LAS VEGAS — Vernon Forrest stood on the ropes in the corner, arms raised toward the ceiling of Orleans Arena on Saturday night, and waited for ring announcer Jimmy Lennon to certify Forrest had indeed beaten Ricardo Mayorga.
When Lennon instead announced Mayorga had defended the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Assn. welterweight titles he had won from Forrest in January, winning by majority decision before 6,272 fans, Forrest dropped his arms, lowered his head and quickly exited the ring without comment.
He need not, however, have hung his head in shame.
The mere fact Forrest was still standing after 12 rounds, after withstanding a constant onslaught by Mayorga, after fighting from the early rounds on with a left eye that was badly swollen and had come out even on one judge's scorecard was reason enough to hold his head up.
Judge Jerry Roth scored the fight, 114-114, as did The Times. Judge Larry O'Connell gave the fight to Mayorga, 115-114, and Ove Oveson favored Mayorga, 116-112.
After four rounds, it seemed as if Forrest would be soon gone.
He was facing a man who had destroyed him in fewer than three rounds in their first meeting and showed him little regard in the days leading up to the fight. Mayorga got on the scales at Friday's weigh-in munching on a chicken wing.
And when the bell rang, nothing seemed to have changed. Mayorga moved in and Forrest immediately backed off, seemingly too intimidated to work his jab.
The fourth round was embarrassing for Forrest. Mayorga stuck his chin out and taunted Forrest, daring him to swing away.
Forrest responded with a combination right on the chin.
No problem. Mayorga stuck his chin out again.
Again Forrest connected with a clean combination.
Mayorga's reaction? A big grin.
But in the fifth round, things began to turn. Forrest began to loosen up, began to connect with the jab, began to slow Mayorga's once-relentless charge.
"I think the first fight was not a fluke," said Mayorga, who had predicted a second-round knockout this time. "I proved that I could take a punch and go 12 rounds. I would have looked better if he would have traded [punches] with me. It's hard to look good when you are doing so much chasing. He took my punches better."
Forrest drops to 35-2 with 26 knockouts, both his losses to Mayorga.
"I thought we won the fight," said Ronnie Shields, Forrest's trainer. "Basically, Mayorga was hitting the gloves, not Vernon. Vernon is disappointed. That's why he got out of the ring. He can't fight the fighter and the judges."
The fight might have not been so close had Mayorga not spent so much time celebrating.
He barely paid attention to Forrest in the final round, too busy raising his right hand and proclaiming victory.
But afterward, Mayorga (25-3-1, one no-contest, 22 knockouts) showed the grace he had been lacking in the days leading up to the match.
"I think Forrest was at his best tonight," Mayorga said. "He would beat most welterweights. It wasn't easy. But I thought I won easy."
But Mayorga couldn't help himself, adding, "Forrest is a sissy. He doesn't punch that hard."
In the semi-main event, Zab Judah (29-1, one no-contest, 21), fighting with what he said was a broken left hand from the third round on, won a split decision over DeMarcus "Chop Chop" Corley (28-2-1, 16) to win the World Boxing Organization junior-welterweight title.
Judges Chuck Giampa and Michael Pernik both gave the fight to Judah, 115-112. Judge Duane Ford had Corley winning by the same score.