Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Sports

Looking back at St. Petersburg boxer Winky Wright's career

Winky Wright announced his retirement last week after losing a unanimous decision to Peter Quillin, a promising middleweight but — it's fair to say — one who would have been easy work for Wright in his prime. • Wright, 40, did it the hard way: amateur career and local cards to start his career; a stint overseas; and a determined trip down a long road that never seemed to go in the direction he believed it would. • But in the end, he won titles, earned millions and made St. Petersburg proud. • Here's a look back at the career of the bay area's greatest fighter.

Three things that made him great

1The jab. You thought I was going to say defense, didn't you? Nope. Wright's right jab was his best weapon. It was a lethal weapon in his biggest fights, and it was underappreciated. When it was on, it was awesome.

2Defense. Wright will be remembered for his turtle shell defense. At times, he was unhittable. When he fought Sam Soliman in 2005, Soliman threw 1,260 punches over 12 rounds; 1,086 didn't land.

3Personality. Wright remains a popular guy. He avoided the trouble that befalls many fighters, and he was always friendly to his fans and respectful toward his opponents during the prefight buildup. You don't see that much these days.

Three best performances

1May 14, 2005: Wright was, in a word, perfect. After years of chasing a fight with Felix Trinidad, he finally got him at Las Vegas' MGM Grand and put on an exhibition. Wright landed 185 jabs. Trinidad landed just 15 and never had a chance. One judge scored every round for Wright (120-107). The other two gave him 11 of 12 (119-108). How good was Wright? The contract stipulated if Wright won, he had to give Trinidad a rematch. But the Puerto Rican legend retired two days later.

2 March 13, 2004: After four years of B-level competition, Wright finally found a fighter willing to meet him in the ring, Sugar Shane Mosley. Wright put his IBF junior middleweight title on the line while Mosley defended his WBC and WBA belts. Wright walked out with all three belts, capturing a decisive 117-111, 117-111, 116-112 stunner that included some of the most aggressive fighting of his career.

3 June 17, 2006: Most at ringside, including the Associated Press, had Wright beating middleweight champ Jermain Taylor. But the judges scored it draw. Wright walked Taylor down all night, and Taylor looked like the beaten fighter afterward. Rarely do you see a draw celebrated, but Team Taylor did when the decision was announced. Guess why?

Three most underrated performances

1 Nov. 20, 2004: Wright took more punishment in the rematch with Shane Mosley but in many ways was more impressive — and exciting. Wright went toe to toe with Mosley and finished stronger, taking the last three rounds on the judges' scorecards to pull out the win.

2Aug. 21, 1994: Wright was knocked down five times (two were slips, he still maintains). But his unanimous decision loss to Julio Cesar Vasquez in the WBA title bout was highly entertaining. You can see Wright still developing as a defensive boxer, but he mixed it up all night with the hard-nosed Argentinian. You can find the entire fight on YouTube.

3June 17, 2006: I'll say it again. He walked Jermain Taylor down all night and beat the enjoyment of boxing right out of the 2000 Olympian.

Three career-defining memes

1Wright the ducked? He earned a reputation as a fighter others ducked. That reputation might have been forged on Dec. 4, 1999. He was excellent for nine rounds against the unbeaten and heralded young IBF champion Fernando Vargas, Wright's first shot at the big time. While most fans believed he won, the judges determined Wright didn't finish strongly enough, favoring Vargas in the 10th and 12 rounds to give him a majority decision win. Still, it was the kind of performance that would vault a fighter to bigger and better things. Those didn't come for Wright until another four years, possibly because of what he did to Vargas.

2Wright the boring? If you define boring as not knocking people out, fair enough. Otherwise, not that fair considering the opposition. Wright earned this reputation in the four years after his action-packed fight with Vargas. He had little choice but to fight Bronco McKart (for a second time), Keith Mullings, Robert Frazier, Jason Papillion, McKart (for a third time), Juan Carlos Candelo and Angel Hernandez. He didn't knock them out, though. He just humiliated them on the scorecards. Among the 15 judges' scores in the fights that went the distance, 13 were 117-111 or worse. Unfortunately for Wright, the executives at HBO at the time bought into this meme and expressed little interest in putting him on their network; the beginning of a long love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship between the two. When the competition improved, starting with Shane Mosley, Wright delivered solid action fights, even if they didn't end in knockouts.

3Wright the stubborn? His negotiations for fights were often painful affairs. Whether you believe he was right or not, Wright had his price and rarely was willing to take less. He went through lots of promoters and was in discussions at some point with almost every great fighter of his era, including Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya. Some believe he let pride get in the way of the bigger picture (see Taylor, Jermain) and failed as a businessman. Others believe he firmly stood for what he believed he was worth.

Three regrets (though Wright says he has none)

1 No Jermain Taylor rematch. Wright, No. 2 in the Ring Magazine pound-for-pound rankings behind Floyd Mayweather at the time, never capitalized on the 2006 draw with Taylor. It should have been the taking-off point for a few lucrative, Hall of Fame-clinching, career-defining years. Instead, he fought Ike Quartey in Tampa, his last win. He had to meet Bernard Hopkins on Hopkins' terms of 170 pounds the following spring, took an ill-advised fight with Paul Williams after a long layoff, then attempted a comeback at age 40 against Peter Quillin. He lost all three by unanimous decision. What if? We'll never know.

2 He never fought Oscar De La Hoya. Boo.

3 The inactivity at the end. The time between his last two fights (almost five years) led to losses, and it wasn't the way we believed Wright would go out. In his prime, Wright smokes Quillin 117-111.

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