Tonight, in his own backyard, Winky Wright, one of St. Petersburg's finest ambassadors and one of the best fighters on earth, will step into the world that has made him famous and rich. He will be Winky the boxing star, followed by hundreds of cameras, cheered by 13,000 fans, analyzed by ringside announcers and scrutinized by the world. This is the Winky Wright everyone knows. Here's the one those closest to him know.
His day begins, generally, with a run.
The rest of it is filled with even more of the mundane. Watching television, talking on his three phones (two Motorola Razrs and a Blackberry), joking with friends and smiling.
He smiles a lot, even doing dishes in his 3,500-square-foot condo.
He hasn't been there long, but there already are rules.
Rule No. 1: Take off your shoes.
Rule No. 2: No dishes in the sink, so Wright scrubs clean a plastic container that once held leftover pork chops with honey glaze.
"Want a drink? Water? Soda? How about some grape Kool-Aid? And I mean real grape Kool-Aid.''
Strength coach Darryl Hudson and business buddy Damian Ramirez sit on one of two brown leather sofas in a minimally decorated living room. Ramirez is perpetually on his cell, managing Wright's day-to-day business.
Wright and girlfriend Tammye Ryan still are in the process of moving in.
"We had an interior designer come in and they wanted $50,000, can you believe that?'' Wright says. "They think because you have a little money, you just throw it away.''
Wright admits to throwing away hundreds of thousands at the crap tables on his many trips to Las Vegas, but he has sworn off that. He's still quick to reach into his pocket to drop $500 in a friend's lap or buy Christmas presents for his kids' less-fortunate friends.
"I had a lot of people look out for me when I was coming up,'' Wright said. "I appreciated that.''
Raven and Roemello's place
Wright proudly shows off his children's rooms. A mural depicting a scene out of a Hawaii tourism brochure covers all four walls of 14-year-old Raven's room. She hasn't outgrown Dora the Explorer just yet, as two dolls attest.
A cable box is precariously perched atop a 42-inch flatscreen TV. Wright sighs, shakes his head and moves it to a safer spot.
On one wall in 10-year-old Roemello's room, Dwyane Wade soars through the air, ready to slam home a dunk.
"He loves sports,'' Wright says, pointing to an Xbox and Xbox 360 and a few cases of sports games.
A PlayStation 3 is on the way, compliments of a buddy who owns a video game store.
Wright shows another room that's going to be a movie room but now stores old boxing trunks - he proudly pulls out the ones he wore when he beat Felix Trinidad - and clothes, most of which still have tags on them.
As he closes the door, Fifi (a brown Shih-Tzu) and Pepper (a rat terrier) nip at his heels. He had freed them from a crate in Raven's room a few seconds earlier, and they can't stop thanking him.
"I can make them fight, watch,'' Wright says. "Get her Fifi. Come on. Get her!''
Pepper takes off, Fifi in hot pursuit, doing circles around a coffee table, and Wright can't stop laughing. Soon, the whole room is in stitches as Fifi pins Pepper to the ground.
Minding his business
Wright's decision to change promoters and start his own company, and his hardline stance in negotiations have been scrutinized and criticized, choices some think will cost him millions. But here's the deal, he says:
They are my decisions.
For Wright, that is of supreme importance after years of feeling ignored, rejected, used and misused.
Besides, it makes him happy. Really happy.
He motions to Ramirez to toss him the television remote, and quickly finds what he's looking for: Family Feud.
"Every day, back-to-back, 2 and 2:30,'' he says, smiling, as if he'd uncovered a lost episode of The Honeymooners.
It's a race among Wright, Hudson and Ramirez to answer before the contestants do.
"I like the Family Feud, Wheel of Fortune, Maury Povich,'' Wright says of his daytime watching.
After the sun sets, it's all the CSI shows, 24, Deal or No Deal.
Oh, and Charmed.
On campus, just another dad
One of the benefits of fighting at home is being able to pick up the kids at school. Wright spent months training in Las Vegas, and his business keeps him away for long stretches, which explains why, for a moment, he seems lost as he steers his black Mercedes S550 through the back streets of St. Petersburg.
