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Head Games

Before the first punch is thrown, the accusations fly


INDIANAPOLIS — Did you hear about the new school of hard knocks, Head Butt U? Evander Holyfield is the dean, Vernon Forrest is the star pupil and graduating students don't throw their caps in the air, but instead fling them off by whipping their heads forward in a violent motion.

Just another head butt joke, folks. You hear them all over this city this week and from both corners of Saturday night's World Boxing Council welterweight title fight between Forrest, the champion, and challenger Shane Mosley at Conseco Fieldhouse.

It is the topic of conversation surrounding this fight. Not whether Mosley's speed can nullify Forrest's punching power. Not whether Mosley made a mistake in taking this rematch immediately after Forrest's victory over him in January. Not whether Forrest's style gives him the advantage.

Those subjects, once hot-button topics, have paled in comparison to the overriding question: Was the second-round head butt in the first fight accidental, or a planned tactic by Forrest? Mosley was clearly the more stunned of the two fighters after they banged heads, suffering, he later learned, a concussion.

Forrest went on to knock Mosley down twice in that round and win a unanimous decision against Mosley, who had entered the ring 38-0 with 35 knockouts.

In recent weeks, Mosley has accused Forrest of deliberately jamming his head forward to inflict damage. Mosley claims one of his sparring partners, believed to be former Forrest sparring partner Leroy Brooks, told him that a former unidentified trainer of Holyfield taught fighters during secret sessions how to use the head butt as a weapon. And, insists Mosley, Forrest was one of those students.

Jack Mosley, Shane's father and trainer, has gone so far as to accuse Forrest of putting nylon in the corn rows of his hair to make the head butts even more dangerous.

The professors at Head Butt U are obviously creative.

Thursday, it was Forrest's turn to lash back.

The Georgia native, who will putting his unblemished record (34-0, 26 knockouts) on the line Saturday, appeared uptight Wednesday. When the sound was shut off on a profanity-laced recording he was using as background for his public workout at Conseco Fieldhouse, an angry Forrest stormed out without talking to the media.

But Thursday, before a workout at a local gym, he was relaxed and happy to talk about Mosley and that infamous head butt.

"Shane says he had a concussion from that head butt?" Forrest said. "I think it was worse. I think he had brain damage. He's delusional. It's insane to even comment about this. I think he might need a neurologist. He might not be fit to fight mentally. The whole thing is comical. I get great pleasure out of hearing this stuff. It makes my day. I guess he has to fabricate things to give him self-confidence.

"What purpose would I have [in deliberately initiating a head butt]? My whole goal was to become champion by beating him. Why would I possibly risk everything?"

Especially since it had already happened to him once before.

Although Forrest has been fighting professionally since 1992 and had held various lesser titles, he finally got a chance at an International Boxing Federation crown in August 2000 when he faced Raul Frank for the welterweight championship.

The match ended in the third round because of--you guessed it--a head butt. The butt was ruled accidental and the match was ruled no contest. Forrest had to wait nine months to get another shot at Frank and the IBF title. Finally, in May of last year, the two met again and Forrest finally got a major championship by winning a decision.

"The first thought that came to my mind," Forrest said of the Mosley head butt, "was, oh man, another Raul Frank situation where the fight ended with a controversy. I didn't want that to happen."

So what did happen?

"When I fight," Forrest said, "I am in a zone. He is in a zone. When those two zones clash, things happen."

Things happened to Forrest as well. He says he suffered a broken eardrum in the collision of heads, but hasn't made a big deal out of it.

"It was like, if you take a running start and then run into a brick wall," Forrest said. "That's how it felt to me. It felt like I got hit in the head with a sledgehammer."

Forrest's determination to continue was fueled by a decade of frustration. He beat Mosley when the two were amateurs en route to an amateur record of 225-16. Forrest won an Olympic berth for the 1992 Games in Barcelona but lost his first match, after, he said, coming down with food poisoning the day before. For 10 years, Forrest struggled for recognition while Mosley went on to the IBF lightweight title, the WBC welterweight crown and a prominent spot at or near the top of most lists of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Finally, in January, Forrest had the opportunity to catch up to Mosley.

In the days leading up to that fight, and in the days after it as well, there were good feelings exhibited and mutual respect displayed between the Mosley and Forrest camps.

But, for the 31-year-old Forrest at least, all that is over.

"My perception of him," Forrest said, "has gone down the drain."

Leaving Mosley the butt of joke after joke.



Belt Collection

*--* The progression of titles won by Vernon Forrest, above: IBC Jr. Welterweight Nov. 28, 1995, won on points over Marlon Thomas in 12 rounds WBC Continental Americas Welterweight Nov. 11, 1997, won on points over Ray Oliveira in 12 rounds NABF Welterweight Aug. 18, 1998, won by TKO over Adrian Stone in 11th round IBF Welterweight May 12, 2001, won by unanimous decision over Raul Frank in 12 rounds WBC Welterweight Jan. 26, 2002, won by unanimous decision over Shane Mosley in 12 rounds


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