Winky’s Way Back
By JD Camacho, (Feb 6, 2009)  
They never come back. That’s one of boxing’s oldest laws. Winky Wright, at one time among boxing’s best, is the next in line to try and defy it against the albatross-like Paul Williams. Wright must contend with a decade-long disadvantage in age and nearly two-years outside the professional game before he even steps into the ring.

A chosen few succeed in coming back from a long layoff. Just last October, Vitali Klitschko ended a four-year hiatus by battering the world’s second best heavyweight from rope to rope. Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya each halted their virtual retirements by halting Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga in epic fashion. And Sugar Ray Leonard’s performance against Marvin Hagler was dramatic and inspiring – whether Leonard truly won or not.

But for every success, there are dozens of failures. And in boxing, punches and pain litter the paths that are smoother in other sports.

“John McEnroe,” wrote Pete Axthelm in Newsweek in 1987 after the Hagler-Leonard title bout, “among other great connoisseurs of playing the angles, couldn't regain tennis supremacy after a briefer layoff at a younger age. Ken Stabler in football and Reggie Jackson in baseball are other keen thinkers who have ultimately seen passes wobble and homers become double-play grounders. Jack Nicklaus and Bill Shoemaker did score for age and wisdom last year in the Masters and the Kentucky Derby. But neither was ducking punches from the likes of Hagler.”

On April 11th, Wright will try to duck, block, and slip (but mostly block) punches from the longer, taller Williams. And while Williams may not be as physically tyrannical as Hagler, he does offer imposing dimensions and a worrisome workrate. Williams has also stopped his last three opponents at three different weight classes, an indication of improved punch technique.

Wright, at his most effective, blunted his opponent’s offense with his shell-like defense while ticking out his right jab like a clock hand. The jab drove his foes mad. But fighters, like clocks, can be off. How off is Wright?

Many of the very greatest were off when they made their way back. Dave Anderson of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote, in 1987, “Muhammad Ali couldn't come back against Larry Holmes. Joe Louis couldn't come back against Rocky Marciano. Jim Jeffries couldn't come back against Jack Johnson. And middleweight Sugar Ray Robinson lost to Ralph (Tiger) Jones in one of the six bouts in his comeback campaign before dethroning Bobo Olson.” Robinson. Jeffries. Louis. Ali. These are names held in high regard in the boxing world. They were all off - behind rather than ahead.

Or, perhaps Wright could glance at his contemporaries as he passes them by. Jones. Trinidad. De La Hoya. All great fighters in their day, but as they walk into the sunset they perhaps carry with them the knowledge of too much time off, too much inactivity, and too much wasted time.

Two more months await Winky Wright before he reaches the destination. Two more months of age and idleness to add to his body. Two more months for Wright to find his way.


- If Vic Darchinyan is truly one of the top ten fighters in the world, at any weight, he should stomp Jorge Arce. Even if he doesn’t, though, it should be an entertaining scrap. California sure is getting a lot of those lately...

- Where exactly are Antonio Margarito’s handwraps at the moment? Sitting in a locker? Do they have lockers at an athletic commission? What do they actually do over there?

- Marco Antonio Barrera is coming back alongside Winky Wright. Of course, Barrera’s in against a tomato can. Or was that Khan? What’s the difference, anyway?

- The stature of the German Ingemar Johansson’s very brief career, by any standard, goes to show how big a deal the heavyweight championship used to be to the nation. My, how times have changed...

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