Maybe the most telling moment of Saturday night’s middleweight crown showdown between Winky Wright and Jermain Taylor came during trainer Dan Birmingham’s final exchange with his fighter as he readied him for the twelfth and final round. As opposing trainer Manny Steward calmly complimented Taylor with “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” as he sat on his stool, across the ring Birmingham desperately barked out orders to Wright as if his fighter was battling for his life.
“Use your legs, go in, go out. You gotta use your f****** heart.”
Either Winky had trouble hearing Birmingham’s sentence-long motivational speech or he simply decided to ignore his trainer’s urgent advice, believing he had earned the luxury to take the round off and celebrate victory. The crowd wasn’t that loud. Winky heard the instructions, but in his mind the fight was already his. As it turned out, the fight may have ended in a draw regardless of the twelfth round, yet Winky forgot how important lasting impressions are.
He began the night as the villain in Taylor’s backyard (Little Rock is near enough to Memphis to make it a big backyard) and finished the night with a below-villain status by protesting the decision and leaving the ring before HBO’s Larry Merchant could interview him. Only after following Wright to his dressing room did we get to hear how bitter he really was.
His right eye swollen from the combination of minor head butts and Taylor’s thudding punches and the rest of his face bruised to the point that there was no denying the fact that his usual impenetrable defense was breached, Wright looked maybe for the first time in his career like the beaten fighter. Of course the idea that he came even close to losing the fight seemed ridiculous to him.
“This was another Vargas. I came into his hometown – I was picking off his punches and I was snapping his head back,” Wright argued.
If you’re itching to see a rematch you may be scratching for a while as even though Wright said, “I’ll go anywhere and fight anybody,” he clearly didn’t mean another fight against Jermain Taylor. Why get robbed again? That seems to be Winky’s reasoning unless he feels that he’s seen enough of the Taylor, who looked much improved under Manny Steward’s tutelage.
Taylor’s stock has risen significantly after Bernard Hopkins’ domination of Antonio Tarver last week coupled with his performance last night. Taylor advocates seem to have a solid argument considering his two consecutive victories over Hopkins, ending his record-setting middleweight reign. Taylor showed us in this latest of tests what you’d expect to see in any young, developing fighter with great talent, an improvement in skill in each coming fight. Along with a greater arsenal of punches highlighted by effective straight-punching combinations that found a way through Winky Wright’s tight guard, Taylor proved to his critics that he could go twelve rounds without fading late (remember the Hopkins fight), and doing so with only one good eye for the last couple of rounds.
Despite the official draw, Taylor’s ability to showcase his skills and his heart in a battle against one of the most highly touted boxers in the sport means a great deal more than what the record books will show. It means he did not just get by the over-the-hill middleweight champion in Hopkins and survive against the crafty southpaw in Wright.
Rather, he proved to us all that he’s a deserving champion and that he’s for real.
If Taylor was the unofficial winner Saturday night in Memphis based on his predictive post-fight stock value increase (boosted even more by his “yes sir” humility during his HBO interview after the fight), then Wright must’ve been the loser. That’s unofficial, but not without merit. Let’s be fair, he did show his great hand-speed, his trademark tight defense, and his strong chin in handling the blows of a bigger, stronger middleweight. These are traits that we’ve come to expect in Winky Wright, but Saturday night was a chance for him to rise to the next level and, with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the house, show the boxing world that he’s deserving of being considered boxing’s greatest fighter. He spoiled that chance by not fighting with enough urgency and ultimately not impressing the judges enough to take the undisputed middleweight championship from Jermain Taylor.
I’ve always been an admiring fan of Winky Wright, impressed with his ability and his determination to fight through boxing’s political hardships and take the hardest road possible to the elite status that he’s reached, yet his actions after Saturday night’s fight were not befitting of a champion. I understand his sensitivity to controversial decisions because he has been robbed in the past (see the Vargas fight), but this was not a fight that he dominated and by my scorecard even a draw was a helluva deal.
While Taylor calmly assessed the fight with his trademark modesty, Wright decided to bolt from the ring in disgust and play the victim card, blaming the bad decision on the incompetent judges who this time showed their dishonesty by favoring the hometown boy. His argument may have been valid in his past three losses, but this time I just don’t buy it. Instead of blaming the judges one more time for taking away another victory, maybe he should in fact commit do the unthinkable, thanking them for their judgment Saturday night.