LAS VEGAS, June 16 – As we were saying, there should be no interpolating Bernard Hopkins’s masterful performance over Antonio Tarver into making Jermain Taylor the big favorite tomorrow night over Winky (Don’t Call Him Ronald) Wright.
Horses for courses, styles make fights, pick your cliché, and we can so compare apples and oranges – both grow on trees, both are round, apples are red or green and oranges are, well, orange.
But do not think that because Taylor got – some would say “earned” – two close decisions over the counterpunching Hopkins, who then routed a bigger, stronger and younger opponent in Tarver, does not translate into Taylor beating the counterpunching Wright, who is smaller and older.
Not all counterpunchers look alike. Some might look like Hopkins, some might look like Wright. And some might look like Rocky Marciano.
Eddie Futch helped train one of the best. Name of Smokin’ Joe Frazier. The great trainer told me how Frazier was in effect a counterpuncher, whose aggressive style forced opponents into trying to keep him off by throwing bad intentions.
Some counterpunchers are willing to take two or three to counter one.
I bring this up though there is no way the sweet science of Winky Wright should be mistaken for the bob-and-weave defenses of such sluggers as Marciano and Frazier. But Wright is no more Marciano than he is Hopkins.
The slender southpaw from St. Petersburg, unlike Hopkins, initiates most action behind his missile-like right jabs. He forces the opponent into throwing, then counters. He is a lot more active than is Hopkins – even the rejuvenated Bernard who took advantage of the completely off-form (shot) Tarver – and Taylor will be under much more pressure than he was in 24 rounds with the longtime middleweight king.
Ah, but Wright is much more of a gentleman. Taylor, who is very bright for someone who relishes hog calls, has noticed that Wright is a “cleaner” fighter who does not resort to butts and other fouls, like counterpunching below the belt, counterpunching behind the head and the usual assortment of Hopkins tricks.
In fact, though this may lose my card-carrying privileges in the curmudgeon society, I’m actually looking forward to Saturday night’s HBO show, which will begin with the taped showing of Hopkins-Tarver. Some nabobs of negativism may worry that Taylor-Wright could turn into some sort of chess match and they won’t get their allotted portion of blood and guts.
Good. I am hoping for something more artistic, more scientific, more sporting, something that could make Larry Merchant swallow his microphone.
I find this match intriguing. My original gut reaction, when it was announced, was that Wright was just too sophisticated for Taylor. I was impressed that the 27-year-old from Little Rock, after 24 rounds with Hopkins, would ignore his promoter’s advice and look for an easy defense. Taylor showed the class of champions by choosing to face the one true challenger out there. It augers well for his future in this business.
The promoter, Lou DiBella, then helped usher Patrick Burns, a trainer I like, out of Taylor’s corner and brought in Emanuel Steward. My respect for Steward is such that I no longer believe this is going to be an easy night for Winky.
In six weeks, there’s no way that Steward could do anything meaningful with Taylor’s basic style. I expect the kid will still be off-balance throwing his right hand, will still make mistakes defensively with his low left.
But the key to beating Wright is, and this seems so simple I’m ashamed to mention it, hitting him. That’s a lot easier said than done. No one has better defensive skills than Wright, and that includes Floyd Mayweather Jr., who surprisingly gets nailed from time to time (see Chop Chop Corley, Jose Luis Castillo, Sharmba Mitchell), James Toney and Chris Byrd.
It is not only skill that makes Wright as impregnable as Fort Knox. He has exceptionally long arms and when he holds them in front of him, it is almost as if he is wearing a suit of armor. Yes, he is vulnerable to body blows, but drop your hands to hit him there, there’s a good chance your face will be feeling the stings that stopped Felix Trinidad Jr. and Sugar Shane Mosley in their tracks.
So Steward’s addition to the camp makes me wonder if he sees something, the way Max Schmeling “saw something” about Joe Louis before their first encounter. Now, I am not certain that Pat Burns did not see the same thing – the classy trainer has not been answering my calls, obviously not wishing to cause any distractions – nor am I sure that Steward does have answers. The Kronkmeister has been on record saying Wright was the finest boxer pound-for-pound in the world. Now he’s trying to beat him with a comparatively raw talent. After taking over Taylor, Steward said “I knew he was booed, but he’s even better than I thought.”
Oh, where have we heard that one before? Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko, for sure, but let’s not forget Steward has not always been able to transform losers. Of course, if Taylor gets past Wright, Steward will have a long leg up on trainer of the year honors for the work he has already done with Wladimir and the resurrection of the career of Kermit Cintron.
There are some knocks on Steward, too. I do not like to hear how Taylor has been brawling at the Kronk gym. Kronk, say it softly and it’s almost like saying it loudly. I first went there, goodness, 26 years ago, on the advice of the great Pat Putnam, who was then tied up with a major investigation for Sports Illustrated. He said the Detroit gym would make a good feature story.
Joseph Kronk was an otherwise forgettable Detroit city councilman and the squat building, sitting then alone in the middle of blocks of urban rubble, was a typical community center. There were rooms where women knitted, rooms where kids played ping pong. In the overheated basemen was the gym where Steward had begun an assembly line to rival any in Detroit. He would produce Thomas Hearns, Hilmer Kenty, the McCrory brothers, Gerald McClellan, and on and on, with the help of some wonderful assistant trainers. He would then branch out and become, as he likes to say, a “hired gun,” taking over other fighters – from Mark Breland and Evander Holyfield to both Oliver McCall and Lennox Lewis.
When we first met, Emanuel bragged how “you’ll never see a clinch at the Kronk.” True, and when Hearns was hurt in his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, he had no idea what to do and got knocked out. A few years later, after James Kinchen hurt him, Hearns not only grabbed his opponent, but was holding on to the referee as well. He had learned to clinch.
I suspect Taylor is going to have to know how to clinch, especially when Wright works inside. No, this is not going to be Hagler-Hearns, but it should be a spectacular matchup of two skilled middleweights. I expect to be entertained. I don’t expect to get rich unless the odds go drastically one way or another and then I’d be glad to bet the underdog, whoever it is. This is one bout almost too close to call. Okay, I have to make a pick. Wright by decision.
PENTHOUSE: All those caring readers who pointed out that Antonio Tarver was not “0 for Philadelphia,” as I wrote earlier in the week. Of course, he beat Eric Harding in the rematch (and never mind that Harding has long moved to Connecticut)….On the other hand, I did not say Hopkins rose two weight classes to beat Tarver. Since when is super-middleweight a class?
OUTHOUSE: What’s this I read by my old boss, Thomas Gerbasi? The Madison Square Garden ring for last Saturday’s Miguel Cotto-Paulie Malignaggi bout was smaller than usual. The New York State Athletic Commission should be ashamed, cowing to promoter Bob Arum in giving his fighter such an unfair playing field. But then, New York gave promoter Don King an edge by allowing him to bring Andrew (Foul Pole) Golota into the Garden for a title fight.
MORE DISS AND THAT: The other day, in that box on thesweetscience front page where old fighters are quoted, there was Joe Bugner saying he would even fight Jesus Christ. That wasn’t the punchline, though. Bugner had been under pressure from an angry British press corps which had found him carefree in a swimming pool the morning after one of the most lackadaisical efforts in heavyweight history and Bugner said he would fight anyone, even Jesus Christ. To which Hugh McIlvanney, the great Scotsman, replied with his burr, “Ay, that’s because you know he has bad hands.”….My favorite Bugner line was when, at the end of his first career when he was being managed by his wife, I asked him about sex before a fight. “My manager insists on it,” he said….The United States men’s soccer team was ranked No. 5 in the world, apparently by the IBF.