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Will Forbes Have The Last Laugh?

May 3 will be nothing new for Steve Forbes. He's been a longshot all his life.

When the former IBF super featherweight champion walks into the Home Depot Center to face boxing's Golden Boy, Oscar De La Hoya, he will enter as an 8-1 underdog. Compared with how he started out that makes him a heavy favorite.

Forbes' nickname has been "2 Pound'' for as long as he can remember because that's how he came into the world - at two pounds. If you can survive that kind of start, what's to fear from Oscar De La Hoya?

Born two months premature to a mother barely 16, Forbes was left clinging to life inside a plexiglas incubator. Tubes longer than he was ran in and out of his body, supporting lungs and a heart not yet fully developed. For a time it seemed his first fight in life might be his last.

Thirty one years later, the former super featherweight champion will come to Carson, CA. on Cinco de Mayo weekend not to celebrate De La Hoya's homecoming but to honor his well-honed survival skills. Although his fight has been long and has not always gone well Steve Forbes is still punching, still '2 Pound,' still a survivor with a reason to believe in miracles.

A call to Forbes' two phone lines in Las Vegas answer any doubts you might have about this. Dial either and before you can leave a message you first have to listen to a personally delivered infomercial for May 3. Who in their right mind would do that if they didn't believe their performance was going to be, well, miraculous?

"I've been thinking of a night like this since I was a little kid,'' Forbes said after a day of training in Las Vegas. "When I was growing up Sugar Ray Leonard was the guy. It was 1987 and he'd just beaten (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler. I remember watching them on TV fighting at Caesars Palace. I always envisioned that for myself. The Big Fight. Now it's here.

"Oscar is the new megastar. To be able to fight a megastar in his farewell year in boxing is a dream. I'm a thrill seeker type fighter and this is a big thrill. It's a thrill to be part of it but I'm not in awe of it. It's not like the event is taking over. It's more like, 'It's about time I got an opportunity.'''

Some would say that would depend on how you define "opportunity.'' The critics who have labeled this a mismatch see it as an opportunity for De La Hoya to shine in front of his hometown crowd for the first time since he last fought in the Los Angeles area eight years ago. They see it as a tune-up fight against a significantly smaller man in which everything will be out of tune for the opponent De La Hoya has hand picked to bring to the dance.

De La Hoya is three inches taller, has a five-inch reach advantage and is a far more natural 150-pounder than Forbes, who has spent most of his career boxing at between 129 and 143 pounds. Yet while all that is true, Forbes sees things differently. He sees this as the opportunity he never got, even during the 20 months when he was briefly a world champion eight years ago. He sees it as an opportunity to rain on someone else's parade...or maybe just to start his own.

"I'll be well prepared,'' Forbes said. "I'm going to be the spoiler. People ask me what my plan is. That's my plan.''

The Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said, "No spoilers don't cash no checks'' when asked if his haphazard Detroit Tigers team was going to be excited about the possibility of knocking better teams out of a chance at post-season play in 1982. In team sports that may be true but in boxing spoilers often do cash checks. Some times several of them, which is what Forbes concludes is the real blessing of this fight.

"Nobody gave me a chance when I was born and I've done all right,'' Forbes (33-5, 9 KO) said. "Nobody is giving me a chance against Oscar but look at the kind of guys who have beaten him. With the exception of (Bernard) Hopkins they were all small guys.

"(Shane) Mosley. (Floyd) Mayweather. Small, quick guys with good boxing ability. I'm a smaller guy but I'm a guy with boxing ability. I'm a skilled fighter. Oscar's not a full-time fighter any more. To fight a guy like me, you got to be a full-time fighter.

"At his age (35) and him not being an active fighter we'll see how his body reacts. He hasn't fought at 147 (150 actually) in seven years. You can't keep being a part-time fighter and stay sharp.

"When you start saying this is your last year in boxing it's a warning sign right there. This man is a millionaire so many times over. He's thinking about other things. He's thinking about another business deal with Mayweather (in September after tuning up against Forbes). With the odds and him supposedly handpicking me, he's got to come in thinking he can intimidate me with the crowd and his size advantage. There's a chance he'll just overlook me. That'll be his mistake. Maybe a few years ago he would have taken my lunch money but not today.''

A few years ago Forbes was barely fighting for lunch money when he was fighting at all. After losing his title to the scales when he missed making weight by nearly three pounds for a fight against David Santos that he would win on points 5 1/2 years ago, boxing became a part-time job for Forbes too but not by choice.

He would lose two more shots at the world title, one to a cut resulting from a head butt and one by decision and then face a 14-month layoff before his career was resurrected by a most unlikely ally. The former world champion would get his second chance on a reality TV show designed to discover the next unknown contender.

"The Contender'' TV series was not designed for guys like Steve Forbes, guys who had already not only been discovered but who had had their hand raised in a world championship fight.

It was supposed to be about new faces and Forbes was not that. Then again, he'd disappeared for so long that's exactly what he seemed to be to a lot of people not living on the inside of boxing.

So on Jan. 29, 2006 '2 Pound' entered into another fight for survival - the survival of his career. Nine months later he would lose the Contender championship by split decision to Grady Brewer but he would have won much more. He would have won a second chance in a no chance business.

