JERRY FORREST had already gotten a bitter taste of the inner workings of the fight game when he left a secure job as a nuclear electrician to go all-in on his career as a heavyweight boxer. It was just getting started, though, as the Virginian followed up a controversial decision loss to Jermaine Franklin in 2019 with equally debated draws against Zhilei Zhang and Michael Hunter last year.
But the 34-year-old isn’t going anywhere.
“I think about it [going back to the old job] from time to time, but boxing has blessed my life,” he told Boxing News. “It’s done a lot of good for me and my family. You know they say you don’t owe people anything, but I owe boxing because it’s freed me up to give me the time to do what I want to do in life.”
The married father of three may not have won a fight since he knocked out Martez Williamson in September 2019, but people are talking about him, and the chatter should get even louder should he defeat former title challenger Kubrat Pulev on Saturday (May 14) in Inglewood, California.
Originally expecting to face Andrey Fedosov last month, Forrest instead got the call to replace the Russian when he withdrew from the bout with Pulev. Now it’s his turn to try and join Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko as the only ones to beat the Bulgarian. And that would be making a statement for a fighter who believes this is his year to deliver one.
“I know my time’s gonna come,” he said. “I just have to be patient and wait.”
Forrest’s patience has been tested since he turned pro after a short amateur career at the age of 24. Already a late starter, the Newport News product was forced to learn on the job without the connections many heavyweight prospects are blessed with. What followed were losses to Hunter and Gerald Washington, fights under the radar on the regional scene, and a general sense of apathy from the boxing public until he nearly upset the 18-0 Franklin.
That performance got him a promoter in Lou DiBella, and while he lost another high-profile bout against late replacement Carlos Takam in an ESPN-televised bout, he knew he was on the right track, and his family backed him when he left his day job to focus solely on boxing. “They were cool with it and everybody believed in me,” Forrest said. “I know my capabilities. I know, and my family knows what I’m capable of and we knew I was able to do it. Telling them that I want to do it full time and really take this step, they just believed in me. They gave me support and because of them and boxing, I’m here. It’s been an all-around shared win for the family.”
Those wins outside the ring didn’t translate between the ropes the last two times out, despite what fans and pundits believed. Against unbeaten Chinese prospect Zhang, Forrest hit the deck three times in the first three rounds before roaring back and earning a draw verdict.
Again, it made an impression.
“I’ll say this,” Forrest explains. “Because of what I do and how I fight, I’ve always gotten a bigger offer, win, lose or draw. There has always been a level of resilience inside of me. I can only be denied for so long. I’m a smaller guy, so it’s a lot more obvious what I do. You see the resilience and you see that poise. I was in shape to get knocked down three times and still come back and win every round from four on. That’s not easily done.”
It’s not. But it’s even harder to get a decision after digging a hole that deep. So in his next fight last December, a rematch with Hunter, Forrest didn’t wait to go to work, and after controlling much of the action and having his foe in trouble a few times, it was expected that the last-minute replacement was going to upset the apple cart and get the win.
Only one judge agreed. Another one gave Hunter the fight and the third ruled it a draw. Forrest was left out in the cold again, but he isn’t bitter. He’s just aware at how the boxing business works, as sad as that state of affairs is.
“The Michael Hunter fight, I asked for it,” said Forrest, who was originally scheduled to face Joe Jones that night in New York City. “I knew the risk involved, and I knew they weren’t gonna give me nothing. It’s just the facts and the variables. I wasn’t a huge name turning pro, so I get it. And when you get to the top and you’re not signed with the people that you should be signed with or who they want you to sign with, things happen. So it’s hard in the sense that I know I’m gonna be cheated, but this is what you sign up for, so, at the end of the day, I’m really not mad or upset. It’s kinda like, you know it’s corrupt, I can’t prove it unless I go to litigation, and with that being said, I just kinda move on. My boxing speaks for itself. And I feel like I’ve made enough of a statement enough times now to where people are kinda getting it. But the tables are gonna always eventually turn if you win. And the tables are turning.”
Forrest is hoping to kick those tables over against another favoured foe in Pulev, but he’s not about to let boxing politics and A-sides and B-sides dictate what he can control, and that’s his work ethic. If he doesn’t have the experience or talent to beat the élite, he can at least outwork them, and what he’s found out over the past few years is that when it comes to hunger and the willingness to put in the time and effort in the gym, he’s light-years ahead of those at the top of the heavyweight division.
“What I’ve noticed in camps is that they don’t go hard,” said Forrest. “Heavyweight camps are lax. Everybody in there is friends. I’ll tell you this – when I go to a camp, they usually don’t call me back. For real. Because I’m there to work. I’ve only been to very few camps, and when I go, I don’t get called back or they send me home. It’s never been because they beat on me. And I’m talking about world champion, number one, number two ranked people in the world – I just won’t say names.”
One name Forrest will invoke, though, is a fictional one, the Clubber Lang character from Rocky III who beat the champion because he was simply hungrier.
“My mentality is I’m Mr T and all of them guys are Rocky,” said Forrest. “Everybody’s Rocky to me, and to me, none of them are real. None of them are in great shape, they’ve all got to world championships and they got comfortable. And I have a decent life, don’t get me wrong, but I want what they’ve got. So that’s what drives me and pushes me to do a little bit more and work more than what they’re doing. That’s what you see in the ring. They’re willing to go for a knockout because they don’t have the resilience to keep pushing. I’m willing to go 12 rounds and push you to death.”