Monday, May 14, 2007


From left: Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright at MGM Grand in Las Vegas .

LAS VEGAS – You know the age-old question don't you? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a noise?

This same question can be applied to this summer’s match between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright.

While Golden Boy Promotions and HBO are still delirious over the record setting success of last week’s Floyd Mayweather, Jr. versus Oscar De La Hoya blockbuster, they kick-off this week with the press tour for the July 21st contest between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. Notice I call it a contest and not a fight?

Unfortunately, Richard Schaefer, Mark Taffett of HBO pay-per-view and the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino have a tough sell on their hands.

The initial press conference for this fight actually took place last weekend in Las Vegas on the morning of the Mayweather versus De La Hoya fight. It was scheduled to begin at 11:00 a.m. and boxing scribes were told to show up at the 740-seat Hollywood Theatre inside the MGM Grand hotel and casino. I showed up there at the anointed hour, and while the press conference was tedious and monotonous, I’ll say this for Golden Boy Promotions and Richard Schaefer – they do put on a helluva spread. I helped myself to several pieces of fresh fruit, a delectable serving of scrambled eggs, home fries and a cold glass of orange juice.

My plate and me managed a seat in the front row and as close to the center of the stage as we could get. I sat next to Claude Abrams, the editor of Boxing News magazine from the United Kingdom. The first thing Claude said to me was, “How the hell are they going to sell this one?” I just shook my head because this fight makes no sense to me and I have no idea how they plan on making money at it. But, that is likely the reason why I’m a writer - and not a big-time fight promoter.

This fight is only happening because Bernard Hopkins didn’t like his life in retirement and because nobody at heavyweight, namely WBC titlist Oleg Maskaev, wanted to bother with Hopkins’ outrageous financial demands. Bernard apparently played his own version of pin the tail on the donkey and eventually managed to stick the tail on Winky Wright’s behind. So the fight was made.

According to Richard Schaefer, who was the master of ceremonies on this morning, “Bernard Hopkins called me and told me he wanted to solve the puzzle. The puzzle that is the southpaw Winky Wright and a man who has not been beaten in 10 years.” Apparently calls were then made back and forth and a deal was hammered out between the two and now they’ll meet in the sweltering summer of Las Vegas.

There is a lot that is wrong with this fight and it has gotten a lukewarm reception from boxing fans. The new mantra of Golden Boy Promotions and those that are behind the purse strings at HBO is “to make fights that fans want to see” and “to match the best against the best”.

While Hopkins and Wright are certainly two of the best fighters in boxing there is a lot about this fight that just doesn’t make sense. Fights should be made for many reasons and I can’t think of one good one as to why this one was made or why it matters.

Firstly, neither fighter has much of a fan base. Whenever either of them has been in a big fight it has been because they had an opponent in with them who was the real headliner and the real draw. Bernard Hopkins once defended his Middleweight title against Antwun Echols in Miami, Florida and less than 300 people bothered to show up.

All of Hopkins’ big fights since then have come against opponents that have been responsible for selling the majority of the tickets. Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya and Antonio Tarver all sold the majority of the tickets when they fought Hopkins. Bernard may point to his fight against Howard Eastman in Los Angeles at the Staples Center as a ticket selling success, but many of the tickets for that bout were actually given away.

Same goes for Winky Wright. What is his fan base and when has he ever attracted large amounts of fans that come just to see him? Most of his fights, even the two against Shane Mosley, were fought inside half empty arenas. His fight against Sam Soliman in Connecticut had more empty chairs than a barroom at closing time. His fight against Jermain Taylor was also another empty seat festival. Like with Hopkins, it was Felix Trinidad that was responsible for the full house when Winky fought him in 2005.

Secondly, this fight is taking place in the middle of the brutally hot Las Vegas summer. Only a few creatures are in Vegas in July, scorpions and rattlesnakes. It is so hot in Vegas in July that your skin begins to sting after just a few minutes in the sun and you feel like a cat on a hot tin roof. Temperatures will be in the triple digits and many people avoid Vegas in the summer for the very reason that it is just too damn hot.

With Hopkins being from Philadelphia and Wright having been born in Washington, D.C. this fight is a natural for that area of the country. The fight would have been much more appealing were it being held in Philadelphia or 50 miles away on the beach in Atlantic City.

Thirdly, there is no title at stake in this fight and it is being fought at a catch-weight of 170 pounds. Say what you want about meaningless title belts, but one of the first questions a casual boxing fan will ask about a fight is who the champion is and what title they are fighting for. In this fight you would have to explain that even though the fight is on pay-per-view, neither one of them is an actual world titleholder nor is there a title at stake. It’s also being fought at a weight that is make believe and not even a real weight class.

Lastly, neither one of these guys has a style that is crowd pleasing. At age 42, Hopkins is a safety first boxer who is content to figure out a way not to get hit. He’s a guy that lives by the saying, “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. Truth be told, Hopkins hasn’t looked like he really wants to fight anymore. The last person he knocked out was his business partner, Oscar De La Hoya, and that was with a kidney shot against a guy whose best days were at much lighter weights. Seven of Hopkins’ last eight fights have gone the distance so to say he is a go getter would be a gross misrepresentation. Yes, the science of boxing is to hit and not get hit, but lately Hopkins as been interpreting that phrase to an absurd degree.

Same rule applies to the 35 year-old Winky Wright. While Richard Schaefer misspoke when he said Wright had been unbeaten for 10 years, he has been unbeaten since losing to Fernando Vargas in 1999. And of the thirteen fights Wright has fought since then only one ended in a knockout while another ended on a disqualification. Aside from that, every fight went the distance.

Both Hopkins and Wright are safety first boxers that don’t take risks or chances. Neither fighter really wants to get hit or go toe-to-toe. While not every fight is going to be Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward, neither should they be ballet dance recitals either.

At the initial press conference, Bernard, as usual, did most of the talking. He said he was going “to solve the Winky Wright puzzle” and defeat him. He said that Wright only fought his “sloppy seconds” and because Hopkins fought Felix Trinidad and Jermain Taylor before Wright did that “I destroyed Trinidad and “Jermain Taylor hasn’t been the same since he fought me,” claimed Hopkins.

Even Bernard seems to know this fight is going to be a tough sell. He tried to goad Wright into a verbal exchange by asking, “How is a 42 year old man gonna’ whoop your ass?” Then he went on to poke fun at himself when he said, “I even got a cane,” meaning he is so old he needs it to help him walk. Try as he might to egg Wright on, Winky just sat at his table next to the Hopkins, smiled, shook his head, stared off into space and didn’t say a word. Way to sell a fight Winky.

The problem with this fight is that there is no animosity between Hopkins and Wright. Neither guy really resonates with fans and neither fighter has anything to prove. If Hopkins wins it will be because he’s Bernard Hopkins and win is what he’s always done for the most part. If Wright wins then everybody will say it’s because Bernard was an old man.

So, July 21st is not noteworthy for anything boxing related, but it is the day that the seventh Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book is being released by author J.K. Rowling. Even though Richard Schaefer claims, “50% of the arena is sold already with $2 million worth of tickets,” he really means that’s the amount of tickets that sponsors and the casinos in Las Vegas have purchased for their customers.

Hopkins claims “I’m going to solve the puzzle of Winky Wright and I’m going to be right again.”

While that may be the case, will anybody hear it?

May 2007

1 comment:

merjoem32 said...

Well, neither has exciting styles so the bout may very well be a snore fest. However, the winner will surely receive recognition as one of the legendary boxing fighters of this period so it is still interesting.