"I've been thinking of a night like this since I was a little kid,'' Forbes said after a day of training in Las Vegas. "When I was growing up Sugar Ray Leonard was the guy. It was 1987 and he'd just beaten (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler. I remember watching them on TV fighting at Caesars Palace. I always envisioned that for myself. The Big Fight. Now it's here."

After I had to give up my title I was pretty much left out in the cold,'' the Portland, OR. native recalled. "Even when I was champion I was known as 'the other guy.' They'd say 'He has a belt. So what?'

"I was off for 14 months after I lost to my last title shot (to Yodsanen Sor Nanthachai) and then The Contender called. Before I did that nothing was going on. I was another sad story in boxing. A wasted talent type of thing. So I thought The Contender was a chance for me to start over.''

It was either that or a place for it all to end in boxing. To be a 30-year-old former world champion unable to compete effectively against the show's lineup of younger, bigger boxers would be to announce your retirement without intending to do so.

So if there's pressure at the Home Depot Center May 3 it's nothing like what Steve Forbes was facing when he first came to fight at The Contender Gym in Pasadena two years ago.

"I knew I couldn't get swept out of it in one fight,'' Forbes said. "The pressure was definitely on. I knew this was pretty much my last shot to make it big so I had to dig deep.

"If I'd been eliminated early it would have been pretty much over for me. That would have been a harsh slap in the face.''

Instead of that, Forbes delivered the harsh slaps all the way to the Contender final against Grady Brewer at the Staples Center in L.A. That night $500,000 was on the line for the winner and $75,000 to the loser but money was, in a way, the least of it.

In the end, Forbes would lose a disputed split decision and although he didn't get the big purse what he did get is what Sparky Anderson might not have thought possible. He got more checks.

The first came against Demetrius Hopkins, a Golden Boy-promoted fighter with a bright future as much from his connections as from his talent. Connections were never something Forbes had after they took the tubes out of him as a baby and so he lost a hotly disputed decision that appeared to set him back.

But appearances in boxing, like most everything else about it, can be deceiving.

"I told him he'd be better off,'' said his promoter, Jeff Wald. "I told him people knew he got ripped off. More people were talking about Steve then Demetrius. Where's Demetrius Hopkins now? He's not fighting Oscar De La Hoya.''

True enough. Steve Forbes will be doing that and he's feeling blessed that an opportunity came that he never expected.

"I'm fighting the biggest name in boxing. Everybody will be watching. I don't know if any other fighter in the world is known like Oscar. Ninety-nine per cent of the people, everyone besides my family, will be for Oscar and that will be a little tough."

"A guy like me doesn't get these kind of fights,'' Forbes said. "I was in the running for (Arturo) Gatti but I didn't get it. (That fight went to fellow Contender alum Alfonso Gomez and led to a painful $650,000 payday against Miguel Cotto several weeks ago in Atlantic City).

"I didn't believe it when they called and told me. I thought one day I'd wake up and somebody would say, 'Only fooling!' It was unreal until the press conference. After that I thought 'Now we gotta run with it.'''

To try and put his best foot forward, Forbes hired Roger Mayweather, Floyd's uncle and trainer, to prepare him. He had known the Mayweather clan for years and sparred several times with young Floyd in gyms around Las Vegas. To him it was a logical choice to make, knowing that the elder Mayweather had come up with the strategy that helped his nephew beat De La Hoya a year earlier.

But nothing comes easy for a guy who started off weighing two pounds, it seems. Almost immediately Floyd threw a money wrench into that plan by threatening to fire his uncle if he trained Forbes. Exactly why is difficult to fathom beyond the fact he had the power to do it because Floyd Mayweather, Jr. would not fight again until he was facing De La Hoya in September. Then again Forbes says, maybe that was the point.

"That stuff with Little Floyd gave me more confidence. Obviously he was worried. If he was sure Oscar wins he wouldn't care who trained me. But he's been in with me. He knows.

"It could have been handled differently. He could have pulled Roger aside. It could have been done earlier. But I did understand his position. It would be a big blow if Oscar loses to me.''

Forbes replaced one Mayweather with another, hiring Roger's brother Jeff to train him. Either way, he says, he understands what he has to do on May 3 and, more importantly, what he must not let happen.

"The secret is avoiding that left hook,'' Forbes said of fighting De La Hoya. "You gotta avoid that.

"You don't want to sit and trade with a guy like that but you don't have to run from him. With him quote-unquote handpicking me, you got to stand up to the bully. It will be a mental game more than a skill game because nobody expects me to be in charge of the fight.

"I'm fighting the biggest name in boxing. Everybody will be watching. I don't know if any other fighter in the world is known like Oscar. Ninety-nine per cent of the people, everyone besides my family, will be for Oscar and that will be a little tough. People say some cruel things in a crowd but people tend to identify with the underdog when he starts to do some good things in the ring.

"It's like a Rocky story really. I got a good chin. I've never been down. And I've got boxing ability. I think he made a little mistake and I'm glad he did.''

"It's like a Rocky story really. I got a good chin. I've never been down. And I've got boxing ability. I think he made a little mistake and I'm glad he did.''

Posted 12:00 AM | Apr 22, 2008

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