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When Winky Wright is enveloped in his carapace of gloves and elbows, he is a virtually unassailable target. There's nothing to hit. This presents a problem for his opponent, who can do little but bounce blows off Wright's shell. It also presents a problem for judges, who must decide whether to reward the obduracy of the opponent--a stubbornly offensive Jermain Taylor in this case--or the red-alert status of Wright's homeland security.
This dilemma has resulted in several strange decisions during Wright's 17-year career, including last Saturday evening's, a draw that allowed Taylor to escape with all of his middleweight belts. Wright, whose defensive style (not to mention his southpaw stance) has forced him into foreign exile for most of his career (during one six-year span he had 20 fights in eight countries), is used to being misunderstood or at least unappreciated. But the scores, announced after a pretty lively 12 rounds in Memphis's FedExForum, were too much for Wright this time, and the former junior middleweight champ stormed petulantly from the ring. "Another Vargas," he muttered, recalling a long-ago robbery in which the up-and-coming Fernando unfairly slithered by him.
This one was not so bad, not even a robbery, really. Wright's style forces everyone into uncomfortable choices. The first is whether to fight him at all, which just about everybody chose not to do until he became unavoidable after back-to-back wins over Shane Mosley in 2004. Still, Taylor, a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics, could have put this one off, having already beaten Bernard Hopkins--twice--in 2005 to take over the middleweight division. That's a good enough year for most fighters. But the 27-year-old Taylor, eyeing a $3.75 million payday and national stardom, picked out Wright.
The next decision was how to fight him. For that challenge the undefeated Taylor reached out to veteran trainer Emanuel Steward, a special-assignment guy who comes in to beef up offenses. But not even Steward, on short notice, could come up with a plan to penetrate Wright's thicket of arms and elbows.
Wright's famous right jab seemed to be doing all the damage against Taylor, anyway, scouring his left eye until it closed late in the fight. Taylor countered that Wright lacked meaningful power and that "I always answered with a little something of my own." But his powerful flurries rarely got through, and the fight proceeded in a manner frustrating to Taylor's cause: one guy hammering away without appreciable effect.
But that, finally, creates the most critical decision: Do the judges value the hammering or the masterly endurance of it? In this case they seemed to like the effort of violence. As Steward pointed out, Taylor "punches so hard, he was moving [Wright's] whole body." But is that how you win fights, producing secondary effects? Or is the Wright kind of fight simply so unfair--what can you do to this guy?--that any measurable impact counts?
Wright may well again be sent packing into exile, because he has certainly become an unacceptable risk here. Would Taylor want a rematch? Lou DiBella, Taylor's promoter, suggested they would fight "Clarabell the Clown" first and that neither Hopkins nor Wright was eligible for consideration for a long time. He felt Taylor deserved somebody who could help showcase his power--"a straight-ahead kind of guy"--so he could finally get his due.
Even so, it will take more than a few of those fights to restore Taylor's star power. He will always have this pesky draw on his record. Then again, he fared better than most of the guys who've tried to make a living in the ring with Wright.