"I knew Winky was the single best defensive fighter in boxing, maybe of all time," Shaw said. "He had an almost impenetrable defense. However, I thought Shane Mosley could move and outwork him while Winky stood in the middle of the ring. Maybe he would not knockout Wright, but he could win an easy decision."
Even when he was 25-0 in 1994, his biggest payday to that point was just $5,000. The Acaries brothers then paid him what must have seemed to him a king's ransom of $50,000 to fight Vasquez -- who was 50-1 -- for the junior middleweight title in St. Jean de Luz, France. On paper, Wright was vastly overmatched. But as he would prove throughout his career, he did not turn down a tough challenge, something that must be factored into his legacy.
The fight was set for the dead of August. There were no screens on the windows of Wright's gym in France. Before he even got into the ring with Vasquez, he had fought gym wars with mosquitoes and the sweltering heat.
To say Wright was moving up in class is a gross understatement. Wright's previous opponent had been Orlando Orazco, who had an 11-20-3 record. Vasquez, meanwhile, was making his ninth straight title defense. Of Vasquez's 51 fights, he had fought a total of 74 championship rounds, which was just five less than all the rounds Wright had under his belt.
Despite the vast difference in experience, Wright gave Vasquez all kinds of trouble. Wright was ruled knocked down in the second, seventh and ninth rounds, and twice in the twelfth, but his trainer, Dan Birmingham said three of those were caused by slips due to the slippery soles on his new boxing shoes.
Even with five knockdowns, which obviously cost him a lot of points, the final scorecards indicated how competitive the 22-year-old Wright had been: 110-113, 110-114 and 110-115.
Two years later, Wright would win a world championship. Again it did not come easy. In order to take Bronco McKart's belt, Wright was forced to fight in the champion's hometown of Monroe, Michigan. Wright won that fight by split decision, with the cards undoubtedly being very close because of the hometown advantage. Just to set the record straight, Wright would later in his career give McKart two more chances at him. On neutral ground, Wright dominated him easily both times.
Wright did not lose again until 1998, when a brilliant and ill-fated young African fighter named Harry Simon, who was 16-0, beat him in South Africa, a fight in which many feel Wright was blatantly robbed. At first ruled a draw, while Wright was undressing in his locker room, officials came in to tell him the scorecards were in error and he had actually lost a majority decision, 113-117, 113-115 and 114-114. Simon, meanwhile, would go on to also win a middleweight title and was 24-0 before legal problems ended what promised to be a sensational career.
The last person to beat Wright was a prime-time Fernando Vargas, who was 17-0 when they fought in December of 1999. Wright to this day believes he won that fight, and while some agree, most thought the judges got it right with their majority decision for Vargas. Once again in defeat, Wright would not be dominated. The scorecards read, 112-116, 112-115, and 114-114.
Wright has not lost a fight since.
What makes Winky Wright so difficult to beat? Most point to his nearly impenetrable, high-glove defense, which has been compared to a tortoise's shell. But the true genius of Wright is his remarkable jab, one of the best any fighter has ever had.
A natural right-hander, Wright fights southpaw, so his power is behind the right jab, which he throws -- by Birmingham's count -- roughly every five to 10 seconds. What makes it so effective is the speed in which he delivers it, the force behind it and his uncanny ability to pull the jab back so fast opponents have a hard time countering over it.
Shaw described Wright's style like this:
"He likes to stand in the center of the ring and jab. It's almost as if he nails one foot down and does everything working with the other foot, moving in a circle using that one foot, up to 360 degrees," Shaw said.
Shaw became Wright's promoter after he defeated Mosley the second time, and would feed him a succession of elite fighters and increasingly more lucrative paydays.
With Mosley out of the picture, Trinidad agreed to fight Wright in May of 2005. For that bout, Wright earned, according to Shaw, "$4 million and change." Wright also displayed a surging belief in his invincibility.
"During his whole camp, Winky kept telling me, 'Don't worry, this is going to be the easiest fight of my life.' He said he had Tito's number. In a sense, you could not make a better match-up for Winky, because Tito just keeps coming and would walk right into Winky's jab," Shaw said.
After backing up his boast to Shaw and thoroughly whipping Trinidad, Taylor loomed as his next logical big fight. Before they would meet, Shaw got Wright $2.5 million to beat Soliman. When he finally fought Taylor, Wright earned his biggest payday ever, $4.25 million.
In the only draw on Wright's record, he gave Taylor the fight of his life. Wright did so by becoming more aggressive than he had ever been before. Shaw believes Wright must fight the same way if he is to have a chance at beating the bigger Hopkins in a move up to light heavyweight.
"Winky has to be the aggressor against Hopkins," Shaw said. "Hopkins is a very very skilled fighter and a very smart fighter. He is not one-dimensional like Tito. He moves from side to side. But Hopkins has never fought anybody with a jab like Winky's. Against (Antonio) Tarver, Tarver was just flicking is jab. Winky has to use the jab to back Bernard up to the ropes and then work him over. If he doesn't, he loses."
Shaw believes Wright can lock down his legacy if he beats Hopkins, and then perhaps goes on to defeat Joe Calzaghe, who has talked recently of possibly facing Wright, among six million other fighters.
"If Winky beats Hopkins and then Calzaghe, he would absolutely be an all-time great," Shaw said. "He beat Shane Mosley twice, he beat Felix Trinidad and drew with Jermain Taylor. That's an awfully good resume."
With that kind of record, Wright's legacy would come into crystal clear focus: he beat the best of his generation. Not bad for a lunch pail guy who says he just gets paid to fight.