Wright vs. Soliman: From Ringside (With An Instant Replay)

12.12.05 - By Gabriel DeCrease: It is a dangerous thing for expectations to be defied in the prize ring. A sort of temporary insanity overtakes the better senses of the boxing world when the fans and pundits are simultaneously given an outcome that is diametrically opposed to their predictions. Almost everyone—aside from Sam Soliman and his team—assumed that Wright would turn in a taut, somewhat conservative, technical performance that would befuddle, shutdown and erode Soliman’s presence in the fight. The fight, clearly, did not unfold along those lines.

In the wake of the WBC and IBF Middleweight Title Eliminator, analysts have made every type of wild claim. Some maintain that Soliman was robbed, and accomplished more than enough to garner a unanimous decision win. Some hold fast to claims that Wright was brilliant and dominated throughout in a fight that ought to have been scored 120-108 in Winky’s favor. Others still swear the contest was a well-earned draw for both fighters. Most of the voices making these claims are those belonging to journalists that were unable to attend the event live, and watched the fight on HBO World Championship Boxing. A minority of the analysts attended the fight, but was not able to review HBO’s broadcast before reporting on the fight.

I had the good fortune to be among those in attendance at the Mohegan Sun—and the foresight to record the television coverage. After reviewing that footage, and allowing a synthesis of both impressions to occur, it seems clear that Winky Wright won the fight slightly more decisively than two-of-the-three scorecards reflected. The fight was scored 115-113, 115-112, and 117-110. I marked the fight 116-110 for Winky Wright. But, make no mistake; there was plenty to make this one tough to judge.

Wright paced himself throughout the fight, and maintained his composure—never risking too much. He stayed close to Soliman—nearly fighting him in a phone booth, as they s say—and used a tight, high guard to block Soliman’s attacks when he might have more characteristically bobbed, weaved, and circled away. Subsequently, despite his defensive poise Wright ate more leather than usual. But he never lost control of the fight, for which I give him tremendous credit because…

Soliman was wild as a rampaging mustang, and indomitably energized, throughout the fight. Sam fought with a strange, wavering lean—off-balance at all times—often backpedaling for long stretches until he rushed forward with wide-open frenzies, punching from all-angles. He took the full battery of the Winky Wright arsenal eating an even three-hundred fists according to CompuBox (incidentally, Soliman was shown to have landed 174 of well over 1200 thrown-punches). Sam was wobbled several times, yet somehow was never really that close to being stopped. Soliman’s chin is for real, even if his alien fighting-form is not. Because of his unorthodox style, it was difficult to discern when he was hurt and when he was doing his thing, whatever that is exactly. Mix Carlos Maussa and Ricardo Mayorga, add a dash of Butterbean, and season with bits of Arturo Gatti on his worst-day as a slugger, and you might get a strange brew that resembles Sam Soliman. And you must bear in mind that somehow the hodgepodge of fistic unorthodoxy survives, in its own right, under heavy pressure from a clinical ring-surgeon.

The fight held its tenor with little variation from the opening stanza to the last of the championship rounds. Soliman tired slightly in the late rounds and was staggered more frequently. But so did Wright who was tagged regularly down the stretch as his arms and torso lagged somewhat from weariness after grinding against a moving target for an overflowing half-hour. But Wright stayed-tight and operated smoothly and confidently under constant, unpredictable attack from the durable and surprisingly game Soliman.

It was difficult not to give Sam Soliman more credit than he deserved out of sheer shock that he was not effortlessly dispatched by the pound-for-pound runner-up. At times, Soliman would be picked apart for two-minutes and then land a few clean shots through a hailstorm of punishment from his tormentor and trade more evenly to the end of the round. His zeal and determination, while admirable, should not negate the solid work Winky put in throughout two-thirds of the round. But the temptation was there to do just that. I found myself also suspending my knowledge of the sport as I was overvaluing Soliman’s looping, renegade punches. They looked big and thunderous, but ultimately did little to faze Wright—or take him out of his defensive comfort zone.

Neither fighter wore significantly more battle-damage than the other. Both came out swollen and rosy about the eyes and cheeks. However, a winner can never be determined by such measures. Some fighters are prone to cut, bleed, swell, and bruise, and some are not. That is just a biological reality that is not necessarily indicative of the internal toll a fight has taken. Arturo Gatti’s face has looked like a thing out of Milton’s “Paradise Lost” after most of his fights, while Levander Johnson showed comparatively less cosmetic damage at the end of the fight that ultimately resulted in his tragic death.

In the end, Winky never lost control. His vehicle to victory was a monorail that, despite turbulent moments, was unable to be derailed. Soliman, seemingly by his own design, was never in the driver’s seat and could not control the course of his punches, or his defensive stance. I hold fast in my judgment—117-110 for Wright.

In the end, the outcome of the fight was within a stone’s throw of my pre-fight prediction. However, I was dead0wrong in my estimation of how the fight would go down. Range-master Winky Wright abandoned vulturous-circling, left his long jab in its holster, and favored tight body shots in a head-to-head, albeit non-traditional, slugfest. And Sam Soliman led with his noggin, did his best Joe Grim impression, and proved impossible to put down in a fight that I imagined would only go the distance if Wright elected to use his reach advantage and peck his way to a points win. I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was even wrong in my impression of how Soliman would react to losing in his long-pursued moment in the spotlight. Sam was a steaming humble-pie for the most part leading up to the fight, and then after Wright outlanded him by almost 2-1 and had his cage rattled on a half-dozen occasions, decided to protest and rattle-off some post-fight rhetoric to Larry Merchant to indicate that he won the fight. Perhaps the most shocking part was that many in attendance at the Mohegan Sun joined Soliman in vocalizing their dissatisfaction with the judges’ unanimous decision.

These are strange days. I stopped trying to figure things out a long time ago.

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Article posted on 12.12.2005

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