When fight fans tune in to HBO on Saturday night, they'll see something they haven't seen in just shy of two years: Winky Wright in action.
Wright, who has been largely AWOL from the public eye since his July 2007 decision loss to Bernard Hopkins, gets back in the ring in a return to middleweight to take on divisional chameleon Paul Williams in one of the most intriguing fights on the schedule right now.
Any time a fighter is absent for any real period of time, the usual questions surface. How much is left? Does this guy even want to fight? How much rust will he have?
And with Winky, there's been no tune-up, despite his efforts to take one in December on Vs. and early this year on HBO if he could work it out. Instead, the 37-year old Wright (51-4-1, 25 KO) faces the dangerous Williams (36-1, 27 KO) right off the bat.
Wright is also not your average fighter. Not only is he skilled, but the skills he builds his game upon probably won't have aged terribly. The legendary defensive genius probably won't change anything. Hands high, guard up, workin' the jab. Williams, a former welterweight titlist who now holds a 154-pound title and is fighting now for the second time at 160, has youth, his freakish, heavyweight-worthy reach (82" to Wright's 72"), and readiness on his side. He's turned into a barnstormer almost, fighting anywhere, against anyone, in any weight class that'll have him.
Wright hasn't faced anyone as aggressive as Williams in years, either since his second meeting with Shane Mosley in 2004 or his 2005 destruction of another former welterweight star, Felix Trinidad (if you want to give Trinidad credit for still being all that good in 2005).
Hopkins, a blown-up Ike Quartey and a half-focused Jermain Taylor have been Wink's last three opponents. At an advanced age and with little power to back Williams off, can he really slow his opponent down enough to win? If Williams gets on him early, which I expect he will to test Winky's legs, is Wright going to punch back enough to stay in it on the scorecards, or will he go into a shell and try to change Paul's approach?
No one is ever going to question Wright's defensive genius, even now. I fully expect Winky to come back as one of the game's top defensive fighters, and given that that's always been his calling card, I don't expect him to be anything less than a good fighter upon return. My questions center more on conditioning, desire, and an ability to hang with a younger, assumedly hungrier fighter that is fighting to get more big fights. What's Winky fighting for?
At the same time, maybe Wink's as hungry as ever. He still remains a fighter most guys don't want to face, just like his opponent. If the old Winky Wright shows up on Saturday night, Williams will have his hands very full.