Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Updated: January 24, 4:08 PM ET
Max: Forrest-Tszyu could be great superfight
By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com
One of the least talked-about potential superfights in boxing is Ring Magazine welterweight champion Vernon Forrest versus Ring Magazine junior welterweight champion Kostya Tszyu. Forrest has a big fight coming up this weekend against Ricardo Mayorga, the best available contender in the 147-pound division. Kostya just defended his crown last weekend, beating Jesse James Leija, who is still a top 10 guy in the very deep 140-pound weight class.
It is astounding how little press Forrest's fight is getting. Just goes to show how little the sanctioning bodies mean nowadays. Forrest is universally recognized as the 147-pound king and therefore his fight against Mayorga (who holds one of the sanctioning body belts) is not really seen as a unification fight. And that is a good thing.
But it is not a good thing that the welterweight champ's first defense against a non-Shane Mosley opponent is mostly ignored, even by the boxing media. Vernon is certainly a top five pound-for-pound guy, and many lists have him in the top three, as mine does. After Mayorga there are not a ton of challenges at welter, and the champ has said in the past that he is looking up at junior middle -- meaning Oscar De La Hoya.
Vernon is an efficient boxer-puncher who generally dissects opponents with a clinical style. He beat Mosley too convincingly to lure Oscar into a showdown, and too unexcitingly (in the Mosley rematch) to create real demand for a De La Hoya fight. Best thing for Forrest might be to beat Mayorga in an exciting back-and-forth fight. Make some of the other stars around his division brave.
Kostya Tszyu has a lot of options at junior welter, and even though a fight against Forrest might mean his biggest payday, it would probably not be his smartest move. Especially considering the way King Kostya looked against Leija on Saturday. He was outboxed through the first four rounds by an older, smaller, weaker opponent, an opponent who has been overwhelmed in the past by the top-flight bigger guys he has faced.
De La Hoya blew Leija out; Mosley did the same. Kostya simply did not. Could be age and tough fights catching up with him. Or it could be, as Brian Kenny has been saying for years now, that Kostya just doesn't move his head. Offensively, has always been beautiful -- straight, hard punches with both hands. But defensively, a stationary head is something like the third worst sin in boxing. The worst defensive sin you can commit is probably keeping your hands down and your chin up. Or maybe it's pulling straight back from a combination. But not moving your head is way up there.
Vernon Forrest moves his head. And he does not pull straight back. And he keeps his hands high and his chin tucked. And he punches straight, too. Unless he's throwing his vicious hook, or his debilitating uppercut (with either hand). He also has not taken any real physical beatings, has never lost as a pro, and appears to be in his physical prime.
Several weeks ago Brian and I mentioned to Vernon on Friday Night Fights that in recent big fight history in and around the welterweight division, the guy who beat his rival in the amateurs also beat him in the pros. We gave as examples him versus Mosley, and Mosley against De La Hoya. Kostya beat Vernon easily as an amateur. Tszyu was a phenom at the time who was far more physically developed than Vernon. But things have changed and Tszyu's people know it, just as the rest of us do.
Kostya has been a junior welter his entire professional career. Staying in the same weight class is something the very best fighters of recent years have seldom done. Sometimes it's because as they mature they outgrow their division, but frequently it owes to their lust for bigger game. If Kostya is indeed considering retirement, as is rumored, why not go out with a bang and take on Vernon Forrest. Were Tszyu to lose, no one would think the less of him coming up short against a younger and larger champ.
And -- though it seems an unlikely result -- if Kostya won the fight, he would finally fulfill the prophecy of those who swore he would one day become the best fighter in the world, regardless of weight class. Among their ranks are surely some of the folks who watched him manhandle Vernon Forrest a little over a decade ago.
Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights and the host of the show Around The Horn.