bear Lake. Mora was invited to provide sparring along with Antonio Margarito. Instead, the trainers put Mora against Margarito and after they sparred, they told the Latin Snake they no longer needed him.
Mora shrugged and left the mountain.
During his early pro career the fighter was often seen looking for sparring in various gyms.
It was difficult to find fights for the unorthodox Mora for a variety of reasons:
First, he was a middleweight in a region that is more known for smaller weight classes. There are plenty of lightweights, featherweights and bantamweights, but middleweights? Nope, you have to go back east for that.
Second, those few middleweights in the Southwest region knew about Mora’s style and how he could make you look bad. His reputation inside the boxing gyms traveled before him.
Third, it seemed every time Mora was in training he would get sick. He had to pull out of one card and that made the promoter angry. That promoter soon passed the word that Mora could not be trusted and that hurt him at the club level. It was later discovered that Mora had an infected tooth that would get worse when he began training hard. It was finally remedied years later.
Different promoters and managers didn’t see talent in the slippery Mora, who advanced all the way to the finals of the Olympic trials, only to lose to Jermain Taylor. It wasn’t until he sparred with Fernando Vargas that things began to click for Mora, who graduated from Schurr High in Montebello, California and also attended Rio Hondo College.
The Oxnard fighter has an eye for talent. He also was one of the first to acknowledge the talent of Ishe Smith. In Mora, he saw someone who could do something above average.
If you know Vargas, you know that he doesn’t take it easy during sparring. I’ve seen “El Feroz” knock out many a sparring partner or leave them in a bloody mess. He’s serious in the ring at all times.
But once the gloves are off he can be very charismatic and personable.
He liked Mora’s ability and recommended him to the Contender people.
Everyone knows the story now. Mora captured the $1 million dollar prize by beating a number of better-known fighters.
Mora has received a public beating ever since he defeated Peter Manfredo Jr. the second time in a very close fight. It comes with the territory.
“Maybe because I don’t knock out a lot of people,” said Mora.
Another fallacy is that Mora is a runner.
“Sergio moves around but he’s never been a runner,” said Dean Campos, who developed Mora’s style and still trains him. “He can fight inside or outside. Whatever works.”
It was in Mora’s third pro fight that I realized he might be headed for big things. That night he faced a guy who I thought was pretty decent. That night he basically humiliated him with superior reflexes and decisively beat a strong fighter. I was convinced then and there that his style and athleticism would give everybody problems.
He’s still undefeated.
Yes, he almost lost to Elvin Ayala a few months ago, but you have to understand he was preparing for a totally different fighter who was also a world-class boxer, in Kassim Ouma. He had done heavy sparring with some mad bombers in James Kirkland and Alfredo “Perro” Angulo in preparation for Ouma.
“I saw the work he put in with those guys. Sergio looked more focused than I’d ever seen him before,” said Fischer, who witnessed some of those sparring sessions. “At first he was having trouble with them. Then after he was in better shape, he was having his way with those guys.”
“When Ouma was cancelled, it was like pulling the carpet from under him,” said Fischer of Mora. “He didn’t seem interested.”
After that fight Mora promised to do better.
His next fight he knocked out Rito Rubalcava, who came out of the three-year-old mothballs.
The win was pooh-poohed by almost everyone.
But when Forrest was picked as the next opponent, out came the intensity.
“He loves big fights,” Campos said. “It makes him work even harder than usual.”
Physical trainer Robert Ferguson saw the intensity too.
“He’s easy to work with,” said Ferguson, who helped him get down to 154 pounds for the first time in his career.
Forrest had sparred with Mora, but if anyone has ever seen the East L.A. fighter in practice sessions, he rarely gets hit. Throughout the years he’s worked with Margarito numerous times, Kingsley Ikeke, Samuel Miller, Enrique Ornelas, Larry Mosley and numerous other veterans, and rarely sustained heavy damage.
During a real fight, he gets hit even less.
Perhaps the best fight that few saw Mora engage in came almost two years ago when he fought big Eric Regan. It was a unanimous victory for Mora but many people sold Regan short on ability. That kid has power and also had four inches in height over Mora. But after three rounds – just as in the Forrest bout – Mora found his range and began a systematic dismantling.
For those who say Forrest suddenly grew old, wait until his next fight. He’s still a very capable fighter, but Mora’s style perplexes everybody. It could have been Forrest of 1997 and it still would have resulted in the same outcome. It’s not about age, it’s about style.
Those writers who dismissed Mora as a hyped fighter have never really seen him work in the gym.
One writer, ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael, honestly admitted to underestimating Mora and wrote a classy apology to Mora and his team on the web site. Rafael is one of the best writers in the business, along with Kevin Iole of Yahoo and Fischer of course.
Even Forrest was gracious in defeat. He knows that it was Mora’s “herky-jerky style” that was the reason he lost, not age.
Now a new window has opened up for Mora.
Fellow East Los Angeles fighter De La Hoya needs an opponent. All he has to do is look to the east side of the Los Angeles River.
Who will win the Sergey Kovalev vs Andre Ward fight?