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Articles of 2005

Winky Ready for Wright of Passage

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You have to hand it to Winky (“Don’t call me Ronald!”) Wright. Very few have exuded as much patience as has the consensus junior middleweight champion throughout his fifteen year career. It often appeared as if the long wait would never pay off.

But as the saying goes, patience is a virtue. While Wright will never be mistaken for a knockout artist (25 KOs in 51 fights), his greatest strength lies within his mental makeup. His skills and ring knowledge have led to 48 wins. His patience has now led to three consecutive career-high paydays and the opportunity of a lifetime at thirty-three years of age as he looks to knock off Felix “Tito” Trinidad this weekend at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Saturday, May 14, 9PM/ET on HBO-PPV).

Along with the multimillion dollar payday, Wright is now in the unique position of having multiple options regardless of the result. A win puts him in line for a lucrative rematch, and a shot at middleweight supremacy after that. A loss would still allow him to return to junior middleweight, even if his maximum earning potential would take a hit.

Regardless of what goes down May 14, Wright certainly has more to look forward to than at any point in his career.

For the first thirteen years of his professional career, Wright toiled in obscurity. Long calling out the best in or near the junior middleweight division, Wright was often forced to settle for second best; his only participation in super-fights was limited to co-feature attraction or spectator.

In and out of the ring, timing is the key to success. While his timing between the ropes was almost always on point, none of the other big names seemed to have the time outside the ropes to negotiate a fight with one of the sport’s slickest fighters.

That was until we reached 2004.

When Ricardo Mayorga lost to Cory Spinks late in 2003, also lost was a potential March 2004 bout with newly crowned junior middleweight champion “Sugar” Shane Mosley. Having already turned down a lucrative third fight with twice-conquered Oscar De La Hoya, Shane found himself without a dance partner to start the year.

There were talks of Shane moving up to middleweight to serve as Trinidad’s comeback opponent following a two-year hiatus from the ring. When those talks were put on hold while Trinidad pushed back his intended return date, Shane was suddenly left with only one option: aim for the undisputed junior middleweight championship.

Shane already possessed two belts (WBC and WBA). The IBF belt belonged to Wright, who obtained the title after Trinidad vacated the crown in 2001. It didn’t take long for both parties to agree to terms. In a nutshell, Wright accepted a similar offer that was made in late 2001, when HBO pressured a then-undefeated Shane Mosley to upgrade the competition.

Back then, Wright didn’t believe that he should settle for 20% of the pot when it was Shane who was moving up to fight for his title. Two-and-a-half years later, Wright realized the time was right to make such an investment. After twelve dominating rounds in March 2004, Wright reaped major dividends.

Becoming the first undisputed junior middleweight champ in nearly thirty years, the world was finally at Winky’s fingertips. His contract with Square Ring, Inc. had just expired, and he now had three promoters vying for the right to promote the remainder of his career. After a month long game of musical promoters, Wright decided to do what he does best: wait it out.

Many believed Don King would be the frontrunner in the Winky Wright sweepstakes. Wright had a deal in place, but it was contingent upon King delivering Trinidad. When King paused on selecting the slick southpaw as Trinidad’s welcome-back opponent, the deal remained on the table while a rematch with Mosley surfaced.

November came, and so did another win over Shane. While closer than the first fight, Wright proved without a shadow of a doubt that he was the man to beat at junior middleweight. He would soon prove to be the man to beat at the negotiating table as well.

King reentered the picture, but scaled back his original offer for a Trinidad fight. Team Tito attempted to play hardball, insisting that Winky needed them more than they needed him.

Wright failed to comprehend such logic.

“If I was worth $5 million in March, how am I worth less than that after a second win over Shane,” Wright asked after fielding what he considered an insulting offer of $3.5 million. “I’ve paid my dues over the years; it’s time to collect. King should know this better than anyone: If it don’t make dollars, then it can’t make sense.”

