Getting defensive: Wright rethinking ways?

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

True: Winky Wright's face was once on a gambling chip at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

False: It was done because Wright's frequent stops at the craps table helped the casino fund a new tower.

True: Wright is one of boxing's most accomplished fighters and so thoroughly dominated former middleweight champion Felix Trinidad that he won every minute of every round.

False: Wright was hailed for his brilliance in taking apart the power-punching Trinidad.

In fact, Wright was roundly criticized for not trying to knock Trinidad out when it appeared the Puerto Rican was ready to be taken.

Wright, who takes on light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins on Saturday on HBO Pay-Per-View at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, tries to act the epitome of cool.

Clearly, though, he has heard the critics. And so, it was a different Wright who in his last two outings fought middleweight champion Jermain Taylor to a controversial draw and wiped out one-time welterweight champ Ike Quartey.

"I'm an offensive fighter," Wright (50-3-1, 25 KOs) said.

And no, wise guys, he didn't mean offensive as in stench-inducing. While some predict a less than thrilling matchup with Hopkins, Wright, the 35-year-old one-time undisputed super welterweight champion, said if the fight is boring, it won't be because of him. Pointing out that he threw more than 1,000 punches in his victory over Quartey in December, he is, he said, coming to fight.

"If you ask me, I ain't no defensive fighter and my fights aren't boring," he said.

No one is going to mistake Wright for Arturo Gatti in the ring, but Wright notes that his fight with Trinidad was the best-selling pay-per-view bout of 2005 and says he regularly attracts good ratings on HBO.

His problem is that he chose the one sport where U.S. fans don't treasure defense. Ozzie Smith's wizardry with the glove made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer. NFL players feared Lawrence Taylor, whose pass-rushing skills not only changed the game but also landed him into the Hall of Fame.

But in boxing, where the object is to pop your opponent in the nose, defense is revered about as much as a Nebraska fan in Norman, Okla. The Boxing Writers Association of America's Fight of the Year trophy each year is given to fighters who compete in bouts that feature about as much defense as your average NBA exhibition game.

Wright says he wants to be remembered as one of the best fighters of his era – he's done that and is a lock to be elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame – but he also wants to put on a show.

He got the word loud and clear from executives at HBO and Showtime, who were none too quick to put him on their air when he was at the height of his defensive mastery.

When he realized that to get the fights he wanted he'd have to fight on HBO or Showtime, he changed his approach to be more viewer friendly.

"I moved to that kind of fighting because, you know, the network," Wright said. "Back in the day, I was a slick boxer, stick and move, dance around and win the fight easily, and nobody could touch me, and the network was, well, it's not exciting because nobody can touch him, and this and that, but any kind of style flows.

"But now, you know, I mean I just wanted to change it up and be a more mobile fighter. I guess the fans can enjoy it, where, you know, I give people a chance to hit me."

In his rematch with Mosley, a fight he was dominating, Wright dropped his hands to his side, stuck out his chin and invited Mosley to lay one on him. It wasn't the best move he ever made, given that at that point in his career, Mosley had scored 35 knockouts in his 42 fights to that point in his career.

Wright took it without so much as buckling a knee and managed to go on to win again. But, Wright said, most of the time he's fighting offensively, he's not getting hit as cleanly because he's as good defensively on the inside as he is from a distance.

And when he's in offense-first mode, he's fighting in tight more often and willingly trading blows, and he's still not being tagged regularly.

"When they're pawing, they're really not hitting me, but it just looks like it," he said. "So you know, it (makes the fight) more heightened for the fans. For me, it's enabling me to get closer so I can hit them a little harder to the body, and it's more of an enjoyable type of fight."

Wright's trainer, Dan Birmingham, wants Wright to push the pace, but for perhaps a different reason.

While he professes all the respect in the world for the 42-year-old Hopkins, he has to wonder whether a man that age can compete at a fast pace all night.

Birmingham aims to find out by having Wright at least match his punch output against Quartey, when the 84.25 punches a round he landed were about double his career average output.

Birmingham believes Hopkins (47-4-1, 32 KOs) was able to upset Antonio Tarver in their bout last year in Atlantic City because Tarver didn't keep up a consistent work rate.

"Absolutely, we're going to force this fight," Birmingham said. "We're going to make Bernard fight, where he's – I can tell you this, he's never been hit this much and this often. You look at Winky's past fights, he's landed punches every five to 10 seconds on every opponent, and Bernard's not going to be any exception.

"We're coming right at him and we're going to force the fight. It's not going to be another Tarver situation where we lay back and try to wait for something to happen. We're going to force the issue."

And he's going to do so at a weight where he's admits he's not comfortable.

Wright fought most of his career at 154 pounds and says he considers himself a middleweight. But the fight on Saturday is being fought at a catch-weight of 170.

Wright said he wouldn't have taken it if the contract called for 175 pounds, because he said that would be much too big for him. And even though he conceded Hopkins will have the size edge and perhaps an edge in strength, he said it will make no difference.

"Weight is an issue in fighting, but it ain't an issue in this fight," Wright said. "You know how Bernard is. The man talks like nobody's business, but I know this: Talking for darn sure don't win no fights. No matter what he says, he's not going to scare me or win the fight with his words.

"I'm the better fighter and I'm going to prove that."

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