Winky Wright's long career rewarded with place in the Hall of Fame

Former junior middleweight champion Ronald "Winky" Wright will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Sunday. Ed Mulholland/WireImage

For a five-year stretch during the early days of Ronald "Winky" Wright's 22-year boxing career he found himself as a virtual nomad.

He and career-long trainer Dan Birmingham left behind the club circuit in the Tampa, Florida, region and embarked on a globetrotting tour as Wright searched for bigger opportunities and bigger purses.

Luxemburg. France. Germany. Monaco. Argentina. England. South Africa.

Wright, who turned pro in 1990, fought in each of those countries. In one stretch he fought 20 of 24 fights away from the United States.

His passport was filled with stamps and he had a career in which he was winning but seemingly spinning his wheels, especially after getting a junior middleweight world title shot against Julio Cesar Vasquez in France in 1994 and suffering his first career loss by unanimous decision.

"It was amazing because all the things that I've accomplished in boxing, so to finally get all the praises that I think I should have got. It felt great." Winky Wright on getting into the IBHOF

But as tough as it was being a road warrior, Wright never lost hope, never felt as though he was slipping into a career abyss from which he might never escape despite the long odds against his hitting it big.

After all, Wright was a slick, southpaw defensive specialist who brought nothing to the table financially. That's a bad combination for a fighter seeking fame and fortune.

"I wouldn't say it was a black hole," Wright told ESPN. "I really didn't see exactly how it was going to pan out because, you know, I was doing a lot of fighting. I was overseas. I was beating everybody put in front of me. The European fans were loving me. It was just that I needed to get back home and have my American fans feel the same way about me."

Wright never gave up.

"I said just keep putting in the work," he said. "You know, you keep beating everybody they're going to have to give you your chance and your opportunity and, you know, it just played out perfectly. A long struggle to a great career."

Indeed, Wright got a few breaks and went on to have a great career, one in which he spent several years regarded as one of boxing's pound-for-pound best fighters in the world and made millions. He ultimately had two junior middleweight world title reigns, including becoming the undisputed 154-pound champion, and now here he is having been elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in his first year of eligibility.

He will take his place among boxing's all-time greats at the 29th annual induction ceremonies on Sunday.

Joining Wright (51-6-1, 25 KOs), 46, of St. Petersburg, Florida, as first-ballot inductees in the modern boxer category will be Mexican legend and four-division world titleholder Erik Morales (52-9, 36 KOs) and three-time heavyweight world titleholder Vitali Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs), who is now the mayor of Kiev in Ukraine.

Being inducted in the observer category are broadcasters Jim Gray and Steve Albert, best known for their work at Showtime, and German promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl in the non-participant category. There will also be three posthumous inductions: ring announcer Johnny Addie and promoter Lorraine Chargin in the non-participant category and Sid Terris, a New York lightweight contender in the 1920s, in the old-timer category.

When Wright, one of boxing's best-ever defensive fighters, got the call that he had been elected he was on the golf course, where he spends much of his time. He was very excited.

"It was amazing because all the things that I've accomplished in boxing, so to finally get all the praises that I think I should have got. It felt great," Wright said.

His first call was to Birmingham "and then I just called everybody to let them know that we made it. Me and Dan, we kind of grew up together in the sport of boxing. We learned from each other. We have a great mutual respect for one another and I'm glad I went down this road with Dan."

"Everybody knew Shane Mosley. A lot of people said before that fight, 'Oh he has no chance. He can't punch, he can't do this, he can't do that.' I love when people tell me what I can't do (something) because that drives my fire. That just makes me want to do it more and the more." Winky Wright

Even when Wright, who never got credit for having a great chin as he was never stopped, fought in the United States during the period of constant travel, he found himself on enemy turf when he challenged Bronco McKart for a junior middleweight belt in 1996. He traveled to his hometown of Monroe, Michigan, and won a split decision and then was back on the road for three defenses in England followed by a trip to South Africa, where Wright lost a controversial majority decision to Harry Simon in 1998.

Then Wright returned to the United States for good, and two fights later got his first major American exposure on HBO in 1999 as the mandatory challenger for Fernando Vargas, one of boxing's hottest young fighters at the time.

Wright fought well and many thought he'd done enough to win, but Vargas was awarded a majority decision. Wright wouldn't lose again for eight years, but the loss to Vargas still sticks in his craw.

