St. Petersburg boxer Winky Wright returning to ring at age 40

It has been nearly three years since he stepped into a boxing ring, and in that time Winky Wright has been living like the rest of us: tending to business, mixing in some pleasure — mainly golfing — and spending lots of time with his wife and kids.

"Life," he said. "I've been doing life."

But time has flown. And now, for Winky Wright the boxer, there is precious little remaining.

On June 2, St. Petersburg's most decorated pugilist will step back into the ring for the first time since a decisive 2009 loss to Paul Williams.

The dream is the same it always has been: string a couple of wins together, land a title shot and ride off into the Gulf of Mexico sunset as a champion.

"I'm 40. If I'm going to do this," Wright said, "I have to do it now."

• • •

On Monday morning, Wright's longtime trainer, Dan Birmingham, and Clearwater's young champ-in-waiting, Keith Thurman, will board a flight to Arizona to meet up with Wright, who is already in Phoenix working on conditioning.

Before he left, Wright sparred with Thurman, Tampa Bay's boxing past swapping punches with Tampa Bay's boxing future.

"Wink looked really sharp," said Birmingham, who trains both fighters. "The reflexes are still there, the speed is still there. He'll just have to overcome the boredom of training at his age.

"Sometimes with older fighters, the fire burns out. But Winky seems really enthusiastic, and he took the initiative of finding a place in Arizona to get conditioned."

Wright (51-5-1 with 25 knockouts) is scheduled to fight Peter Quillin, an undefeated 28-year-old nicknamed Kid Chocolate, in a 160-pound bout at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

The fight will be televised by Showtime.

Wright hopes this is the first of two or three fights that lines him up for a title shot or big-money fight with the likes of Sergio Martinez or Miguel Cotto.

Mostly, he is hoping this isn't his last fight.

Years ago, Wright swore he wouldn't allow himself to be a target for younger fighters looking to pad their resume. He wouldn't follow a payday right into the right hand of a younger, stronger fighter.

"When I retire, I'm retired, that's it," said Wright, who is looking for his first win since a decision over Ike Quartey in 2006. "I'm not coming back fighting a kid that's undefeated to see if I can do this or do that, I want to fight because I want to win a championship. If I can't beat this kid, I don't need to be fighting.

"I'm coming back to kick some (butt)."

• • •

Wright will fight, for the first time, on the same card with friend and Tampa resident Antonio Tarver.

Along with Wright and St. Petersburg's Jeff Lacy, Tarver was part of Tampa Bay's terrific trio from 2003-06, with each fighter holding titles in different weight classes.

Now 43, Tarver also is looking for one more big fight, possibly with one of the Klitschko brothers in the heavyweight division.

Tarver will take on 29-year-old Lateef Kayode in a cruiserweight fight June 2.

Left for the retirement heap after consecutive losses to Chad Dawson in 2008 and '09, Tarver captured the IBO cruiserweight title last year by becoming the first fighter to knock out Australia's Danny Green, completing the latest comeback by the Tampa fighter.

As Wright trains with Thurman, the 16-0 thunder puncher who fights May 4, he can only chuckle about the two veterans still holding it down for Tampa Bay boxing.

"That's right," Wright said. "The plan is to go out there and show these young kids what we know."

Wright and Tarver remain popular in Tampa Bay. They will always be remembered for the championships they won and for the attention they brought to the area.

When they both step into the ring in June, a good many fans are sure to be on their side.

Even if time isn't.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com

St. Petersburg boxer Winky Wright returning to ring at age 40 04/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 12, 2012 8:42pm]

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