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Introducing Stephen "2 Pound" Forbes,
IBF Junior Lightweight Champ
By Katherine Dunn
The Rose City has had its share of contenders over the years--Ray Lampkin, Mike Colbert, Andy Kendall, Amos "Big Train" Lincoln, among others. But the last time a world champion boxer called Portland, Oregon home” was back in October of 1962 when the light-fisted, slick boxing Denny Moyer won a fifteen round decision over Joey Giambra for the vacant--and brand new--WBA Junior Middleweight title. Moyer held the title for six months and one successful defense before losing in Louisiana to Ralph Dupas. Years later Moyer’s career ended with a record of 98-37-4, 25 kayos.
Some 38 years later, on December 3, 2000, another Portland boxer with more skill than power tangled with short, tough John "The Eastern Beast" Brown in a ring in Florida for the vacant IBF Junior Lightweight title. The 32 year-old Brown’s record reads like a who’s who. Manfredy, Moseley, Corrales.
The 23-year-old Stephen "2 Pound" Forbes of Portland had a brand new USBA title, and a 19-1, 5 kayp record with more obscure personalities.
Brown steadily outpointed the game and canny Forbes until the eighth round. Following a Forbes combination, blood poured out of Brown’s ear. It seemed possible that Brown’s eardrum had ruptured. The ringside doctor stopped the bout. An upset TKO win and the IBF title for Forbes.
In the days that followed the IBF decided that Brown’s ear had simply suffered a cut inside and that Brown should be Forbes’ first mandatory challenge in a re-match to take place within 9 months.
Forbes accepted the win as right and inevitable. He said he knew he would catch Brown in the later rounds.
The fans back in Portland were amazed, and glad.
The new IBF Jr lightweight champ is home for the holidays. It’s the Christmas season and Stephen "2 Pound" Forbes, is back in Portland, Oregon visiting family and making the rounds of the local gyms where he started learning the game. Forbes’ family and friends have always called him "2 Pound" because he was a premature baby who weighed slightly more than two pounds when he was born and spent his first few weeks on life support. He’s a quiet, serious guy, and steady. His entourage is small-- just his soft-voiced wife and his merrily curious three-year old daughter.
They slip into the echoing cinderblock boxing gym of Matt Dishman Community Center silently, muffled in winter parkas and knit caps, easing toward the back of the room where they can watch the workouts without getting in the way. An old team mate hails Forbes and swoops in for hand shaking--the new coach of the amateur team follows. The teenagers and little kids lean, whispering, to peek around heavy bags and corner posts at the champ. Finally they come up to shake his hand and get his smile, and his autograph.
This is the gym where Stephen Forbes learned to box, starting back in 1988 when he was 11 years old. Having grown up watching boxing on the family television, he can tell you the exact moment when he decided to be a fighter. "I was walking through the mall with my grandmother and I saw a picture of Evander Holyfield on the cover of a boxing magazine. I said, Ah man, I want to be like that!"
His grandmother, who raised him, didn’t approve. He found his own way to the comunity center. "I was sneaking to the boxing room because my Grandma wouldn’t let me go there. But after a while she said, OK, he’s not getting in trouble. Let him go ahead."
His coach then was Don Davis. "I haven’t seen him. I want to find him. The fact that I’m a world champion now would, you know....because he started me off. He showed me everything. Him and John Peters and Lee Jenkins. Those three coaches were really responsible for my foundation in boxing."
Forbes now lives in and fights out of Las Vegas, but this trip to his hometown with his championship belt seems as much about paying respect as getting it. The local newspapers do nice write-ups and he makes radio and local TV appearances. But he spends more time in the gyms. After his early years with the Knott Street amateur Team at Dishman community Center, he moved across town to the West Portland Team coached by Bill Meartz. Forbes and another fighter actually moved in with Coach Meartz for several months to get ready for national competition.
Meartz describes getting the boys up early to run, having their breakfast ready when they came back, and seeing them off to school before he went to work each morning. The coach’s son, a gifted baseball player, says the disciplined example of the older boxers inspired him.
When Forbes visits the West Porland Club on this trip, he poses for photos with every kid on Meartz’s team, and signs the prints as Christmas presents.
At 15, Forbes won a bronze medal in the 132 pound division at the USA Boxing Junior Nationals. The following year he went to the national Golden Gloves and lost in the quarter-final round. He didn’t let it get him down.
"I always knew I would be a better professional boxer because I always had a professional boxing syle. And amateur and professional boxing are totally different. In amateur boxing you’re just throwing punches with no meaning. You’re throwing all types of punches that don’t have a purpose. In professional boxing you’re setting up a lot of things, and that’s the style I always had. So the type of punches I would throw, I wouldn’t get points for. But I always knew in the professional game it would benefit me. I would get warnings for spinning guys. That’s illegal in amateur boxing. I would practise it anyway because I knew i was going to be a professional boxer."
