In 1994, Ike Quartey said he started to notice good friend Winky Wright changing.
Coming off his first loss to Julio Cesar Vasquez, Wright had stopped dancing and started defending. His hands were higher, his jab a primary weapon.
Quartey, who fights Wright on Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum, was flattered.
"That's my style,'' he said. "He adopted my style.''
At the time, the fighters had the same promoter, shared a room and a dinner table, played basketball, and boxed on four cards together in France.
Quartey thinks he rubbed off on his buddy.
"I don't know if that's really true,'' said Wright's trainer, Dan Birmingham. "I mean, Winky was still developing and slowly getting rid of his amateur style. He didn't really copy anyone.''
Wright agrees Quartey fought that way first: hands high, coming forward, using the jab as the main course and not as an appetizer.
But while Quartey disappeared from boxing in 2000, Wright continued and redefined the style. With a few tweaks around the first Shane Mosley fight, it became his.
But not better, says Quartey.
"My jab is different. It's better,'' said Quartey, who turned 37 Monday. "He knows I got the best jab in the business. I have a better jab than him, I'm stronger than him and I'm smarter than him. He knows.''
That you're better?
Quartey's jab, which earned him the nickname Bazooka, remains a formidable weapon. But defensively, there are holes. He was knocked down four times in his last three fights before walking away, and has been down once in his comeback.
Still, his punching power and slickness make him dangerous, as does a small dose of desperation.
"Ike believes he is fighting for his legacy,'' promoter Lou DiBella said.
A former world champion, Quartey retired in his prime, after consecutive losses to Oscar De La Hoya and Fernando Vargas left him disillusioned and disgusted.
For years, he developed land in his hometown of Accra, the capital of Ghana. His construction company built two hotels and a hospital, and he became richer out of the ring than he had been in it.
He doesn't need the money, said DiBella, an HBO executive at the time of Quartey's semi-retirement, who had a hunch Quartey would be back.
The call came in September 2004.
"I saw Bernard (Hopkins) and Oscar fight, and I called Lou,'' Quartey said. "I told him I could beat those guys right now.''
He is 3-1 since, still on a quest for a rematch with De La Hoya. That'll only happen, however, if what he thinks Wright knows is indeed true.
John C. Cotey can be reached at (727) 869-6261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.