TEMECULA, Calif. - When Vernon Forrest looks at Evander Holyfield, he doesn't see a declining, 40-year-old fighter who's career has entered the 12th and final round.
No, Forrest looks at Holyfield, his Atlanta companion, and sees a legend. A man who made coming from Georgia not such a bad thing.
So, it's crazy to think about uprooting Holyfield, a four-time heavyweight and former cruiserweight champion, as the best fighter ever to come from the state.
"Evander carried Georgia on his shoulders," said Forrest, the Augusta native who lives in Atlanta. "Even when people look at Georgians as second-class citizens as compared to other big cities, Evander proved it's not where you come from. It's where you want to be."
Tonight, a national television audience will know exactly where Forrest is - he'll put his WBC welterweight title on the line against Ricardo Mayorga's WBA belt at Pechanga Casino and Resort (10 p.m., HBO).
But on Super Bowl Sunday, Forrest - who's a 6-to-1 favorite against Mayorga - might be a step closer to becoming the new king of Georgia.
"People in this game have such a short memory," said Tom Moraetes, Forrest's former trainer and the director of the Augusta Boxing Club. "He does have the capability to be the man that came from Georgia. When the day is done years and years from now, it'll still probably be Holyfield. But for the next five years, Vernon can be the man from Georgia."
Already, he's proven he'll promote the state as often as he can.
On ESPN2's Friday Night Fights earlier this month, he was interviewed wearing an Atlanta Falcons jersey. He also appeared in the rap music video for Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri's Welcome to Atlanta last year.
And when he enters the ballroom, tonight it'll to be the tunes of Atlanta rap artist Archie.
"I like to showcase Georgia artists when I get into the ring," said Forrest, who allowed Augusta native Da Professor to rap him down to the ring for his second fight with Shane Mosley in June. "I want to show they're in my heart when I go to do battle."
At heart, though, Forrest remains a businessman.
During Friday's news conference and during a December teleconference, Forrest used the podium to advertise his new Atlanta limo service.
According to Moraetes, the exposure - not to mention the constant sales pitch - is paying off.
"I think now he's big in Atlanta, and he's getting a name for himself outside of boxing," Moraetes said. "I'm coming into contact with people outside the game - with the clerk at a hotel or somebody in a restaurant - that knows Vernon. I think it means a lot to him, because he's a tremendously prideful person. But he has a long way to go."
This, Forrest acknowledges.
Holyfield is the man who fought the heavyweight wars for so many years. The man who defeated Mike Tyson - twice. The man who performs miracles with his body. The man who encapsulates Georgia.
"Evander is a legend," Forrest said. "With everything he's accomplished, I could never top that. I'd never look to overshadow Evander. I could never fill his shoes. They're too big for me."
NOTES:At Friday's weigh-in, Forrest and Mayorga engaged in a verbal battle. Just before Forrest weighed in for the 147-pound title fight at 146.5 pounds, Mayorga (146 pounds) began talking trash in Spanish. Forrest responded by shouting. ... The televised undercard's weigh-in went much smoother. Lightweight contender Joel Casamayor and prospect Nate Campbell tipped the scales at 133 and 131 pounds, respectively. Then, the two embraced ... Part of the weigh-in luncheon buffet consisted of pizza in boxes that contained a promotional picture of Forrest's face. In response, Mayorga ate a slice of sausage pizza while he was being weighed.
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216.
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