But there were bumps along the way. He dropped out of Grant High School in Portland and then, like George Foreman years earlier, he joined the Job Corps. Stationed in the small town of Astoria on the stormy Oregon Coast, Forbes studied business and the GED program and graduated in 1995.
For a while, Forbes says, he trained with cornerman/poet Tom Smario and former pro middleweight Clayton Hires. "I worked with a lot of different people because I wanted to learn from different people. I consider myself a student of boxing."
Remarkably, most of the people Forbes has worked with are still his friends. When Forbes decided to seek his fortune in Las Vegas, Hires and Smario phoned Roger Mayweather to put in a good word.
Why Las Vegas? "Because I think too many guys fight a lot of local bouts and when they get up to the big levels they don’t know what to expect," Forbes explains. "So I thought I’m going to go to Las Vegas and work out with the champions. Most of the champions come there and train there because there’s so much good competition to work out with. So I decided I’m going to go there and work out with these guys. Just to say I tried."
In 1996, newly married, the 19 year-old Forbes and his wife flew to Las Vegas and moved into a motel. "It was the worst motel I’ve ever been in. But my attitude was, "I’m going to make it."
Forbes met referee Richard Steele, who arranged for the couple to stay with a local woman until they got jobs.
"I worked at a grocery store," says Forbes. "I would bag groceries for people and I was a stock person, stocking the shelves. My wife was working too. She’s a CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant.
"And I also worked out at the gym. At first it was Nevada Partners gym, but then I started going over to Golden Gloves Gym. That’s where Roger Mayweather was. I got an invitation to go over there and spar with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Me and him had some really good workouts so they said why don’t you come over here? We can help you, you can help us. Me and Floyd Jr. became good friends. He actually was responsible for getting me my first two professional fights. He talked to Top Rank because he was with them at the time. He asked them to put me on. He said this guy’s going to be good, he works out with me. And they said OK, we’ll put him on. And that’s how my pro career got started."
From debut to championship in four years sounds like pretty fair progress, but Forbes says there were doldrums along the way. From May of ‘97 to June of ‘98 Forbes couldn’t get a bout. Erratic activity had him fighting over his best weight by as much as 12 pounds. He’d had twelve fights in three years and wasn’t making progress.
Forbes says his career took on momentum starting in November of ‘99 when he signed with manager Cameron Dunkin, who also does business for Diego Corrales, Stevie Johnston, Bones Adams, Augie Sanchez, Freddy Norwood, Danny Romero and Carlos Navarro, among others.
"When I walked into Cameron Dunkin’s office I hadn’t fought for nine months. But he agreed to get involved in my career. and just this year (2000) I’ve had eight fights and won two titles. The USBA title and the IBF world title, after just one year with him."
Dunkin told CBZ that he’d seen Forbes fight several times, and had Forbes spar with both Stevie Johnston and Diego Corrales before the boxer approached him.
"I told him," says Dunkin, "that of all the guys in Vegas he was the one I thought had the ability to do something at the next level."
Dunkin slipped Forbes onto ESPN2 cards, as well as the lone loss on his record-- a failed IBA title fight against Alejandro Gonzales. Forbes lost a 12 round deciison. Dunkin gradually increased the quality of Forbes’ opponents and signed him to a promotional contract with America Presents just before he decisioned David Santos for the USBA 130 pound title on September 17. Less than two months later Forbes won the controversial stoppage over John Brown for the IBF title.
Dunkin has signed Forbes with co-manager Garnik Khachikian, a Vegas businessman who also co-manages Freddy Norwood and Carlos Navarro. The arrangement with Khachikian, says Dunkin, is "I do all the work and I move them, but he pays for everything."
According to Dunkin, Stephen Forbes is "There." Big fights and big paydays are in his future. The mandatory re-match against John Brown is waiting, but Forbes will defend the title at least once and maybe twice before then.
Forbes himself says he’d like to fight in his home town, Portland, Oregon.
"I would like to do a lot for Oregon boxing because this is where I got my start. I believe there’s a lot of good talent here, but getting exposure is hard." He dreams of starting a "2 Pound Productions" company, "bringing fighters in on my coattails, fighting on my under cards." As Floyd Mayweather Jr helped him? "Yes," he says, "and the way Roy Jones helps his friends in Florida."
After the holidays, Forbes and his family returned to Las Vegas where he immediately began preparing for his first defense, which is scheduled for early April. He works now at the Top Rank Gym under the tutelage of Cameron Dunkin’s favorite trainer, Miguel Diaz.
There are plenty of questions yet to be answered about Steve Forbes. For starters, was the win over John Brown any more than a lucky fluke? And how long can he hold off the heavy hands of this talented division without major punching power of his own?
But however long his reign lasts, he’s given the Portland fans a rare treasure. Odds are they’ll still be talking about him forty years from now.