You have to hand it to Winky (“Don’t call me Ronald!”) Wright. Very few have exuded as much patience as has the consensus junior middleweight champion throughout his fifteen year career. It often appeared as if the long wait would never pay off.
But as the saying goes, patience is a virtue. While Wright will never be mistaken for a knockout artist (25 KOs in 51 fights), his greatest strength lies within his mental makeup. His skills and ring knowledge have led to 48 wins. His patience has now led to three consecutive career-high paydays and the opportunity of a lifetime at thirty-three years of age as he looks to knock off Felix “Tito” Trinidad this weekend at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Saturday, May 14, 9PM/ET on HBO-PPV).
Along with the multimillion dollar payday, Wright is now in the unique position of having multiple options regardless of the result. A win puts him in line for a lucrative rematch, and a shot at middleweight supremacy after that. A loss would still allow him to return to junior middleweight, even if his maximum earning potential would take a hit.
Regardless of what goes down May 14, Wright certainly has more to look forward to than at any point in his career.
For the first thirteen years of his professional career, Wright toiled in obscurity. Long calling out the best in or near the junior middleweight division, Wright was often forced to settle for second best; his only participation in super-fights was limited to co-feature attraction or spectator.
In and out of the ring, timing is the key to success. While his timing between the ropes was almost always on point, none of the other big names seemed to have the time outside the ropes to negotiate a fight with one of the sport’s slickest fighters.
That was until we reached 2004.
When Ricardo Mayorga lost to Cory Spinks late in 2003, also lost was a potential March 2004 bout with newly crowned junior middleweight champion “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Having already turned down a lucrative third fight with twice-conquered Oscar De La Hoya, Shane found himself without a dance partner to start the year.
There were talks of Shane moving up to middleweight to serve as Trinidad’s comeback opponent following a two-year hiatus from the ring. When those talks were put on hold while Trinidad pushed back his intended return date, Shane was suddenly left with only one option: aim for the undisputed junior middleweight championship.
Shane already possessed two belts (WBC and WBA). The IBF belt belonged to Wright, who obtained the title after Trinidad vacated the crown in 2001. It didn’t take long for both parties to agree to terms. In a nutshell, Wright accepted a similar offer that was made in late 2001, when HBO pressured a then-undefeated Shane Mosley to upgrade the competition.
Back then, Wright didn’t believe that he should settle for 20% of the pot when it was Shane who was moving up to fight for his title. Two-and-a-half years later, Wright realized the time was right to make such an investment. After twelve dominating rounds in March 2004, Wright reaped major dividends.
Becoming the first undisputed junior middleweight champ in nearly thirty years, the world was finally at Winky’s fingertips. His contract with Square Ring, Inc. had just expired, and he now had three promoters vying for the right to promote the remainder of his career. After a month long game of musical promoters, Wright decided to do what he does best: wait it out.
Many believed Don King would be the frontrunner in the Winky Wright sweepstakes. Wright had a deal in place, but it was contingent upon King delivering Trinidad. When King paused on selecting the slick southpaw as Trinidad’s welcome-back opponent, the deal remained on the table while a rematch with Mosley surfaced.
November came, and so did another win over Shane. While closer than the first fight, Wright proved without a shadow of a doubt that he was the man to beat at junior middleweight. He would soon prove to be the man to beat at the negotiating table as well.
King reentered the picture, but scaled back his original offer for a Trinidad fight. Team Tito attempted to play hardball, insisting that Winky needed them more than they needed him.
Wright failed to comprehend such logic.
“If I was worth $5 million in March, how am I worth less than that after a second win over Shane,” Wright asked after fielding what he considered an insulting offer of $3.5 million. “I’ve paid my dues over the years; it’s time to collect. King should know this better than anyone: If it don’t make dollars, then it can’t make sense.”
King and Team Trinidad rode out 2004 maintaining the position that they were in the driver’s seat. But when one potential date after another passed by without a dance partner, they reconsidered.
