Give + take = Jermain Taylor + Winky Wright.
Jermain Taylor managed to retain his middleweight title, just barely, with a magnificent draw against Winky Wright.
All things leather in the FedEx Forum ring considered, it was a fair enough result.
The riverboat of hope and sporting glory hit friendly shores in Memphis on Saturday night for a stirring HBO broadcast. For Taylor and Wright, it was full battle stations as they traded punches and rounds in setting a high standard for Fight of the Year.
Contrary to many predictions it was Wright who walked the defending champion down, not the other way around. Wright fell just a few steps short, perhaps in the final frame, where he appeared to play it safe for the first time all night.
Prior to the contest, there was pretty much equal support in terms of rational reasons to back either participant. In front of a big, energized crowd, Taylor and Wright showed both arguments were quite valid. They are both as good as it gets at 160 pounds.
While Taylor appeared satisfied after the punishing bout, Wright was disgusted.
“It’s always something with me,” said the improving champion, now 25-0-1 (17). “I gotta give it up to Winky, he had a great jab. In the later rounds, I couldn’t see. I thought I landed a couple good punches, but if they hurt him he played it well.”
“I came to his hometown and showed everybody [but] they gave him what he wanted,” said a bitter Wright, now 50-3-1. “The fans know who won. It’s another Fernando Vargas situation.”
Some handicappers gave Taylor an edge going into the fight based solely on new trainer Emanual Steward. Just as many felt the enduring teamwork of Wright with Dan Birmingham was a proven formula, yet to peak.
When it came down to put strategy into action, things were just about even from corner to corner. Wright kept his guard high and stepped in behind strong southpaw leads. Taylor gave ground willingly, probably to avoid any unnecessary chase.
Both men scored good and plenty.
Taylorshowed defensive skills and Wright showed a pile of thumps. Wright kept up a stinging advance but Taylor made him pay coming in. Wright looked like just as strong a puncher in back and forth action. At times Taylor’s power started to show, but it drained him to employ it.
Wright had his share of fans, and gave them plenty to scream about. Wright’s back barely touched the ropes all night, while Taylor was backed up often.
Their heads collided more than a few times, helping to close Taylor’s left eye, and he bled slightly from the nose. Wright’s puffy brow continued to swell as action progressed, and his face carried numerous new welts.
Going into the final frames, it was still anybody’s fight. Neither man managed a defining final rally. In the 12th Wright went on his toes to cruise control. It probably cost him, as two judges gave Taylor the crucial last session.
Referee Frank Garza did a fine job letting them fight. Taylor was warned twice for shoving Wright downward.
Scoring: Chuck Giampa 115-113 Taylor, Ray Hawkins 115-113 Wright, Melvina Lathan 114-114.
“If I was him I would have kept fighting (in the 12th),” reflected Taylor. “That’s the difference between us. I’d fight Winky again just to show I can beat him.”
“I don’t want a rematch,” said Wright. “People [already] saw what happened. There’s other fights out there.”
Hopefully Wright will reexamine the situation and see what the fans saw, a great display of heart, strength, and guts. That’s always a good show, but you can’t blame Wright if he’s been there, done that.
One of the nicest things about Memphis, or the planet for that matter, is the amount of soulful talent that translates into art. You can hit almost any club and hear a wide range of inspiring, roots-based musicians.
The old masters would approve of both Wright and Taylor, who put on blazing, virtuoso performances.
It was a joyful, balanced noise, and both heroes deserved the cheers.