Hopkins-Wright: Now here’s a fight

Jul 17, 2007 4:41 AM

It’s almost insulting what Golden Boy is calling the match between two of boxing’s longtime best: "Coming to Fight."

It’s a not-too-subtle dig at the expected "chess match" the majority of "experts" believe will take place when Bernard Hopkins and Ronald Wright face off in Las Vegas next Saturday night.

Hopkins and Wright — I find it difficult calling a grown man "Winky" — are considered skilled technicians, men who exemplify what the "sweet science" is supposed to be. Sometimes, though, they throw in a bit of other seasoning (Wright has accused Hopkins of being a dirty fighter, of course).

There are those who feel this matchup probably is more America’s Cup yachting or lawn croquet. Coming a week after Arturo Gatti, they have the blahs about the two aged gentlemen.

Fair enough. This is a match not for the blood-thirsty, the vampires who love to see brain-bashing action. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m grateful I will have a chance to be ringside at the Mandalay Bay Events Arena when two of the best of their long eras box.

It is my belief that when you put two brilliant boxers in the ring together, something special will happen. They may not be in their physical primes, Hopkins at 42, Wright at 35. But mentally and psychologically they are still among the best in the game.

They reached this point without following the golden brick road. They tiptoed through the minefields. There were no Olympic medals or coddling promoters to propel them. They got here through hard work, perseverance and, yes, extraordinary skills and talent.

We should all be familiar with Hopkins’s story — Philadelphia street punk who did five years in Graterford, Pa., which has been a finishing school for too many lives. He lost his first pro fight, then not again until facing Roy Jones Jr. for the vacant middleweight title in 1993.

By this time, Wright was wending his way through most of the developed countries in the world, realizing that as a talented left-handed boxer there were limitations on his marketability in the States.

This is a man who fought professionally in Luxembourg for gosh sake, though not for long. He stopped Darryl Lattimore (anyone else remember him?) in the first round.

Wright was based in France for years, fighting for the Acaries brothers. He has also fought in Germany, England, Argentina and South Africa. He’s 51-3-1 and majority decision losses to Fernando Vargas and Harry Simon (in 1999 and 1998) were, in my opinion, unfair. The other loss was when he was dropped five times in a 1994 title shot at Julio Cesar Vasquez. Outside of the knockdowns, blamed later on slippery shoes, he was dominating.

In a way, this is the Tito Bowl — both men ripped through one of boxing’s best Felix Trinidad Jr. Hopkins appliled the first loss to Tito, back in 2001, losing three rounds on two official cards, one on the third, before stopping the Puerto Rican icon in the 12th. Wright lost one round on two cards and none on the third in completely dominating Trinidad in 2005.

Hopkins calls Wright the "Turtle," for his shell-like defense. His long forearms held on the side, his gloves blocking the middle, make Wright boxing’s version of a fortress.

Wright calls Hopkins "dirty" because "he uses his head, the way he hits you on the cup and the way he hits you on the legs, definitely something he does on purpose."

Yes, he does, and almost always when the referee is blocked from the indiscretions. Wright is the very slight favorite here — and the bet.

Hopkins is the naturally bigger man. Wright spent most of his career at 154 before being robbed at 160 against Jermain Taylor and here he will allow the builtup Hopkins to come in at 170.

Bernard moved up neatly from his long tenure at middleweight under the care of Mackie Shillstone and easily took the light-heavyweight title from Antonio Tarver before retiring a second time. That was 13 months ago and his victory over Tarver was not enhanced by how shot Antonio looked last month in outpointing the very ordinary Elvir Muriqi.

Even during his controversial two losses to Jermain Taylor (I thought he lost the first by a point, won the second by the same margin, or maybe it was the other way round, who cares), Hopkins was reduced to fighting in brief spurts in order to conserve energy.

Wright does not bang - only 25 KOs in 55 pro fights compared to 32 in 52 for Hopkins. But Wright throws a stiff jab and has enough power so that no one yet has been able to walk through his punches. He should have a large advantage in punches thrown.

The operative word is "should." Wright by decision, but no one has ever got rich betting against either of these gentlemen.

If I weren’t ringside, this is a pay-per-view match for which I’d definitely spring for the $45.