One of the middleweights of championship pedigree claiming to be a king is Ronald “Winky” Wright. The Tampa Bay, Florida native stormed out of the ring at the FedEx Forum in Memphis the night of June 17, fuming at having been declared worthy of only a draw against middleweight champion Jermain Taylor after 12 give and take rounds. So near the summit of his professional odyssey, Mr. Wright felt he’d been wronged yet again, memories of Harry Simon and Fernando Vargas making his carotid artery bulge from frustrated rage. As his hometown skirmish with Ghana’s folk hero welterweight champion from the 1990s, Ike Quartey, nears, Wright tells the press and interested fans he’s not taking the dismissal of Quartey – he of the Bazooka-like left jab – for granted. Yes, we have heard that song so many times before from the brilliant south-pawing Floridian. Mr. Wright may indeed talk about sending Mr. Quartey back into the repose of an indolent retirement. Too bad he rarely ever fights like he means brutal business, the business of domination by giving the judges, the fans and his CV definitive endings and all out efforts from first round till last.
Instead, Ronald prefers to wink at us, assuming the figure of a man who does enough to control and outclass his opponent, safety first boxing acumen his polished gift to those who take the time to spy on his career. Mainly, we sit admiring his pick and stick from-behind-a-high-guard arm punching for all of its point scoring quality. Defensively, Mr. Wright certainly merits an ‘A’ for administrative efficiency of poses, parrying and posturing to be ready to counter with something concertedly measured enough to score, avoiding being lambasted in return. He boxes with an airtight defensiveness forming a ballooning no-go zone, stronger than armor; too bad it sucks the oxygen right out of his fights.
How he accomplishes his affected aggressions dispelling style, or at least the robust intention of balancing danger with opportunity never tempting him unless mandated by fatigue. Mike Trainer, the legal wizard behind Ray Leonard’s storied superbout career, counseled the aging champion that boxing Marvin Hagler into oblivion would NOT be an act of public suicide. “No one will remember how you win, as long as you are the winner.” What Trainer instinctive and intellectually understood was that Leonard’s entire career had already set in stone the image of Leonard the Brave, Leonard the Warrior King; the Palmer Park, Maryland superstar had already waged enough wars of aggression, all he had to do was get by Hagler, by any means necessary. Some ring encounters are about outcome and some are about method.
True, Wright has battled more than we tend to give him credit for. No doubt in the final rounds against Simon, Vargas, Mosley and even Sam Soliman, Wright dipped into the well for something elementary, necessary. And yet caricatures are made of outlines, indelibly filling in for our understanding. To most fight fans the figure of Wright remains stiffened, hands exaggerating defensive readiness, the right jab splitting opponents’ shielding, inside combinations so compacted and short, they almost seem to pull up just at impact. It’s difficult to imagine “Winky” swinging for the knockout blow, opening up Morales-like at the end of a round to punctuate advantages gained, unless he’s in perfect position, balance correcting the angles minimized for insurance purposes.
Who else but Wright would utter, “I’m going to do what ever it takes for him not to win.” Even in his attempts to assert his certainty — fighting at middleweight against Quartey’s untested 160 lb. audacity — Wright invokes the negative. He’ll do what ever he must to make sure Quartey cannot do what ever it is he still does best? But we all know better; we know “Winky.” We know how he opens his accounts with his right lead, the jab to the head in multiples, stepping back, shielding himself at all costs, trying to frustrate and minimize looking for tiny advantages that add up and become apparent as dominance of the passing of rounds well boxed, slight openings hit, counters detonated with the intent to blunt and belittle, in this case Quartey’s, ambitions. At 35, Wright has become an expert at his crafted, left handed art of contouring small gains, repeating patterns that drain the daring and defiance out of opponents. He’s a boxer with the conviction to fight a smart fight, employing techniques to degrade his opponents, “and being ‘Winky’ Wright… that’s what I do… that’s how I dominate” he has told us often enough.
And how do you open up against the fortress mentality of Wright’s boxing? Quartey himself has been known to pose and preen, contenting himself with jabbing and looking for massive right hand counters that arch so high they seem to unfold in flight as telegrams from the heart of darkness itself. How would the Quartey right ever catch Ronald Wright unaware? Ronald winks, grinning at the very suggestion – ridiculous.
This week’s hometown fighter thinks that Quartey is attempting to punch far above himself, his unregistered ‘win’ over Vernon Forrest — an official loss — seeming to Wright a taunt, bluster made to come out as a bluff. Throwing all one’s reserves into the forward area is a dangerous game against Wright who quietly prides himself on a kind of floating, shifting invulnerability. In Wright’s mind he’s never yet lost a fight that’s come down to a battle of patience. Basically, he feels undefeated; a true monarch of the ring denied the throne too many times. So, in the calculations that fighters make up adding emotional fuel to the fires of ambition, then Quartey must pay; he’s next.
After all, there is still a crown to be won. All fighters think of titles as crowns, fights as opportunities, money as proof and glory as justice.
Too bad for “Winky,” in all those earlier campaigns for title belts he never took upon himself the notion of winning or losing with glory, fighting with the sheer purpose of gambling on the outcome, risking dramatic dangers endured. That’s why he’s the latest ring talent who passes through the sporting landscape of his time a faceless marvel. Ronald “Winky” Wright, a wondrous fighter of championship rounds, an unknown quantity beyond the hardcore boxing fan who knows, in his heart, he’s a king walking unadorned among us.
Patrick Kehoe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org