In the 45 years since I started watching boxing, the three most avoided fighters of were Aaron Pryor, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Ronald “Winky” Wright. Winky, like Hagler, was an incredibly gifted southpaw, which is probably the same reason the best fighters at 154 pounds avoided him throughout his first nine years of his career. Like Hagler and Pryor, as soon as Winky was able to get elite fighters to fight him, he dominated the opposition, which is why he’s the 40th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.
Wright was an excellent prospect early in his career and yet he was shunned by all the major United States promoters and television networks. The reason being was that he was a southpaw boxer who was hard to hit. No one wanted to put their young prospects or contenders at 154 pounds in the ring with Winky because they felt it was a high risk/low reward fight. Winky responded by going to Europe in 1992 where he was able to hone his skills for the next six years.
Wright’s first 154-pound title opportunity came against WBA Champion Julio César Vazquez on August 21, 1994. The then undefeated 21-year-old Winky was too inexperienced to defeat such a cagey, unorthodox fighter in Vazquez as he was knocked down several times before losing an unanimous decision. The loss only made Winky more determined to become world champion, as he won his next nine fights before getting a shot at the WBO 154-pound title on May 17, 1996 against Bronco McKart. Winky traveled to McKart’s hometown of Monroe, Michigan and won a split decision for his first world title.
Wright went back to Europe and successfully defended his title three times before journeying out to South Africa. There, he defended against the tough Namibian fighter Harry Simon. Wright was robbed of his title in the dressing room, as the verdict was originally scored a draw. While in his locker room preparing to leave, an official from the South African Boxing Commission explained to Winky that the scoring on one of the judges scorecards was tabulated incorrectly and that Simon was in actuality the winner and new champion. After being swindled of his world title, Winky went back to the United States and resumed his career. It wouldn’t be the last time he’d experience larceny in the ring.
After winning an IBF title elimination fight, Wright received a shot against IBF 154-pound champion Fernando Vargas on December 4, 1999. The fight was televised on HBO. This was the first time my father and I had ever seen Wright fight on television and although we had heard he was a slick boxer, we didn’t think he could defeat one of the rising young stars in boxing. Vargas had been on television since his pro debut and had become a very popular, power-punching champion. Right away, my father and I were impressed with the way Winky fought. Winky stayed right in front of Vargas and made him miss all night long while landing several rapid fire combinations. Wright had a unique defensive posture; he’d keep his long arms practically glued to his face and deflect his opponent’s punches off his gloves and arms. With that defensive stance, he was able to hit you at will because he was always in position to hit you with his tremendous jab and hand speed. Vargas’s face looked like it had been hit with a baseball bat after the 12 rounds were completed. My father and I were shocked and dismayed when Vargas was awarded the decision. It was one of the worst robberies my father and I ever had the displeasure to see. Once again, Winky had to go back to the drawing board.
Wright never received a rematch against Vargas as Vargas lost his title a year later to the legendary Puerto Rican fighter Félix Trinidad. Instead of defending against Winky, Trinidad moved up to 160 pounds. Winky fought and easily defeated Robert Frazier by decision on October 12, 2001 to finally win the IBF title vacated by Trinidad. After easily defending his title four times, Wright was ready for the biggest fight of his career: a unification title fight on March 13, 2004 against WBA and WBC titleholder Sugar Shane Mosley.
Just as he did against Vargas, Wright put on a defensive and offensive clinic against the favored Mosley. Mosley was unable to penetrate Winky’s guard and avoid his sizzling combinations. Mosley took a similar beating as Vargas, and Winky easily won a 12-round decision to become the first fighter in the history of the division to simultaneously hold the WBA, WBC and IBF 154-pound championships. Eight months later, Wright soundly defeated Mosley in the rematch. A few months later, Wright vacated all his titles to move up to 160 pounds.
Winky’s first fight at middleweight occurred on May 14, 2005 against Puerto Rican legend Felix Trinidad. Trinidad was one of the biggest stars of the previous 10 years and he had avoided Winky at all costs. Trinidad had suffered a brutal 12 round beating at the hands of Bernard Hopkins in September of 2001 and was truly never the same after that fight. He wouldn’t have beaten Winky in his prime, never mind at the then age of 32. Winky put on a virtuoso performance that night against “Tito” landing his sizzling right jab at will while easily blocking the vast majority of the Puerto Rican icon’s vaunted power shots. Winky won every minute of every round to easily win a 12-round decision. Then, after defeating middleweight contender Sam Soliman in his next fight, Wright signed to fight the Ring Magazine and lineal 160-pound champion Jermain Taylor in an attempt to become a two-division world champion.
On the night of June 17, 2006, Wright and Taylor fought a very spirited and underrated fight in terms of ring action. Taylor had one of the best left jabs in the sport to counter Winky’s own great right jab. After 11 rounds, I felt Taylor needed a knockout to win as I had Winky winning seven rounds to four. Winky all but gave away the 12th and final round as a desperate Taylor outworked him the entire three minutes of the final stanza. This lack of urgency on Winky cost him the fight and middleweight championship. Taylor escaped with a draw by winning the final round. It would turn out to be the last great moment of Winky’s career.
A year later, on July 21, 2007, Winky moved up to 175 to challenge the 42-year old Hopkins for his Ring Magazine light heavyweight crown. Although six and a half years younger than the wily Hopkins, it was Winky who looked much older that night as for the first time in his career he was outfoxed. Hopkins totally dominated Wright to win a decisive 12-round decision. Wright would fight two more times over the next five years, losing decisions to Paul Williams and Peter Quillin and looking nothing like the great fighter he was the nights he defeated Mosley and Trinidad. He would end his career with a record of 51-6-1.
Ronald “Winky” Wright was such a technical marvel inside the ring. He was a boxer who made his opponents miss by staying in the pocket, not having to move much, and use his incredibly long arms to block and deflect their punches. He had a pinpoint right jab that was one of the greatest jabs ever utilized by a southpaw. He threw punches in combinations, and everything off his jab. Because he was so relaxed in the ring and didn’t move around too much, he was as fresh in the 12th round as he was in the first round. At 154 pounds, legendary fighters such as Trinidad and Oscar de la Hoya purposely ducked him. Wright would travel to your hometown and kick your ass in front of your hometown fans. All of these attributes add up to Winky being the 40th greatest fighter of the last 45 years.