Learning the ropes
Ex-champ Steve Forbes gets expert advice from local hero Ray Lampkin
Steve Forbes thought he had learned just about everything there was to know about boxing. After all, the Grant High graduate, who turned 26 on Wednesday, had been at it since he was 10. On his way to the IBF world junior lightweight championship, Forbes figured he had absorbed all the lessons he would ever need.
Wrong, Forbes insists now, after a month of training under Ray Lampkin.
'I found out I don't know nothing,' Forbes says before a workout at the Grand Avenue Boxing Club. 'Ray has shown me a lot of simple things that can make me so much better.'
Old-timers remember Lampkin, 55, as one of the boxing greats to come out of this area.
In 1974, as the 26-year-old No. 1 challenger, the Portland native fought world lightweight champion Roberto Duran to a standstill on a blisteringly muggy night in Panama. Heat prostration ultimately cost him as Duran scored a 14th-round knockout.
'It was like amateur night in my corner,' Lampkin recalls. 'They ran out of water. If I could have gotten it myself, I would have. I was ahead on points going into the 14th. Don't know if I would have gotten the decision, but I was there.'
Lampkin suffered a concussion that night and, a year later, he was retired from the ring at 27. For the last 12 years, he has run a construction company in Portland while working with boxers on the side, but the latter endeavor was often unfulfilling.
'I got to the point where I quit wasting my time on guys who say they want to fight but are not serious about it,' says Lampkin, who speaks well and looks as if he could still box a round or two. 'I have other things to do. I only want to work with guys who are real.'
Enter Forbes, who left Portland for Las Vegas in 1996 in pursuit of his dream Ñ a world championship.
Things worked out as planned. Forbes took the International Boxing Federation junior lightweight title (130 pounds) in December 2000 with a win over John Brown, made one successful title defense but lost the belt when he couldn't make weight against Davey Santos in August 2002. (Forbes, weighing 132, defeated Santos that day, and though he was stripped of the title, he earned a mandatory ranking as No. 1 challenger.)
On a visit to Portland last year, Forbes met Lampkin during a workout.
'As a kid, I always looked up to him, and I knew Ray's son (Ray. Jr.),' Forbes says. 'I had my trainer with me that day, but Ray showed me a lot of little tricks, and I liked that. I thought to myself, 'This guy knows his stuff. If I ever come back here to live, this is the guy I want to train me.' '
In January, Forbes, his wife, Dinah, and 5-year-old daughter Sentierra moved back to Portland because he missed family and friends, and he wanted to make his home here again. One of his first orders of business was a call to Lampkin. A partnership was quickly struck.
'I have shown him some things that I thought he knew that he didn't know,' Lampkin says. 'He said other trainers never worked with him on a lot of things he should be doing at this stage of his career.
'I am showing him some different moves and positions to be in. The main thing is to try to stay on balance. He has a tendency to throw punches and get off-balance. I want to work on him throwing a good jab and keeping his balance and stepping in with his punches. That is crucial at the level he's fighting.'
Forbes left Portland because he 'had to go and get noticed' by the boxing world. Now, he would like to get noticed in his hometown. He is the city's least-known world-class athlete and says he'd like to change that.
'It does bother me,' he says. 'I'm the first world champion from here since Denny Moyer in 1962. I'm the No. 1 contender in the prime of my career, and I feel like I should be more well-known here, should have sponsorship and a bigger following.'
Now that he is back in town, it could happen. Forbes, 22-1, has never fought professionally in Portland. He would love to. His promoter, Cedric Kushner, is trying to make it happen.
'To represent this city as champion of the world drives me a lot,' Forbes says. 'I have always been on the outside here. This time, it is going to work out. I hope the people will get behind me while I'm doing it.'
Forbes has a fight scheduled for April 26 in Las Vegas, opponent as yet unknown. Carlos Hernandez, who won the junior lightweight title by beating Santos, must make a title defense against Forbes by Aug. 1. Forbes expects it to take place in July in Hernandez's native El Salvador, with as many as 100,000 fans watching their native son in an outdoor stadium.
'I'm OK with that, as long as we have neutral judges,' Forbes says.
Lampkin's adrenaline is flowing for the first time since his years as a boxer.
'I feel fortunate to be here at the time Steve came back to Portland,' Lampkin says. 'All the other guys I have trained, I have had to try to bring them along. Steve is already there. I feel more qualified to train someone at the top level, because I have been there. I will give 110 percent of myself, and he will, too.
'We have an opportunity to get his title back; my thing is to help him get it. And once we get it, we are going to keep it for a while.'
Or get one at another weight class. The Hernandez fight could be his last one at junior lightweight. The division is too light for Forbes, whose natural weight is close to 170.
'I want to get the title back, then move up to lightweight (135) and possibly junior welterweight (140) to challenge some other fighters,' Forbes says. 'Some boxing magazines call me one of the most underrated fighters in the world. My goal is to become one of the best fighters ever in my weight divisions.'
Forbes has warm memories of his years growing up in Portland. Boxing has been a part of his life since 1987, when he walked by a grocery store with his grandmother and saw Evander Holyfield's photo on the cover of Ring magazine.
'I was like, 'That's it, that's what I want do to with my life,' ' Forbes says.
From junior coaches such as Lee Jenkins, Don Davis, John Peters and Bill Meartz, Forbes learned the basics.
Lampkin now is adding the finishing touches.
Down to earth but motivated to be the best, Steve Forbes can smell the roses in the distance.