20.07.07 – By Taj Eubanks: As Saturday evening approaches and the Bernard Hopkins-Winky Wright matchup nears, I find myself eager with anticipation as to how the fight will unfold. I have stretched my mind near its limits trying to analyze the fight from every angle, comparing and contrasting each veteran fighter’s weaknesses and strengths. The curious thing is, I simply cannot choose a winner..
These two Hall of Fame locks have dwelled at or near the top of pound-for-pound lists for many years now, arriving at their destination after having taken the hard road. What contributes to my equivocation is the fact that these two are very similar in many respects.
People most often trumpet their defensive wizardry, Hopkins’ adroitness lying in his mastery of old school techniques, feints, tucked chin and perfectly held guard Winky, on the other hand, also fundamentally sound, is renowned for his nearly impenetrable guard which is constructed with both arms held tightly at his sides (which protect his body) and gloves which join together seamlessly to protect his face, appearing more shield than appendages.
When coupled with his southpaw stance, his defensive shell has confounded many a fighter, the most shining example being his twelve round whitewash of the great Felix Trinidad.
Because each pugilist has mastered defense (and also due to their increasing age), offense seems to have taken a backseat in recent years. Due to this fact, many have overlooked or forgotten that Bernard Hopkins was very offensive-minded in his younger years. One need only remember his sadistic beatdown of William Joppy, his knockout of Antwan Echols (with a dislocated shoulder, no less), or his career-defining knockout of Felix Trinidad. His more economical punch output and unwillingness to engage often obscures his past offensive accomplishments and causes bloodthirsty fans to label him (fairly or unfairly) as the cure for insomnia. Despite this, the move up to 175 pounds seems to have energized the old man as his skillful, come-forward drubbing of former light-heavyweight boss Antonio Tarver attests.
Winky Wright has also been accused of being human Nyquil from time to time. However, it is easy to see that Winky has indeed changed his style to incorporate more offense in recent fights. In his fight against the larger, faster Jermain Taylor, we saw a Wright who took the fight to the champion, eschewing his purely defensive, counter-punching technique for a more aggressive, fan-friendly style. He carried this new approach into his fight with Ike Quartey and promises to have it on display come Saturday night. Thus it seems that while neither fighter has been an offensive juggernaut in recent years, both seem to have found second winds as of late which have borne pleasing results.
Both fighters always show up in excellent condition for their fights, so lack of conditioning has never been a sin of either man. Hopkins, of the “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler mindset, is never far off from his fighting weight. His ascetic lifestyle allowed him keep his 6’1” frame at 160 pounds for greater than a decade. What is most amazing about this feat is that he began his career (ironically, in a losing effort no less) at light heavyweight.
Winky Wright, by his own admission a loyal connoisseur of the Crispy Crème Donut, reportedly possesses a maddening fitness regimen that has allowed him to remain dominant well into his mid-thirties. And while much has been made of the size disparity between these two, its effect on the outcome of the match may be overblown. For starters, Wright was very competitive with Jermain Taylor who is naturally heavier than Wright (and with a height advantage similar to that of Bernard Hopkins). Second, Winky allegedly walks around in the 190s when not training and is therefore not as diminutive as many would have us believe.
The demeanors of each man could not be more disparate. Hopkins is famously loquacious and can be both friendly and menacing, a chameleon-like quality born on the streets of Philadelphia and burnished in the steel confines of Graterford Penitentiary. Wright’s personality is to Hopkins’ what a Yankees fan is to a Red Sox fan, totally different. Mild mannered, amiable and devoid of braggadocio, one can be falsely lured into the belief that Wright is a little too nice for the hurt business at best and benign at worst, a horrible miscalculation to be sure. For certainly Shane Mosley, Ike Quartey and Jermain Taylor would beg to differ. Therefore, despite there being a gulf between the two in terms of background (and I venture to say, likeability), it is difficult to prognosticating value of their personalities on the outcome of the match, as both most certainly have winning ways.
Which leads me to believe that more than any other factor, their personal motivations for taking this fight will likely affect the outcome the most. Hopkins is a man with nothing left to prove, a man who set a standard of twenty middleweight defenses and then jumped to light heavyweight and imposed his will. His legacy as certain as the rising sun, he could have easily settled into his new role as successful promoter. But a man like Hopkins always needs yet another challenge, and then another, and then another. With a drive that borders on the obsessive, The Executioner wants to prove (on the surface) that at 42 years of age he can not only continue to compete at the very highest level but also dominate. Even more telling in victory would be the fact that he dominated the last man took his arch-nemesis, Jermain Taylor, to the brink. A victory over Wright would therefore serve a two-fold purpose and I am not certain that achieving the latter goal won’t be more satisfying to Hopkins than the former.
Winky Wright, who for so long rightfully claimed the title of “most avoided man in boxing,” has a different motivation. After being called out by Floyd Mayweather almost two years ago only to have Floyd back off of the challenge, then being unable to come to terms with Jermain Taylor for a rematch, Wright finds himself still with one goal only: to fight the best fighter available. And Bernard Hopkins is just that, a legendary fighter who has aged like fine wine in the twilight of his career. Winky’s claim to greatness will also be forever cemented as the first man to truly introduce Bernard Hopkins to Father Time.
As it stands, all things considered, I still cannot in my heart of hearts say with any degree of confidence who will win this match. The intangibles each possesses are too numerous, the flaws too few. One of the keys to the fight, besides each man’s desire, will be how Hopkins and Wright respond to the other man coming forward. Will Bernard press the action as he has promised and make the turtle (Wright) come out of his shell? Or will he be content to counter Wright’s assault? And can Hopkins fight for three minutes of every round as Wright has promised to make him do? Moreover, will Wright’s defense and relative youth be too much for Hopkins, sending the sage pug into retirement for good? Only time will tell. Regardless of the outcome, history will be made and the sweet science at its best will be on display. As far as my own conjecture, Hopkins-Wright is simply too close to call.