Eventually, they gave in and did the Wright thing.
Or did they?
“Trinidad is already focusing on fights down the line,” Wright said. “But you know what? Shane Mosley made a very big mistake looking ahead to fighting Trinidad before our first fight. If Tito wants to make that same mistake, looking ahead to fighting Hopkins before he fights me, who am I to complain? I’m just looking forward to that big money rematch.”
So would the betting public, or at least those who are taking advantage of Wright coming as a 2-1 underdog when the fight was first announced. The odds have slightly dropped since then, with Wright closer to an 8½-5 as this column goes to print. The odds don’t bother Winky; he’s been beating them all his life, and knows that it wouldn’t be the first time the odds makers mistook popularity for superiority.
“I am considered an underdog in this fight because everyone knows Tito or they think I am the smaller man. But I am not the smaller man,” insisted Wright. “This is a great weight for me.”
How great he is at middleweight remains to be seen. But those who want to dismiss the theory that Tito is the bigger fighter need look no further than the resumes of the two combatants. Wright has spent his entire career at junior middleweight, while Trinidad began at junior welterweight. Trinidad was visibly heavy in his downtime away from the sport, and has appeared to be a bit fleshy in each of his four middleweight fights. Even when walking around at 175-180, Wright always appears in fighting trim.
All that aside, Winky puts the move to middleweight in proper perspective: “I’m not jumping thirteen pounds and two weight classes. It’s just six pounds and it’s my natural weight. I feel great and I have been working with naturally bigger men like Jeff Lacy, Antwun Echols and Carlos De Leon Jr. Lacy hits a lot harder than Tito. This is only the second time Tito has fought a natural middleweight who was not faded and we all know what happened when he fought Hopkins.”
True. But Bernard is far and away the best middleweight in the world, and one of the all-time best at the weight. Not everyone can watch that fight and duplicate the performance.
Then again, not everyone has a Trainer of the Year in their corner. Hopkins’ trainer, Bouie Fisher was named 2001’s top cornerman as a result of the Trinidad fight. Winky has a lifelong friend in his corner boasting such credentials going in to the fight.
“I have watched and broken down tapes of many of Tito’s fights,” said Wright’s trainer Dan Birmingham a few days after receiving the 2004 Trainer of the Year award by the Boxing Writers Association of America. “All you have to do is study the first six rounds of De La Hoya-Trinidad and the last six rounds of Hopkins-Trinidad to get a blueprint on how to defeat Tito.”
Birmingham has a brilliant boxing mind, but that task is easier said than done. At least 42 others will agree, with 35 of them unable to hear the final bell.
Wright doesn’t care about such numbers, or what anyone else thinks of his chances. Wright doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, because very few can think better than him in the ring. That, he believes, is a greater strength than what Trinidad has to offer.
“Tito may be a stronger fighter than me, but I am a smarter fighter. He is one-dimensional. I have a lot of different weapons and styles and can and will adapt to the situation. I am not worried about Tito because he is very limited. He needs to worry about my jab, and how I will outthink him. He cannot fight smart fighters. Look at what happened when he fought Hopkins. Tito may be stronger, but I have better skills.”
Birmingham concurs: “We will be implementing very specific things to counter Tito. This fight is all about Winky. If Winky executes the game plan, there is nothing Tito can do to stop it. Nothing.”
After it’s over, all Wright wants to hear about are the terms for the rematch. No excuses, no cries of conspiracy . . . in other words, he doesn’t want a repeat what took place after Tito’s first and only loss to date.
“Tito had a lot of excuses for his loss to Bernard Hopkins, but there will be no excuses when he loses to me Saturday night. He will have lost to the better man and a smarter fighter. I have waited my whole professional life for this opportunity and I am well-prepared for a great fight.”
If he performs in a super-fight as well as he’s waited for one, then there’s no reason to doubt him.