What's the Wright move?
What's a hard-nosed, highly skilled pound-for-pound veteran to do when he can't get a fight? Winky Wright's plight is a classic case of the counterpuncher's conundrum.
Updated: January 28, 2008, 9:51 AM ETBy Eric Raskin | ESPN.com
Al Bello/Getty ImagesWright's penchant for taking care of business in the ring makes it hard for him to land fights.Call it the counterpuncher's conundrum: If an opponent won't come to you, you can bore everybody stiff waiting, or you can suck it up and go to him. Winky Wright is, by nature, a counterpuncher. He doesn't just put the earmuffs on; his guard is like a full ski mask: high, tight and nearly impenetrable, designed to pick the other man's punches off until Wright is ready to throw counter shots. Like any good counter-punching artist, Wright turns his opponent's attacks into his own offensive opportunities. But the former undisputed junior middleweight champion has shown he can take the fight to his opponent when he has to. Wright pressed forward in his 1999 fight with Fernando Vargas. He brawled in '03 with the overmatched Angel Hernandez. He followed Jermain Taylor to the ropes in '06, doing his best work when he chose to lead rather than counter. And when he fought fellow boxer/counterpuncher Bernard Hopkins last July, there was no mistaking who forced the fight. Wright came forward, doing his part to make a dreadful chess match a little more palatable. But he paid the price for straying from his natural counter-punching tendencies; Hopkins landed the cleaner blows and won a unanimous decision.
It marked Wright's first defeat in nearly eight years. And six months later, it's becoming apparent just how damaging that loss was to his career. Every mainstream name at or around Wright's weight has found himself a big-money dance partner for '08. Roy Jones and Felix Trinidad boogied two Saturdays ago to the sweet sounds of cash registers opening and closing. Kelly Pavlik will cut a rug -- and his pay-per-view teeth -- against Taylor in three weeks. Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe will hit the floor to make each other hit the canvas on April 19. And Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather are lined up for a Sept. 13 rematch to last year's record-smashing waltz. Winky, it seems, is the odd man out. He's spent six months on the sidelines, has nothing lined up and doesn't appear to have much hope of landing a bout with any of the aforementioned stars any time soon. He's faced with the counterpuncher's conundrum all over again: Do I wait for one of these big fights to come to me, or do I move forward and make something happen? In other words, does Wright have to take a step back and a step down, fight a nonsuperstar and get a new winning streak going in order to position himself for the fights he really wants?
Ethan Miller/Getty ImagesWright's impentrable defense and high guard gave Hopkins, left, all he could handle for 12 rounds.
I have nobody that wants to fight me because they know they're in for a tough fight. They're ducking me, they don't want to fight. That's why I'm left out.
-- Winky Wright, on why it's so difficult for him to secure a fight
Wright fought in France, Monaco, Germany, Argentina, England and South Africa trying to make a name for himself in the '90s. To an extent, it worked, and he reaped the benefits in the 2000s. But it's a lot to ask of any man to expect him to go the road-warrior route for a second time, a full decade after he thought he was done with it. That rules out fights with the likes of Kessler, Abraham or Felix Sturm. And a semi-intriguing fight against Vernon Forrest is out of the question because Wright considers Forrest his friend. For the same reason, he isn't interested in facing Jones. ("Then he's got too many friends," Merchant quipped.) The obvious advice is to tell Winky to take a fight on Versus or ESPN2 against a nondescript opponent, get a new winning streak started and remain on the superstars' radar. It may even be advisable for him to tank it a bit and look like a faded fighter, improving the apparent risk-to-reward ratio for potential opponents. That's the obvious advice. It doesn't mean it's the right advice. The last time everyone told a big-name, veteran fighter that he was mismanaging his career, it was Hopkins, who was 36 when he scored his breakout victory over Trinidad. "The Executioner" followed that up by fighting Carl Daniels, sitting out for 13 months and then tanking at the box office in his hometown against Morrade Hakkar. The supposed mismanagement worked out brilliantly when Hopkins landed a fight with De La Hoya soon after that paid $14 million. Maybe, like Hopkins, Wright will find opportunity by going against conventional wisdom. It's not easy to win a fight backing up. But the most skilled of counterpunchers can do it. Eric Raskin is a contributing editor and former managing editor of The Ring magazine.
Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesWright, seen here celebrating after defeating Steve Foster, left, in England, is adamant that his days of trotting the globe in hopes of securing a big fight are over.