Winky Wright bet
that he could dethrone Jermain Taylor with masterly defense, but the judges
wanted something more
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.
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.