King and Team Trinidad rode out 2004 maintaining the position that they were in the driver’s seat. But when one potential date after another passed by without a dance partner, they reconsidered.

Eventually, they gave in and did the Wright thing.

Or did they?

“Trinidad is already focusing on fights down the line,” Wright said. “But you know what? Shane Mosley made a very big mistake looking ahead to fighting Trinidad before our first fight. If Tito wants to make that same mistake, looking ahead to fighting Hopkins before he fights me, who am I to complain?  I’m just looking forward to that big money rematch.”

So would the betting public, or at least those who are taking advantage of Wright coming as a 2-1 underdog when the fight was first announced. The odds have slightly dropped since then, with Wright closer to an 8½-5 as this column goes to print. The odds don’t bother Winky; he’s been beating them all his life, and knows that it wouldn’t be the first time the odds makers mistook popularity for superiority.

“I am considered an underdog in this fight because everyone knows Tito or they think I am the smaller man. But I am not the smaller man,” insisted Wright. “This is a great weight for me.”

How great he is at middleweight remains to be seen. But those who want to dismiss the theory that Tito is the bigger fighter need look no further than the resumes of the two combatants. Wright has spent his entire career at junior middleweight, while Trinidad began at junior welterweight. Trinidad was visibly heavy in his downtime away from the sport, and has appeared to be a bit fleshy in each of his four middleweight fights. Even when walking around at 175-180, Wright always appears in fighting trim.

All that aside, Winky puts the move to middleweight in proper perspective: “I’m not jumping thirteen pounds and two weight classes. It’s just six pounds and it’s my natural weight. I feel great and I have been working with naturally bigger men like Jeff Lacy, Antwun Echols and Carlos De Leon Jr. Lacy hits a lot harder than Tito. This is only the second time Tito has fought a natural middleweight who was not faded and we all know what happened when he fought Hopkins.”

True. But Bernard is far and away the best middleweight in the world, and one of the all-time best at the weight. Not everyone can watch that fight and duplicate the performance.

Then again, not everyone has a Trainer of the Year in their corner. Hopkins’ trainer, Bouie Fisher was named 2001’s top cornerman as a result of the Trinidad fight. Winky has a lifelong friend in his corner boasting such credentials going in to the fight.

“I have watched and broken down tapes of many of Tito’s fights,” said Wright’s trainer Dan Birmingham a few days after receiving the 2004 Trainer of the Year award by the Boxing Writers Association of America. “All you have to do is study the first six rounds of De La Hoya-Trinidad and the last six rounds of Hopkins-Trinidad to get a blueprint on how to defeat Tito.”

Birmingham has a brilliant boxing mind, but that task is easier said than done. At least 42 others will agree, with 35 of them unable to hear the final bell.

Wright doesn’t care about such numbers, or what anyone else thinks of his chances. Wright doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, because very few can think better than him in the ring. That, he believes, is a greater strength than what Trinidad has to offer.

“Tito may be a stronger fighter than me, but I am a smarter fighter. He is one-dimensional. I have a lot of different weapons and styles and can and will adapt to the situation. I am not worried about Tito because he is very limited. He needs to worry about my jab, and how I will outthink him. He cannot fight smart fighters. Look at what happened when he fought Hopkins. Tito may be stronger, but I have better skills.”

Birmingham concurs: “We will be implementing very specific things to counter Tito. This fight is all about Winky. If Winky executes the game plan, there is nothing Tito can do to stop it. Nothing.”

After it’s over, all Wright wants to hear about are the terms for the rematch. No excuses, no cries of conspiracy . . . in other words, he doesn’t want a repeat what took place after Tito’s first and only loss to date.

“Tito had a lot of excuses for his loss to Bernard Hopkins, but there will be no excuses when he loses to me Saturday night. He will have lost to the better man and a smarter fighter. I have waited my whole professional life for this opportunity and I am well-prepared for a great fight.”

If he performs in a super-fight as well as he’s waited for one, then there’s no reason to doubt him.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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