RIP, Vernon Forrest

BY Michael Woods ON July 25, 2009
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Vernon Forrest was shot and killed during a robbery in Atlanta, police said Sunday.

Atlanta Police Sgt. Lisa Keyes told the AP that ‘Forrest may have been robbed and was shot "multiple times in the back" Saturday night in Atlanta.’

Nobody was apprehended and there are no suspects at this time. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Forrest stopped at a gas station to put air in the tires of his Jaguar. A male suspect approached Forrest, with a gun, and demanded unspecified items from him. Forrest was also armed, and the boxer then chased the suspect. Forrest was shot seven to eight times in the back, and there is evidence Forrest used his weapon, but there is no word on whether he hit the assailant. Reports indicate that the robber doubled back on Forrest after Forrest lost sight of him, and blasted the boxer by surprise.

An 11-year-old boy, the son of Vernon's girlfriend, was with the fighter at the time of the robbery/shooting, and the paper reports that he has given authorities a description of the shooter.

Forrest, age 38, was a native of Augusta, Ga., and resided in Atlanta. A member of the 1992 Olympic team, at the time of his death the fighter nicknamed “The Viper” held the WBA junior middleweight title. He was also a former IBF and WBC welterweight champion. Back to back wins over Shane Mosley in 2002 put Forrest on a track for stardom, but back to back losses to Ricardo Mayorga in 2003 and arm injuries dimmed his shine to an extent.

Forrest could crack in the ring, but people will just as much remember his warm smile, and admirable work he did to provide housing for the mentally challenged via his Destiny's Child group home.

His promoter, Gary Shaw, and his advisor Al Haymon touched on the tragedy.

"This is a tragedy beyond belief," said Shaw.  "The life of a decent caring man and a loving father has ended; a victim of senseless violence.  Speaking on behalf of myself and Al Haymon, we are in a state of shock.  We thank the media in advance for respecting our privacy and will have no further comment until we have the complete story."

Said Haymon: "I am deeply, deeply saddened by this senseless horrible tragedy and my heart goes out to his mother and family.  Vernon was a great fighter but much more importantly, he was a very special person outside the ring.  His charitable efforts are all well-known and documented but that was only the tip of the iceberg. Vernon was a genuinely kind-hearted, caring and supremely principled and loyal human being.  I came to know him and love him as a great friend far beyond the realm of boxing.  He was the first fighter I became involved with as an advisor and he and I had a special bond from the very beginning.  Vernon was a great human being and the world was a better place with him in it.  I will always treasure the time we spent together and I will always love him and miss him.  May God bless and keep him."

Publicist Kelly Swanson was hit hard by the news. "Vernon was a client, but also a friend. I am grief stricken to learn of the tragic death of Vernon Forrest.  Not only was he my client, he was my friend.  He gave me a wonderful opportunity when he asked me to help him tell his story both in and out of the ring beginning in 2001. The journey was terrific as not only was he a great champion, but he was a caring humanitarian who always stood up for what he believed to be the fairness of life.

Most importantly his work outside of the ring, particularly with his established foundation Destiny's Child, which provided group housing for mentally challenged young adults in the Atlanta area, was the shining light of his life.  Seeing him with the kids was the essence of his being and showed me another side of his well-rounded and deeply passionate character.  It was my pleasure to help tell his story.

These accomplishments earned him not only the Boxing Writers Association of America 2002 Fighter of the Year award, but also their 2003 Good Guy award, a first ever feat for an active fighter in the history of the organization.

Vernon was a feisty one and always, always, spoke his mind.  It was this intense passion for truth and justice that fueled his presence, gave him character and instilled in him a mighty resolve to the end. And yet, he was such a gentleman too, always giving back to those less fortunate and appreciating what others did for him.  He would go out of his way to call and thank me profusely for the "coverage" he received.  He was a great son and brother to his mother and siblings and a wonderful father to his young son Vernon Jr.

The tragedy of his untimely death is extremely hurtful as boxing has lost another great champion and a long-standing member of our sport's community.  I will miss him dearly and he will forever hold a very special place in my heart.  With sympathy to his family, friends and the entire boxing community, I pray for comfort for all of us during this terrible time."

The current WBC junior middleweight champion, Sergio Martinez, had hoped to fight The Viper.

“Vernon Forrest was a great fighter. I always dreamed of fighting Vernon, because it has always been my goal to prove myself against the very best. This tragic news puts both my life and boxing career in perspective. Vernon and I both shared a love for children, and helping those who had become disadvantaged. This is why I did not just look up to him as a boxer, but as a human being. My thoughts are prayers are with his family, and I promise to dedicate my next fight to the memory of Vernon Forrest.”

Forrest finishes with a 41-3 record with 29 knockouts. His death sends fight fans reeling, after the death of Arturo Gatti and the suicide of Alexis Arguello. Too often these days, we have to write RIP. RIP, Vernon Forrest; you represented the game with skill, charm and grace. You will be missed.

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