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Vernon Forrest, at 38; boxer won titles in two weight classes

Vernon Forrest, celebrating his unanimous decision win over Shane Mosley for the WBC welterweight title in New York. Vernon Forrest, celebrating his unanimous decision win over Shane Mosley for the WBC welterweight title in New York. (AP/File 2002)
By Charles Odum
Associated Press / July 27, 2009

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ATLANTA - Vernon Forrest, a former two-division champion who gained stardom when he became the first boxer to defeat Shane Mosley, was shot to death in what police are calling an attempted robbery. He was 38.

Atlanta police Sergeant Lisa Keyes said in an e-mail that Mr. Forrest was shot several times in the back late Saturday night on a street southwest of downtown. Keyes said there were no suspects.

Charles Watson, the boxer’s manager, said police and witnesses told him that Mr. Forrest had stopped at a gas station to put air in his car tire when a man approached asking for money.

“The guy snatched his wallet and started running,’’ Watson said. “Vernon pursued after him. The guy turned the corner and Vernon didn’t see him. He turned around to go back to the car. That’s when he started firing.’’

The death quickly sent a ripple through the boxing world.

“Vernon was one of the few decent people in boxing,’’ his promoter Gary Shaw said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m still in disbelief, I’m still in shock.’’

Mr. Forrest, a native of Augusta, Ga., who lived in Atlanta, was a member of the 1992 Olympic team along with Oscar De La Hoya. The popular fighter later won welterweight and junior middleweight titles and compiled a professional record of 41-3 with 29 knockouts.

“He was one of the most gracious and charitable fighters in boxing, and he will be missed by the entire boxing community,’’ said HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg, who helped put on eight of Mr. Forrest’s fights. “Maybe Vernon’s lasting legacy will be for Americans everywhere to rise up and end this kind of senseless violence.’’

Those who knew Mr. Forrest praised his role in launching the Destiny’s Child group homes in Atlanta, which work to provide homes for the mentally disabled.

Longtime publicist Kelly Swanson called him “a caring humanitarian who always stood up for what he believed to be the fairness of life.’’

“It was truly his calling,’’ Swanson said of his work with children. “When he wasn’t boxing, this was his full-time job. . . . When they would see him, they would just light up, and some of them couldn’t even talk. Vernon was very much involved. He’d have some of the kids over to his house on Sundays. They were part of his family.’’

Swanson said Mr. Forrest was not married and had one son, Vernon Jr.

He turned pro not long after the Barcelona Olympics, when he was stricken by food poisoning and lost in the opening round. He won his first world title by defeating Raul Frank at Madison Square Garden for the vacant IBF welterweight belt in May 2001, and less than a year later handed Mosley his first career loss to capture the WBC title.

Mr. Forrest defended the belt against Mosley, winning by unanimous decision six months later, before losing to Ricardo Mayorga in January 2003. It was his first loss, and he’d lose again to Mayorga in a close bout.

After taking two years off because of injuries, he embarked on an impressive comeback that included a win over Ike Quartey and a victory over Carlos Baldomir for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title. Mr. Forrest defended it once, before losing it in a stunning upset to Sergio Mora in June 2008.

The soft-spoken hard-punching Mr. Forrest reclaimed it when he won a lopsided decision last September in what ultimately was his final fight.