"That was very disappointing. I felt that I won in that fight," Wright said. "(Vargas) was talking a lot of trash. He was young, 17-0, 17 knockouts. He thought he could beat everybody and here I'm looking at this little kid and I'm like, 'Oh, I'm gonna punish you.' He had made me mad."

In 2001, Wright got another chance to fight for a title and easily outpointed Robert Frazier for a vacant belt on ESPN. Roy Jones had taken a liking to Wright and signed him to his promotional company and put four of Wright's defenses in a row on his undercards. But while Wright was making low six-figure purses, he wasn't getting major fights.

But when then-unified champion Shane Mosley, then one of boxing's best and biggest stars, could not agree to terms for a third fight with Oscar De La Hoya, whom he had twice defeated, he called Wright's name in 2004.

They met for the undisputed title, with Mosley facing Wright for about half the money he would have made against De La Hoya. Wright won a decision, rather handily. It was a career-making victory, and then he outpointed Mosley again in an immediate rematch. Wright is nothing but appreciative to Mosley for the chance he gave him.

"To this day I take my hat off to Shane Mosley for that because he did things a lot of other fighters wouldn't do -- give me my opportunity to prove that I deserve to be a great fighter," Wright said. "Shane stepped up, he said 'listen I think I'm the best' and I said I think I'm the best. So we had to get in the ring and figure out who was gonna win and we did it. We gave the fans a good fight."

Wright was the underdog but proved everyone wrong, which he takes great pride in.

"Everybody knew Shane Mosley," Wright said. "A lot of people said before that fight, 'Oh he has no chance. He can't punch, he can't do this, he can't do that.' I love when people tell me what I can't do because that drives my fire. That just makes me want to do it more and more."

That led to the biggest fight of his career, a major pay-per-view against superstar Felix Trinidad. Wright vacated his junior middleweight belts, moved up to middleweight for the world title eliminator and won easily.

"The Trinidad fight was a great fight because he had just came off a fight where he destroyed (Ricardo) Mayorga with the punching power and people once again told me, 'Man you can't beat Trinidad. He hits too hard. He can box. You don't punch hard enough,'" Wright said. "And I tell people you all think I don't punch hard enough. I punch hard! I just don't go for the knockout. I prefer to just beat you up 12 rounds and then you don't want to fight me again."

And that's what Wright did. He put on a tour de force against a helpless Trinidad, who looked lost against Wight's steady diet of head-snapping jabs. Wright won by near-shutout decision in a virtuoso performance that went a long way to cementing his HOF resume.

"I didn't anticipate it being easy but I trained very hard for that fight, very hard," he said.

Wright actually said he felt bad about putting such a beating on Trinidad.

"Before that fight, me and Tito became great friends during the press tour, so it was crazy because I didn't want to hurt him but I wanted to win," Wright said.

The victory led to his middleweight title shot against unified champion Jermain Taylor in 2006. They put on a highly competitive and entertaining fight. It was ruled a draw but many thought Wright should have had his hand raised. It was another bitter disappointment for Wright.

"No, I don't think the draw was a fair call," he said. "I would have been the first undisputed junior middleweight champion and middleweight champion, undisputed in both weight classes (because) I never lost my junior middleweight titles. I gave them up to move up because I couldn't get no fights at junior middleweight. I felt I deserved that fight. I moved up to middleweight, I carried the fight, I took the fight to Jermain. You look at his face. I beat him down. It was a good fight but I definitely thought I won the fight."

He turned down the lucrative rematch, leading to some criticism for his decision, but he said he has no regrets. As it turned out, his next fight in Tampa, his first home region bout in 14 years, was the last win of his career as he convincingly outpointed former welterweight titlist Ike Quartey.

Wright would go on to lose his last three bouts by decision to Bernard Hopkins -- a lineal light heavyweight title fight he moved up two weight divisions for -- Paul Williams and Peter Quillin, all top fighters at the time.

Looking back on his career, Wright said there is little he would change because, in the end, it was all worth it. He made his money, fashioned a worthy legacy and will be immortalized in the Hall of Fame. He plans to enjoy every minute of induction weekend.

"I just want to enjoy the moment," he said. "I'm gonna go there (and) I'm just gonna have fun with my family, friends and all the fans out there."