Sam Soliman isn’t well known on this part of the planet. Mention his name in places like Topeka or Omaha and they’ll scratch their chins, shake their heads and try to place the name.
“Sam? Sam Soliman? Hmmm. No, doesn’t sound familiar. Wait a second. Didn’t he work for that Insurance company back in Lincoln, married that pretty little thing from Council Bluffs whose daddy owned a car dealership? No? Well, I guess I don’t know him then.”
It doesn’t help that Soliman is from Australia, which, to some people in this country, is like being from the planet Jupiter. Soliman’s name isn’t going to be heard at too many dinner tables outside his own Melbourne neighborhood.
Of course, it wasn’t that long ago when Winky Wright wouldn’t turn a lot of heads, either. He could have strolled down the Vegas Strip on a Friday night and no one would have taken a second look.
But for Wright, those days have pretty much disappeared, all but gone in a matter of about 20 months. Beat guys like Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley (twice) and your days of walking into a Target store unnoticed are gone.
So when someone on a conference call asked Wright (49-3, 25 KOs) how hard it was to get motivated for his Dec. 10 title elimination fight against Soliman (31-7, 12 KOs) at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut (HBO), Wright came clean.
“I can’t lie,” he said. “It’s not the same fighting Sam as it was fighting Tito Trinidad. But Sam is the No. 1 contender. We’ve got to train hard and we’ve got to get motivated because we want to show the world that we’re the best fighter out there.”
There’s also motivation in the fact that the Wright-Soliman winner becomes the mandatory challenger to the winner of the Bernard Hopkins-Jermain Taylor middleweight rematch set for Dec. 3.
Unfortunately in the fight game, ‘mandatory challenger’ carries about as much weight as ‘fifth alternate.’
But Wright doesn’t let it worry him. If he beats Soliman, he’s not too concerned about who he fights next, whether it’s Hopkins, Taylor or a pumped-up Floyd Mayweather Jr.
“Whoever wins, wins,” he said of the Hopkins-Taylor fight. “Whoever wants to fight me, they fight me. If they don’t, then they move on. I don’t need another fighter like that to build my career. I’m trying to take care of myself.”
Soliman comes into this fight with nothing to lose. Outside of his handlers and his immediate family, not many people give him much of a chance to win. And even those people close to him probably have serious doubts.
But Soliman thinks he can beat Wright, and on fight night, he’s the only one who really has to believe it.
“We’ve got a lot in common, me and Winky,” he said on the conference call from Australia. “We’ve both traveled the world and we’ve both looked around for the best fighters. I took fights on short notice. I took fights out of my weight division. We’ll both fight anyone, anywhere, anytime, and that’s what makes this such a special fight. I’ve fought many undefeated fighters and put a stop to their undefeated records. I’m a legitimate contender for this No. 1 position.”
Like Wright, who fought all over the world before he finally got the big fights, Soliman has fought in places like Japan, England, the Netherlands, Fiji and Germany. He’s won his last 19 fights, and has eight knockouts in his last 10.
But unlike Wright, there aren’t any Mosleys or Trinidads listed on his record.
Wright says he doesn’t need a big name to remind people of who he is. Not now, not anymore. Not with the way he toyed with Trinidad in their fight earlier this year.
Asked who was still on his wish list, he said Hopkins, Taylor, Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya.
Not a bad lineup.
“There’s nobody else I’d fight with the name recognition that can really do anything for me,” he said.
Soliman doesn’t have that problem. He just wishes he did.