YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Wright's Way Is Now Right Way

The 154-pound IBF champion has a 46-3 record, but only now is he drawing an elite opponent in Mosley.

March 12, 2004|Steve Springer | Times Staff Writer

Maybe it was the awkward style, which can make an opposing fighter look foolish.

Maybe it was the southpaw stance, which can make an opposing fighter look confused.

Maybe it was the decision to forsake a shot at Olympic glory to sign with a small-time promoter with limited vision.

Maybe it was the six years spent wandering the globe, fighting in seven countries on three continents, far removed from the U.S. spotlight.

Maybe it was none of these. Maybe it was just the name: Winky. Fighters are nicknamed Rocky or Sugar, Marvelous or Ferocious. Not Winky.

Whatever the reason, Ronald "Winky" Wright -- "I don't like the name Ronald," he says -- has spent more than a decade fighting for recognition, campaigning for major opponents, pleading for a shot at the major titles and big money that have gone instead to fighters such as Oscar De la Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Bernard Hopkins and Shane Mosley.

Wright has been bolstered by his publicist, Fred Sternburg, who has conducted a never-ending media blitz on his behalf, sending out enough e-mails to rival spam, enough faxes to destroy a forest.

It wasn't all hype. Wright has a 46-3 record with 25 knockouts, is the International Boxing Federation junior-middleweight champion and has successfully defended that title four times.

And finally on Saturday night, Wright gets his chance to prove that all the e-mails and faxes and all the bragging about his skills and all the outrage over his exclusion from the elite in his division were worthy of consideration.

On Saturday, Wright will step into the ring at Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center to face Mosley, a fighter who knows all about battling for recognition, for the undisputed 154-pound title.

It has been a long road from obscurity to Saturday for Wright.

Even the explanation for his nickname is obscure. "My grandmother, Mary Dorsey, gave it to me when I was a year old," Wright said.


"Wasn't no special reason."

Born in Washington, D.C., Wright moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Fla., at 16. Making new friends at that age can be tough, as Wright quickly discovered. Finding himself often alone, he decided to pursue boxing, a sport he'd enjoyed from afar.

Wright wandered into the St. Pete Boxing Club, put on the gloves and, suddenly, he wasn't alone anymore. Instead, he soon found himself in fast company among boxing amateurs.

"He learned real fast," said Dan Birmingham, his trainer since the beginning. "In three to four weeks, Wink was sparring with David Santos, who had 60 to 70 amateur fights at the time."

In 1988, the year he joined the gym, Wright won a Sunshine State Golden Gloves championship. He went on to repeat the following year, won gold at the 1989 National Police Athletic League championships and the 1990 Olympic Festival, a bronze in the USA Boxing championships that year and won five of six international events. In all, Wright was 65-4 as an amateur.

Ahead loomed the 1992 Olympics, where De La Hoya would go on to win Olympic gold, setting him on a direct route to the top.

But immediately ahead of Wright loomed local promoter Phil Alessi, who waved a checkbook and persuaded the then-18-year-old to turn pro.

"We both kind of got talked into it," Birmingham said. "Wink was broke, he had a chance to buy a car and have a salary, and he went for it. The total offered Wink was less than $20,000. I went along because I was kind of naive myself at the time."

It may have seemed like the fast lane, but instead, Wright soon found himself on the shoulder of the road, inching along while others, such as De La Hoya, zoomed past him. In three years, Wright quietly went 16-0, but nobody who mattered seemed to notice.

"I tried to contact promoters like Don King and the Duvas," Birmingham said, "but they wouldn't return my calls."

French promoters Michel and Louis Acaries did return calls and lured Wright and Birmingham overseas, where Wright mostly fought from 1993 to '99. Stepping into rings in England, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, South Africa and Argentina, Wright became known to his opponents as the "International Man of Misery."

He was, however, also the International Man of Mystery. Even though he defeated Bronco McKart to win the World Boxing Organization junior-middleweight title in 1996, Wright received little notice back home.

"I thought, this is crazy," Wright said. "I was over there fighting, but I couldn't get back to the United States, couldn't get on a major televised show."

So he decided to return to the U.S. to seek his fortune.

"We got tired of all the traveling," Birmingham said. "There was just no way to be noticed fighting all these guys, and we were fighting them in their hometowns."

Wright didn't exactly find a parade waiting for him when he returned.

He lost a close, controversial majority decision to Fernando Vargas in 1999 for the IBF 154-pound title, then came back to win that title two years later by decision over Robert Frazier.

Los Angeles Times Articles