Winky Wright’s domination of Felix Trinidad last week was both stunning and emphatic. It likely sent “Tito” into retirement, and sent Wright’s stock soaring as he waits for the winner of Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor in July.
Wright’s performance immediately took its place among the greatest pure performances in fight history.
Here are a five other recent perfect or near-perfect performances.
Sugar Ray Leonard W 12 Marvin Hagler (April 6, 1987): Eighteen years after Leonard-Hagler, there is still a fiery debate as to who really won. But what cannot be debated is the greatness of Leonard’s performance after being away from the ring for three years. Further, Sugar Ray had never fought at middleweight, and he was attempting to climb the highest mountain in boxing, as Hagler was considered by most to be the sport’s ultimate fighting machine. But Leonard entered the Caesars Palace ring in phenomenal shape, and had mastered Hagler’s aggressive style after studying him for years. Leonard used his jab, his smarts and his still-formidable speed to baffle Hagler over the first four rounds, and was helped along by Hagler’s refusal to fight from his more effective southpaw stance. Hagler started to make up some ground in the middle rounds, stunning Leonard with an uppercut. By the end, however, Leonard’s late-round flurries and showboating seemingly put him in control, and closed-circuit television analyst Gil Clancy agreed: “Hagler’s tamed now,” he said in the 11th round. Certainly, you can make a case for Hagler, who pressured Leonard in every round. But Leonard’s performance was stunningly beautiful, and he won a split decision and Hagler’s middleweight crown.
Buster Douglas KO 10 Mike Tyson (Feb. 11, 1990): Of course, nobody gave the unheralded journeyman Douglas a chance going into his challenge of heavyweight king Tyson in Tokyo. Tyson was making his 10th defense of a title he had unified over the previous four years, and was considered the best fighter in boxing. Or, as he put it, “the baddest man on the planet.” But Douglas completely nullified Tyson’s aggressive, hard-charging attack with his best-in-the-division jab that stopped the champ’s attack cold. Plus Buster entered the ring at 229 pounds – his lightest weight in several years. It allowed him to avoid Tyson’s offensives, and to counter with precision. Douglas swept the first four rounds, and by the fifth he began to wobble the champion with four-and-five-punch combinations. The champ’s green corner was helpless, as they tried to stop Tyson’s rapidly swelling left eye with what appeared to be a condom filled with ice water. By round eight, Douglas was in complete control, and had Tyson on the ropes and covering up. If not for a desperation uppercut by “Iron Mike” that dropped Douglas at the end of the eighth, Tyson would likely not have won a round (the official, ridiculous scorecards not withstanding). The knockdown only delayed the inevitable, as Douglas punctuated his masterpiece with a vicious right uppercut that snapped Tyson’s thick neck in the 10th, and a follow-up right-left-right that flattened him. Tyson instinctively got to his feet – after stuffing his gumshield into his mouth backward – but was saved by referee Octavio Meyran. Douglas needed to box a perfect fight to win. And he did, registering the greatest upset in boxing history.
Azumah Nelson KO 8 Jeff Fenech (March 1, 1992): Nine months earlier, Fenech and Nelson engaged in a furious brawl on the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock rematch in Las Vegas. Nelson, a superb boxer-puncher and a two-time world champ from Ghana, had contracted malaria earlier in the year – and was severely weakened. So, unable to use his legs, he brawled with the brawler – and appeared to come up short. The decision was a controversial draw, and so the pair were rematched in Fenech’s native Australia. Fenech, a three-time world champ looking to win his fourth world title, was installed as a big favorite. But Nelson was strong and ready this time and, early in the first round, he dropped Fenech with a powerful left-right combination. Fenech got up, but never recovered. “The Professor” took his challenger to school from there, using beautiful movement, a stiff jab and his big right hand to punish tough-guy Fenech. The mammoth crowd who arrived to watch Fenech finish Nelson saw their man lose every round before being dispatched in the eighth round.
Pernell Whitaker D 12 Julio Cesar Chavez (Sept. 10, 1993): This fight had been years in the making. The two pound-for-pound entrants had campaigned in the same vicinity for their entire careers, but had somehow never met in the ring. Whitaker was the long-reigning lightweight champ who won a title at 140 pounds as well. Chavez was the undefeated and long-reigning junior lightweight champ who won titles at 135 and 140 pounds. In early 1993, Whitaker beat Buddy McGirt to win the WBC welterweight crown, and Chavez challenged him in the year’s biggest fight at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The fighter’s styles couldn’t have been more different. Whitaker was the southpaw boxer who rarely lost rounds, much less fights, and used speed, quickness, smarts and defensive prowess to baffle opponents. Chavez was the classic boxer-puncher who moved forward and wore down his opponents with a heavy body attack and an indomitable will. The edge in this one went to the boxer, Whitaker, who completely bewildered the great Chavez with his angles and boxing skills. Whitaker would punch Chavez, and move slightly to the left or right to avoid retaliation. Like Wright against Trinidad, Chavez was a picture of frustration. He landed on elbows and shoulders and gloves, but no chin. In the middle rounds, Whitaker began to unload on Chavez, who didn’t have any idea how to solve the puzzle. Chavez won rounds here and there, but was weakened some more when Whitaker began to connect hard to his groin. Chavez never gave up, but the decision seemed a foregone conclusion. The draw was unfair to Whitaker, who never got a rematch. The Whitaker fight signaled the beginning of the end for “J.C. Superstar.”
Roy Jones Jr. W 12 James Toney (Nov. 18, 1994): This was a fight that many felt would be a Leonard-Hearns for a new generation – the type of classic struggle that would exult both fighters to legendary status. Toney was the IBF super middleweight king who was to the middleweights what Tyson was to the heavyweights in the late 1980s: A bad man. He had a chip on his shoulder the size of his native Ann Arbor, Michigan, and he had defeated the best of the 160 and 168-pound divisions. In his previous fight, he destroyed light heavyweight titlist Prince Charles Williams and, earlier in the year, made mincemeat of Iran Barkley to win the crown. Jones, meanwhile, was blessed with the total package: speed, power, confidence. He possessed perhaps the fastest hands in middleweight history, and nasty, one-punch KO power. Toney’s toughness and skill would be matched against Jones’ reflexes and ability, and a special night of boxing was expected to result. But no one realized the extent of Jones’ ability, which made Toney look like he was stuck in mud. Toney had no chance of getting close, as Jones simply used his reflexes and offensive artillery to dissuade the champ from moving inside. From long range, the speed made it no contest. And, as if that wasn’t enough, Jones dropped a clowning Toney with a left hook in the fourth round to add insult to injury. Toney never came close, and was shut out. The scores were unanimous for Jones, who went on to master the 168 and 175-pounders. Toney disappeared before resurfacing in 2003.
Wright hopes to follow the leads of Whitaker, Jones, Leonard and Nelson and become an all-time great. He is certainly on the doorstep after his domination of Trinidad. Next will be the Hopkins-Taylor winner.
If he wins that one, there is little doubt that Winky will be a sure thing for Canastota.