ATLANTA – Three-time boxing champion Vernon Forrest was remembered Monday by some 1,500 friends, family and fellow athletes as a soft-spoken, modest competitor defined more by his work helping others than his victories in the ring.
The 38-year-old Forrest, a former two-division champion who gained notoriety when he became the first boxer to defeat “Sugar” Shane Mosley, was shot and killed July 25 in Atlanta. Police have said he exchanged gunfire with at least two robbery suspects before being shot several times in the back.
“I believe in God and the justice system,” his brother Alfonso Forrest told about 1,500 people at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, just east of Atlanta. “We want justice fulfilled to the fullest within the law. It will happen.”
Notable athletes in attendance included former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield and boxers Antonio Tarver, Robert Allen and Buddy McGirt. Former NFL players Ray Buchanan and Jamal Anderson also attended.
Holyfield said before the service that Forrest was one of the “great men” whose community service work should be celebrated. Forrest has been lauded since his death for his help launching the Destiny’s Child group homes in Atlanta, which work to provide homes for the mentally disabled.
“He’s great and what he did for the community was great,” said Holyfield, who said he had known Forrest since he was 12.
Numerous photos flashed of Forrest on two large TV screens during the service of him posing with Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and him flexing his arms while wearing his title belt.
Three family members wore Forrest’s championship belts at the service.
“We will never let him die,” Forrest’s brother LaVert said as the boxer’s only son, Vernon Jr., stood beside him. “He’ll always be within our hearts and never will be forgotten.”
Les King, a close friend, said the soft-spoken Forrest never let success in the boxing ring get to his head.
“People wanted him to be flamboyant, but that just wasn’t him,” King said.
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.
Forrest turned pro not long after the Barcelona Olympics, when he was stricken with 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.
The smooth-punching Forrest defended the belt against Mosley, winning by unanimous decision six months later, before losing to Ricardo Mayorga in January 2003. It was Forrest’s first loss, and he’d lose again to Mayorga in a close bout many believe he won.
Forrest’s death hit the tight-knit boxing community hard, coming on the heels of the deaths of two other high-profile fighters. Hall of famer Alexis Arguello, the mayor of Managua, Nicaragua, was found dead at his home on July 1 in an apparent suicide. Popular Montreal fighter Arturo Gatti was found dead two weeks earlier in a condominium in Brazil.
“He was one of the elite,” Kerry Davis, HBO’s senior vice president of programming, said of Forrest. “The first thing that comes to mind about Vernon is not him being a boxer but of him being man what he’s done for so many people he helped. He will be missed by many. That’s for sure.”