Vernon Forrest is generally regarded as one of boxing's nicest guys. Right now, though, that's changing.
Forrest's "Viper" nickname has never been more appropriate, as he's been spitting venom at upcoming challenger Sergio Mora, his Tournament of Contenders promoter Jeff Wald, and the TV show that made Mora and Wald famous in the first place.
"If you come to fight, I promise you they're going to take you out on a stretcher. If you do all that running s--t that you normally do, then it's going to be a boring fight and I'll win a unanimous decision. But if you come to fight, they're going to take you out on a stretcher. I guarantee that."
"If you come to fight, like a proud Mexican warrior, I'm going to knock your ass out."
"The only real fighter you had on 'The Contender' show was the little guy, Stevie Forbes. That's the only real guy you had on your show. ... Now I'm going to beat the dog s--t out of your main pretender on June 7. I want you (Wald) to know that."
Jeez, where to start?
First of all, it's a hype job. If you think Vernon Forrest suddenly went from being one of the most affable fellows in the entire sport to one of the most mean-spirited, you're a sucker. Nothing has really changed about Vernon.
Second of all, I think a lot of this is Vernon speaking for a lot of fighters who had to come up the "right" way, climbing the ladder to world class competition. Mora and his fellow "Contender" alums have been given a free pass into big paydays. While Forrest had to fight his way up, Mora's fame is entirely due to a TV show. He's 20-0-1 without a single notable win if you're the type of person -- like most hardcore fans are -- that doesn't consider the TV series to be a marquee win or anything close to it.
And third, time is running out for Vernon to make good money. He was never a trash-talking fighter of any note before, and we've seen that one of the surefire ways to make money is to position yourself as a villain. Mayweather has become boxing's biggest star that way, Bernard Hopkins did it forever, and Ricardo Mayorga's career has been almost solely built on the idea. I can't blame the guy for doing what he has to do to secure the biggest fights.
Now, I don't particularly like the stretcher talk. If Mora actually did leave on a stretcher, Forrest would probably feel terrible, as anyone would. It is an unlikely scenario, but hardly impossible. It's a risk every fighter takes in every fight. It's pushing it a little too far.
As for looking at what he's saying from a purely analytical standpoint, Forrest is a heavy favorite (which Mora admits, and Mora has been quite respectful of Forrest despite the verbal haymakers coming his way). But will he knock Mora out?
I'm no Sergio Mora fan. At all. He is one of my least favorite fighters for a number of reasons, some of which are just that I'm a fan and I have my favorites and my non-favorites, and Mora's style, attitude, etc., just don't jibe with what I generally like. However, I respect him as a tough dude. No pro fighter is a pansy in a general sense, and Mora has never been knocked out, obviously. He takes a good punch. Does the 37-year old Forrest have the power left to knock Mora out?
Even if Forrest dominates, it's hard to figure where he'll go next. None of the other titleholders at 154 are a big payday, and it'd be hard to get anyone excited about a fight against Cory Spinks. Again, he's just trying to close the last stage of his career with a bang.
One of the most interesting things in the whole talking storm is Forrest recalling a time he sparred with Mora. Fresh off of injury and sparring essentially one-handed, Forrest remembers "lighting Mora up" and laughing while doing so.
Listen, Vernon Forrest is a better boxer than Sergio Mora. In his heyday, this would be an obvious and definite mismatch. As it is, a Mora win would be a major upset, but would come with the limitation of having happened against an aging, injury-riddled Forrest.
But what if Vernon does lose to Mora? How can he really come back from that after this much talking? He's done some potential serious damage to his own career if this goes wrong for him. Before, it would've just been an upset. Now it would be an embarrassment.