On campus, Wright is just another dad. The kids know who he is. They stare and point. But no big deal.
Some of the teachers wish him luck. A few boys nearby try to catch his attention with some shadow boxing.
Look! It's Winky!
Wright does not let fame keep him home, or from a good chicken sandwich.
Quaila Jones, thoroughly unruffled, looks him straight in the eyes. The 17-year-old Northeast High senior punches in the order like she would any customer.
Chick-fil-A co-worker Brenda Ruffin is not so cool. She cowers behind Jones, her face ready to explode in delight.
Soon, the girls working the drive-through come over.
"He's famous,'' Jones says, pointing toward the man with the straight hairline and million-dollar smile.
The girls do not understand.
"It's Winky Wright.''
They giggle. But they've heard the name. Would he mind, then, signing a few things? Like this napkin. Oh, and this empty bag. How about a receipt?
Ruffin gets a T-shirt signed.
"I'll never wash this shirt again,'' she says, smiling and tilting her head again to gaze at the signature.
Thirty minutes later, when Wright walks from the restaurant, Ruffin is showing her shirt off to a customer, still smiling.
Qualia doesn't get an autograph.
"I don't like to hassle him,'' she said. Besides, "I see him around St. Pete all the time.''
On the court at Northside Christian, Raven shows some of her dad's aggressiveness. The left arm and sometimes a shoulder is used to hold off defenders.
"Just like her daddy.''
Back on with the gloves
When the game is over (a 26-19 loss), it's time for work. Followed by Hudson, driving Wright's other Mercedes, the cars weave through traffic, cross the Gandy and pull up to the St. Pete Times Forum for an open workout. Then it's off to the St. Pete Boxing Club for a night of training.
Soon, he will be sparring with trainer Dan Birmingham, working on his jab, getting ready for tonight, when for a few hours he will be the Winky Wright everyone knows.
Winky the boxing star.
John Cotey can be reached at email@example.com.
HBO Championship Boxing at the St. Pete Times Forum. Televison broadcast begins at 9:45 p.m.
Winky Wright vs. Ike Quartey
Stat Wright Quartey
Home St. Pete Ghana
Weight 159.2 157
Height 5-10 5-8
Reach 72'' 71''
Record 50-3-1 37-3-1
1. JABS: Is Wright's right better than Quartey's left? And can Quartey get his through Wright's impenetrable defense?
2. SIZE: Wright is noticeably bigger than Quartey, and should have his way the closer the two men fight. He could outweigh Quartey by as much as 15 pounds tonight.
3. STYLE: Wright has been able to make others fight his fight. But with a similar style, that may not be an issue for Quartey.
4. PRESSURE: Quartey has hinted that a loss may be it for him as he desperately wants a rematch with Oscar De La Hoya. Wright has to impress his hometown crowd.
5. INTANGIBLES: Either fighter's careers would take a serious jolt with a loss. Wright could be looking at a $10-million year or more in 2007, so this would be a bad time for a letup.
Jeff Lacy vs. Vitali Tsypko
Stat Lacy Tsypko
Home St. Pete Ukraine
Weight 166.5 168
Height 5-9 5-7
Reach 74'' 76''
Record 21-1 17-1
1. JABS: Lacy ignored instructions to throw them against Joe Calzaghe, but he must use the right tonight. Tsypko has a solid jab and will try to copy the Calzaghe plan of getting off first.
2. SIZE: Lacy looks like he can break Tsypko in two. But then again, so did Calzaghe.
3. STYLE: Few people have seen Lacy work out, but those that have say he is a better all-around fighter. With the crowd behind him, expect him to throw lots of haymakers.
4. PRESSURE: Lacy never got close to Calzaghe. He'll be all over Tsypko.
5. INTANGIBLES: Tsypko isn't a top-of-the-line opponent, but he may be just what's needed to boost Lacy's confidence.
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