Underdog Forbes ready for his close-up
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Make no mistake, Steve Forbes knows his roles.
He's the second fiddle. The opponent. The space-filler. The tune-up for Oscar De La Hoya, as the "Golden Boy" returns to cable TV for the first time in seven years and begins beating the drum for this fall's planned rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But, though he's happy to share the spotlight, Forbes doesn't intend to stay on Oscar's script.
Instead, as the 12-year veteran said in a FitzHitz interview, he plans to parlay his Saturday night bit part into a career-changing star turn of his own.
"To be overlooked, to be underappreciated, that motivates me. And I'm not going to be a victim for anybody," Forbes said via telephone from his Las Vegas training camp, shortly before departing for final preparations for the fight -- set for the Home Depot Center in suburban Los Angeles.
"What he might not understand is that when he's thinking about Floyd Mayweather, I'm thinking about him. He's viewing me as a tune-up, but I feel like a guy stalking him. I'm the predator here, and he's overlooking me. It's my job to shock him."
And it's not as if Forbes is without leading-man credentials.
"To be overlooked, to be underappreciated, that motivates me. And I'm not going to be a victim for anybody," Forbes said.
The 31-year-old is a former world champion -- having won and defended the IBF's junior lightweight title in 2000-01 before losing it on the scales in 2002, when he failed to make the 130-pound limit.
He's a respectable 12-4 in 16 bouts since, including a finals appearance in the second season of the "Contender" in 2006, and, most recently, a split-decision victory over De La Hoya protege Francisco Bojado on the Pacquiao-Barrera undercard at Mandalay Bay last October.
Forbes is trained by Jeff Mayweather -- brother of Floyd Sr. (Oscar's trainer) and uncle of Floyd Jr. -- who actually fought De La Hoya in the 1992 Olympian's fifth pro bout, losing by fourth-round TKO.
It was after the Bojado win, Forbes said, that the initial feelers from Oscar's camp were extended.
"I thought it was a joke at first," he said, "but then the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I've been trained by someone in the Mayweather family for 90 percent of my career, and I think they wanted someone who fought in a style they were familiar with.
"But it makes me angry when I hear people that think this fight is the last thing I'll do before I ride off into the sunset. I mean, Floyd Mayweather is actually two days older than me, so why would I look at it that way? My performance is going to tell people I'm nowhere close to being finished."
Rather, he insists, the would-be tune-up will greatly resemble De La Hoya's last supposed free pass, a 2004 middleweight struggle with unheralded Felix Sturm, in which Oscar was awarded a controversial unanimous decision -- one fight before his title try against Bernard Hopkins.
And while hoping to equal or surpass Sturm's success, Forbes plans to incorporate elements of past De La Hoya foes like Pernell Whitaker and Mayweather Jr., naturally smaller men who gave him trouble with movement, defense and speed.
"I've got to be smart and effective, because you know he has problems with small guys," said Forbes, who stands three inches shorter at 5-foot-7 1/2, and has spent the bulk of his career well below Saturday's 147-pound welterweight limit.
"(Whitaker and Mayweather) gave him boxing lessons, and I'm not worried and I'm not intimidated because he's a bigger man. I'm an old pro and I'm absolutely trickier in the ring than he is. When he gets in there and sees things aren't working, it's going to weigh on him a bit."
As a sequel, Forbes plans to stick around a bit longer, in hopes of someday sharing a bill with another of the leading men -- Mayweather, Cotto, Margarito, Mosley, Hatton, etc. -- who've recently turned the 140-154 pound corridor into the sport's most glamorous address.
But, no matter the eventual co-stars, it's a virtually guaranteed happy ending for the unlikely hero Forbes, nicknamed "2 Pounds" in reference to his 1977 at-birth weigh-in -- which came two months premature at Doernbecher's Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
"The doctors said I was definitely not going to make it, that my heart and lungs were not physically capable of surviving," he said. "I've always been up against what people said I couldn't do, so what I said in response was, 'Who are people to say what I'm capable of. They're not God.'
"Here I am, 31 years later, and I'm still going. Believe me, that pushes me every single day."
* * * * * *
Two title fights play a collective second banana to the De La Hoya-Forbes event on Saturday.
In Germany, native son Firat Arslan makes his second defense of the WBA's plain-old "world" cruiserweight title when he faces American import and No. 14 contender Darnell Wilson at Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle in Stuttgart.
For the record, David Haye is recognized as a WBA "undisputed world champion."
Regardless, Arslan, a 37-year-old southpaw, won his then-vacant crown with a split decision over Valery Brudov last June, and then kept it with a unanimous nod over ancient Virgil Hill in November.
He's won 10 straight since his last loss -- to Lubos Suda by decision in 2003 -- and is 28-3-1 overall with 18 knockouts.
Wilson, who sports the memorable nickname "Ding-a-Ling Man," has won five of six since enduring a four-bout losing skid over 10 months in 2005-06.
He dropped an IBF title eliminator to B.J. Flores in February, but rebounded with a sixth-round TKO of Robert Marsh a month later to earn the shot at Arslan.
He is 23-6-3 with 20 knockouts.
In Mexico, long-time little big man Fernando Montiel risks his WBO junior bantamweight title for the seventh time against countryman Luis Maldonado.
Montiel, who held the WBO's flyweight title in 2000-01, initially captured the 115-pound crown in 2002 and defended it twice before falling to Mark Johnson.
He regained it with a defeat of Ivan Hernandez in 2005 and has lost just once since -- to Jhonny Gonzalez, in a failed try for the WBO bantamweight belt, in 2006.
In his last defense, on February 16, Montiel stopped Martin Castillo in four rounds.
He is 36-2-1 with 27 knockouts.
Maldonado was beaten by eighth-round TKO in two previous title fights, first to Vic Darchinyan in 2006 and later to Nonito Donaire, in his most recent fight, on December 1.
He won four straight in between the defeats, including a decision over Sergio Espinoza in October, and is 37-2-1 with 28 knockouts.
A scheduled third weekend title fight -- between Joan Guzman and Alex Arthur, for Guzman's WBO junior lightweight championship -- was postponed when Guzman failed to secure a travel visa in time for Saturday's planned card at the Meadowbank Sports Centre in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The fight will be reset for June, according to a Wednesday piece on the Glasgow Daily Record's Web site (dailyrecord.co.uk).
In the story, Guzman promoter Sean Gibbons said, "All we need now is for Frank Warren to give us the new, rescheduled date. Guzman cleared up his visa issues and is now ready to go to Scotland to successfully defend his belt."
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He is a periodic contributor to the Dave Smith Show on Sporting News Radio (radio.sportingnews.com), provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.