If defiance is an art form, Winky Wright is an artist. He might not practice it in quite the style of a Bernard Hopkins, who has applied it in broad strokes for an identity all his own. But Wright uses it in a careful, almost subdued tone that has made fools of many who didn’t see it or doubted it was even there.
Whether it can still help him is either a question of time — he’s 40 – or Peter Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs), who Saturday night on a Showtime-televised card in Carson, Calif. will attempt to do what Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley couldn’t.
Wright’s initial challenge rests in whether he can overcome a problematic combination. There’s his age, although Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs) won’t even be the oldest on a card labeled “Four Warned.’’ The senior citizen on this one is Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs), who at 43 faces Lateef Kayode (18-0, 14 KOs) in a cruiserweight fight. Wright’s biggest problem might be a long layoff. He’s had only one fight in the last five years and only two in the last six-and-a-half. His last victory was over Ike Quartey in 2006.
But, Wright said in a conference call, he never retired. OK, maybe he was on an extended vacation or gone on a long recess. Whatever it was, Wright says he never planned to quit. That, he says, is why he’s coming back.
But, he said, “If I’m going to do it, I’ve got to do it now.’’
If not retirement, inactivity often erodes reflexes and dulls muscle memory. Wright played a lot of golf. But a tee time isn’t opening bell. In perhaps a concession to that possibility, Wright trained in Phoenix at the Athletes Performance institute where the best from all sports often go to rehab from injuries or to resurrect old skills.
Wright, who is back with trainer Dan Birmingham, conceded that it took him a while to re-adapt to the Spartan-like regimen that dictates a fighter’s lifestyle in the weeks before a bout.
“I’m not going to say I stayed in boxing shape,’’ said Wright, who got up to 185 pounds and will fight Quillin at 160. “I wasn’t fat. But I wasn’t in boxing shape.’’
The layoff, he said, was a result of not getting the kind of fights he wanted.
“No one significant wanted to fight me,’’ he said.
Significant fights eluded him for years. In large part, that was his story before he emerged as the first undisputed junior-middleweight champion in nearly three decades. Wright fought in Europe, winning yet ignored in the United States during the late 1990s. In the U.S., Wright, the American expatriate, got little respect for a record perceived to be built on opponents who – the joke went – could only get licensed to drive a cab in Las Vegas.
Wright filed it away, used it as motivational chip and as a weapon for those who laughed at the jokes, yet looked like the punch line once they got into the ring against the lefthander with a precise jab and defensive knowhow. In 2004, he beat Shane Mosley twice, the first time after Mosley was coming off his second victory over Oscar De La Hoya. Yet, Wright was still the underdog in 2005 when he met Felix Trinidad at middleweight. Trinidad had no chance in losing a one-sided decision in what was Wright’s finest performance.
But victory didn’t temper the defiance, which was sometimes reflected in failed negotiations. In 2006, Wright and Jermain Taylor fought to controversial draw. Taylor has the middleweight title, but balked at giving Wright financial parity, a 50-50 split, because Wright didn’t have a title. The rematch never happened.
Wright is often asked about the fights he turned down, including one with Oscar De La Hoya proposed in 2003. He was asked about it again in the conference call that included Quillin.
“All these idiots always talk about what I turned down,’’ Wright said in a flash of anger that said time hasn’t tempered that defiance either.
It’s a sign that Wright has a chance on a night when few give him any at all against the 28-year-old Quillin. From the beginning, it’s why he’s always had a chance.
· The sad death Sunday of Johnny Tapia marks the passing of a star-crossed personality and a character as colorful as any in a sport full of them. He was as ferocious a fighter as there ever was. In the end, he will be remembered more for his story outside of the ropes – Mi Vida Loca – than for what he did within them.
· Say a few prayers for Paul Williams. His fight is just beginning after a motorcycle accident Sunday in Atlanta that will likely leave him paralyzed from waist down. He was scheduled to undergo surgery Friday.
· Wright’s last opponent was Williams, who beat him by unanimous decision in April 2009 at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay.
Phoenix junior-welterweight prospect Jose Benavidez Jr. is thinking about a different model of Everlast gloves after extending his unbeaten record to 15-0 last Saturday in Tucson in his first bout since surgery on his right wrist in January. He emerged from the six-rounder over Josh Sosa without pain in the wrist. But there was a swollen knot on the middle knuckle of the left hand. It’s a problem he’s had over the last three-to-four fights. Benavidez’ bone structure might not be able to withstand power from his own punches. One solution might be an Everlast model with more padding above the knuckles.