Hopkins-Wright could be better than expected

Kevin Iole

LAS VEGAS – Winky Wright had a black eye on Thursday.

And though he was urged by members of his entourage to put a little makeup over it to cover up the bruising so it wouldn't be so apparent to the media at a news conference at Mandalay Bay, Wright would have none of it.

Its symbolism was too significant for a bout that has the potential to be more dull than a repeat of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

"This is a fight," Wright screeched, uncharacteristically raising his voice while speaking. "I'm working hard to get ready. This is what happens sometimes."

Wright takes on light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay Events in a bout both men have gone to great pains to paint as exciting.

Even the fight's promoter, Oscar De La Hoya, got into the act. He used the word tremendous no fewer than 14 times while talking about the fight from the podium and then immediately after the news conference inside the House of Blues.

"It's going to be a tremendous, tremendous fight between these tremendous warriors," De La Hoya intoned.

Later, he said, "Hopkins is a tremendous, tremendous champion but Winky will present a tremendous challenge to him."

A few minutes later, the news conference was over and I was overcome by an overwhelming sense of relief. I'd heard my last pitches on what a tremendous fight this would be.

Tremendous, indeed.

Don't expect Ali-Frazier III or even Corrales-Castillo I, but it may not turn out to be as bad as the cynics suggest.

Hopkins and Wright are natural counter punchers. Historically, that's been the type of fight that has turned out to be dull, because each man waits for the other to punch. You tend to see a lot more feinting than punching in that type of fight.

Hopkins took the fight to Antonio Tarver last year when he moved up to light heavyweight and unexpectedly dominated a bout he was supposed to lose.

Hopkins rebuilt his body last year under the direction of renowned trainer Mackie Shilstone and was a powerful 175-pounder by the time he stepped into the ring to face Tarver in Atlantic City on June 10, 2006.

He was more active than he had been in his final fights at middleweight, which he lost to Jermain Taylor. And though Hopkins took great pride in his conditioning and being able to make the middleweight division's 160-pound limit, he said Thursday that the weight cut took its toll.

"It was work; a lot of work," Hopkins said.

After rebuilding his body, he appeared much more athletic and more fluid against Tarver than he had in either of his bouts against Taylor, both of which he had lost after a 12-year unbeaten skein.

He wouldn't say how much better he felt against Tarver than Taylor other than to ask, "Did you see the Tarver fight?"

The implication is that he was a far better fighter with his rebuilt body than he had been trying to squeeze down below 160.

Wright's trainer, Dan Birmingham, conceded that Hopkins looks good at 170, where Saturday's fight will be contested, but said it's a mistake to cede the size advantage to Hopkins.

"Wink's a big guy, too," Birmingham said. "He walks around at 190, 195. And remember, it's not like Hopkins has been a light heavyweight all along. He's been a middleweight for most of his career.

"Wink has those extra pounds to play with, too, and he's going to feel stronger and be stronger. Don't underestimate Winky when it comes to his strength."

Wright's advisor, Jim Wilkes, said he was watching Wright spar and was amazed by how wide his shoulders had gotten.

He's bigger, Wilkes said, than he'd ever seen him.

"It's messed up his golf swing," Wilkes said, chuckling.

But undoubtedly, it's added a couple MPH to his jab. And that will be the difference in the fight.

Hopkins will eat a series of jabs if he is true to his word and goes on the offensive.

Wright defused Tito Trinidad's power essentially with that piston-like jab.

Wright isn't a knockout puncher, but his jab is punishing, particularly when he doubles and triples it as he did against Trinidad.

He'll stick the jab in Hopkins' face early. If he does it often, he should win the fight. And if he throws a few left hands behind the jab, it might even become – dare I say it – a tremendous fight.

OK, probably not.

A guy can dream, though, can't he?