Mora in search of respect against Forrest

Contender or pretender? Sergio Mora, right, will get his chance to prove his worth at 154 pounds against Vernon Forrest on Saturday. AP Photo/Danny Moloshok

Like Aretha Franklin in 1967, all Sergio Mora is looking for is a little respect.

He got absolutely none from Vernon Forrest during a conference call last week promoting their super welterweight title fight Saturday in Uncasville, Conn.

Forrest will be defending his title for the second time and he let Mora know in no uncertain terms that if he fights a face-first fight, he will land in the hospital.

"Come and fight and I promise they're going to take you out on a stretcher," said Forrest, who, in a play on words described Mora as a "pretender." Mora, of Los Angeles, won the first season of "The Contender."

Forrest talked a lot of trash throughout the conference call. Some of what he said made sense. Mora, 27, is 20-0-1. But he has just five knockouts and no real vicious opponents on his ring record. Arguably the two most threatening names on his ledger are Elvin Ayala and Peter Manfredo.

The draw on Mora's record came against Ayala two fights ago in October; Ayala was knocked out by middleweight champion Arthur Abraham in the 12th round in March.

Mora beat Manfredo twice, but Manfredo showed he might be short of world-class status when he was completely overmatched in a challenge to super middleweight stud Joe Calzaghe. Calzaghe bombed out Manfredo in three rounds in April 2007, 18 months after Manfredo's second loss to Mora.

Mora could be equally overmatched against Forrest, who is 40-2 with 29 knockouts and is a two-division world champion who owns two victories over Shane Mosley.

That, essentially, was the point Forrest was trying to make last week after Jeff Wald of Tournament of Contenders, Mora's promoter, talked about "upsets" by two "Contender" fighters -- Alfonso Gomez and Brian Vera.

Gomez stopped a washed-up Arturo Gatti in the seventh round in July. But Gomez was blasted by Miguel Cotto in April and did not answer the bell for the sixth round. Vera stunned everyone by stopping highly touted middleweight Andy Lee in the seventh round in March.

"Don't compare me with no Gatti or Andy Lee," Forrest said. "Don't even put my name in the same breath."

At one point, Forrest went on a profanity-laced tirade directed at Mora. Wald was not amused.

"You've been very disrespectful," Wald told Forrest, who lashed back with more expletives. Even Mora's promoter couldn't get any respect.

To his credit, Mora did not come unglued. Being calm and collected is one thing, but being a borderline world-class fighter about to step into the ring with an established world-class fighter is yet another. Even if Forrest is 37.

Mora knows it. He also understands that this is the biggest opportunity of his career. It's a chance to prove to the boxing world, as well as himself, that he is a star-caliber fighter capable of making big headlines and big money. A chance to get rid of the "pretender" jacket.

"It's definitely a big step up for me, but I think it's time for me to take that step," Mora said. "If you look at my last 10 opponents, they have 80 to 90 percent winning records.

"I may not deserve this title shot … But as far as me being a formidable fighter, I've proven myself against different opposition that would prove that I actually do have a chance against Forrest."

Mora last year turned down a fight with then-middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. The fight would have been held in Memphis -- Taylor's quasi backyard -- and Mora said he didn't think he could win there. The stars, he intimated, are now aligned for him.

"I'm ready and prepared, and I'm hitting my peak, my physique, the way I'm taking camp and life," Mora said. "I'm ready. I'm 27. I'm ready and in my prime. I have nothing but respect for Forrest. I can see by what he's saying he has no respect for me, which is cool.

"That's fine. But when it comes down to it, I can say all I want. I still have to do what I'm going to do. Whether I'm real or not, a contender or pretender, I have to prove something on June 7."

Forrest also referred to Mora's style as "garbage" and admitted to laughing at Mora after sparring with him some years ago.

"I beat him up with one arm," Forrest said.

Someone finally asked Mora if Forrest's show of disdain gave him added incentive.

"No, man, that doesn't motivate me," he said. "What motivates me is other stuff. Man, I'm getting entertained by this. Listen, I can say what I will do and what I won't do, vice versa. The bottom line is he's the champion. He's proven himself. I'm a guy who is fighting for the championship and I need to prove myself. That's the basic story line. That's it."

Mora, talking coolly, implied he understands his position.

"I expected to be the underdog, obviously," he said. "As far as his insults go, I can't do anything about that. That's what Forrest says. I'm not a pretender. I know that.

"I know I'm a damn good fighter. I have enough pride to not embarrass myself or embarrass my promotional company. Bottom line is I'm coming to fight and that's it. I'm ready for this."

If he is, he'll get all the respect he wants when he gets home.

Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.