3. Jan. 25, 2003, Ricardo Mayorga KO 3 Vernon Forrest – Pechanga Entertainment Center, Temecula, California
Like Max Schmeling before his first fight with Joe Louis, Super Bowl XXXVII turned on one man’s supreme knowledge of his opponent. Schmeling noticed that Louis dropped his left hand after he jabbed, creating a perfect opening for the German’s vaunted right hand. Schmeling landed the right repeatedly and went on to score a 12th round TKO that shocked everyone but himself.
Similarly, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden had coached his title game opponent, the Oakland Raiders, the previous year and because he knew the personnel and schemes so well he tailored his game plan around his foe’s weaknesses. The result was a 48-21 thumping highlighted by three interceptions returned for touchdowns.
The oddsmakers that made the Raiders a four-point favorite were proved incorrect that day and so would the ones that made Mayorga as much as a 10-to-1 underdog against Forrest the night before the game. Of course, there was good reason to think “The Viper” would inject his venom into Mayorga. He was fresh off back-to-back victories over Shane Mosley, who, at the time of their first meeting, was boxing’s number one pound-for-pound fighter. Forrest’s supreme domination in fight one coupled by his second victory six months later established him as the sport’s top welterweight and persuaded THE RING to name him its Fighter of the Year. Mayorga, of course, thought he had what it took to turn the boxing world on its head.
The Nicaraguan was a character among characters, smoking two packs per day between fights, trash-talking opponents into submission at press conferences and blasting them out with powerful rights between the ropes. In his most recent effort Mayorga pounded the WBA title off the head of Andrew “Six Heads” Lewis, avenging a two-round butt-induced no-contest eight months earlier.
“Yes, Mayorga will put on a good show,” most experts thought. “But the act will end here.”
Mayorga, however, knew better.
Forrest started the fight at long range, firing jabs and occasional rights while Mayorga searched for any opportunities to dive inside and assert his power. With less than 15 seconds remaining Mayorga produced his first thunderclap as a looping hook struck the side of Forrest’s face and a left forearm to the side of the head drove the Georgian to the canvas. Referee Marty Denkin called the spill a knockdown, much to Forrest’s displeasure.
Eager to equalize his sudden two-point deficit, Forrest tossed aside his game plan and chose to bomb with the bomber. The plan worked for a while because in the final minute a Forrest volley backed Mayorga to the ropes and a right-left to the jaw just before the bell more than caught the Nicaraguan’s attention.
“That guy hits hard,” Mayorga told his corner as translated by HBO’s Ray Torres. But that didn’t stop the WBA titlist from taking more risks.
Though Forrest had seized the momentum Mayorga had the firefight he wanted. So when Forrest opted to go for the kill Mayorga was more than happy to let him try. With a little more than a minute remaining a wide-arcing hook spun Forrest’s body and a right to the temple decked him for the second time. Forrest dizzily hauled himself up by using the ropes and stared vacantly into the distance. As he did so, Denkin waved a finger back and forth in front of Forrest’s face and, not liking what he saw, stopped the fight. And just like that, the world had a new two-belt titlist and to the shock of many his name wasn’t Vernon Forrest. The loss wiped out Forrest’s freshly signed six-fight deal with HBO and toppled him from the pound-for-pound rankings.
At the end of his post-fight interview, HBO’s Larry Merchant gave Mayorga one of the fighter’s favorite cigarettes, pulled out a lighter and delighted as the Central American puffed away. The gesture seemed appropriate, for Mayorga had just smoked Forrest as well as those who didn’t believe he didn’t “see something.”