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Richard Hoffer
March 22, 2004
Wright On! Winky Wright unified the 154-pound crown with a win over Shane Mosley
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March 22, 2004


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Wright On!
Winky Wright unified the 154-pound crown with a win over Shane Mosley

This is why there's no nobility in boxing: It doesn't pay. All Shane Mosley was trying to do last Saturday was perform an act of kindness, extend a professional courtesy. And for this he gets his pants beaten off, his career short-circuited? Giving Winky Wright a shot at megabucks glory was simply a gesture of generosity, doing for a hardscrabble fighter what nobody else had been willing to do. But, really, should so much decency end up costing Mosley $10 million?

There's no telling what the final tab for doing the right thing is going to come to. The $10 million was Mosley's projected purse for a now-ruined November bout with Felix Trinidad, who was willing to come out of retirement to face Mosley. That prospect curdled through most of the 12 rounds of last Saturday's junior middleweight title unification bout in Las Vegas, while Wright kept floating his right jab into Mosley's astonished eyes. Trinidad, sitting ringside with promoter Don King, tried to keep smiling but by evening's end was only a little less miserable than Mosley himself.

But this is what Wright's been saying for the last several years: All a fighter needs is a chance. Wright turned pro two years ahead of the 1992 Olympics so he could pay some bills, then labored in Europe for much of the next decade. ("I was fighting in places you can't even pronounce," he says.) He fought lefty, was defense-minded and without the box-office appeal that might lure a more established fighter into a fray.

Nobody of money-making might would fight him, certainly not Oscar De La Hoya, the rainmaker in these divisions. Wright, now 32, did get a piece of the 154-pound tide in 2001, but it was against Robert Frazier, and nobody noticed, or paid.

Until Mosley agreed to get his long-suffering peer on the national stage—even if it was promoted as a setup for a bigger bout—Wright was doomed to small-time matches at the margins of boxing. His second defense: Bronco McKart, in Portland. It was like that.

Mosley knows what it's like to be kept in the cold, having suffered from poor management early in his career. "It's frustrating," he says, "terribly frustrating." The reward for his great upset of De La Hoya was having to fight in casino ballrooms. Even his second defeat of De La Hoya (which restored some of his reputation after two straight losses to Vernon Forrest) couldn't launch him into the truly big money.

In order to circumvent De La Hoya and meet Trinidad, Mosley had only to get through Wright, whom he respected as an overlooked outsider. But, see, there's a reason nobody fights Wright. For just a $750,000 purse (compared with Mosley's $2.1 million), Wright completely flustered Mosley with his right jab, catching him whenever the shorter Mosley tried to bore in. Mosley grew so frustrated that, at times, he abandoned his superior boxing style and just loaded up with right hands. Even with Mosley mounting a charge in the 12th round, Wright maintained a huge margin on all cards.

Mosley wasn't quite as gracious in defeat as he'd been during the promotion (when the two broke up laughing during the normally fierce face-off) and complained of "dehydration." But why wouldn't he be disappointed, bitter even, to see so much money fly out the window—all for trying to do a guy a favor.