Blood, sweat and cheers
By JON WILSON
ST. PETERSBURG -- There's nothing like friends in the slower lane, where everyone knows your drink.
Ronald "Winky" Wright, a world class boxer, has absorbed the fight circuit's tumult -- and adulation -- in places like France and Las Vegas.
But a few days ago, Wright walked into Midtown Sundries, a downtown oasis, and server Yvonne Harlan-Ramirez spied him before he had cleared the door.
"Lemonade?" she called.
Wright grinned and nodded.
Here's a guy who can order up a sarsparilla and no one will challenge his choice.
Wright, who turned 30 on Monday, is the International Boxing Federation's junior middleweight champion, a 154-pound weight division. He has won 42 of 45 professional bouts, including 24 by knocking out his opponent.
St. Petersburg had at least a small reputation as a fight town during the roaring '20s and the Depression era '30s, but Wright is believed to be the city's first world champ.
A professional fighter since 1990, he bears no marks from one of the toughest trades there is.
"I try to duck a lot," he said.
Wright won the title last month in California, dominating Robert Frazier of Rochester, N.Y. Two of the fight judges had Wright winning 11 of the 12 rounds, and the third said he won all 12. The victory earned him a reported $300,000.
The only downside: Wright broke the knuckle on his right-hand pinky. A few days ago, he offered a soft, three-fingered handshake but said the knuckle soon will be well.
Although he feels that the media often have ignored his accomplishments, Wright carries plenty of affection for St. Petersburg.
In October, the Uhuru movement sponsored an appreciation night for Wright at the Orange Blossom Cafeteria.
"I just like the people in general" in St. Petersburg, he said. "I love how slow it is. I go to Las Vegas and see how it is. I know my kids can grow up in a nice life here."
With his partner, Tammye Ryan, Wright is rearing daughter Raven, 9, and son Roemello, 6, in their home in the Central Oak Park neighborhood.
Roemello has already picked up a few of Dad's moves.
"He gets his hands up and has his stance," Wright said. "But he doesn't have to be a boxer just because I'm a boxer."
Wright, an only child, spent his earlier years in Washington, D.C. He moved with his family to St. Petersburg in 1987, hoping to flee the urban crunch.
At first the slow lane was a bit too slow, and Wright said he almost moved back to D.C.
Then he discovered the Birminghams' St. Pete Boxing Club and started training
Wright's trainers, Dan and Mike Birmingham, also are longtime St. Petersburg residents and fight gurus.
They trained Wright during his amateur days, when he won a national Police Athletic Title and a U.S. Olympic Festival Gold Medal. They stayed on when their pupil turned pro in 1990, a few months after he graduated from Gibbs High School.
"It's been a lovely relationship," Wright said of his trainers. "That's who I started with. That's who I'll finish with."
Said Dan Birmingham: "Wink's been around and he's seen other training camps. We've been good friends, and we have confidence in him and he has confidence in us."
So much so that Wright and Birmingham are now partners in the St. Pete Boxing Club at 1330 49th St. S. Andy Lockhart, who owns a C.D. Roma restaurant on 66th Street N, is another partner.
The boxer has diverged from sports ventures in his business interests. He expects his new Pound-4-Pound Records, a rap and rhythm and blues company, to have its first recording out in early January. The artists Wright hopes to showcase are the Southside Riders, Marquette and Shytee, Wright said. Several of the performers are from St. Petersburg.
"I want to help some of the people in the inner city," Wright said. "I still haven't made big money, but there's a lot of people making no money. I'm part of this city, and I'll try to help them."
On that financial subject: Because he is the IBF champion, Wright hopes to arrange a big-money fight in the near future.
Under discussion had been a bout with Sugar Shane Mosley, a fighter from Pomona, Calif. It was going to pay Wright $1.25-million -- not enough, he said.
Wright and Birmingham are looking for a fight that will bring $2.5- to $3-million.
Wright, Mosley, Oscar de la Hoya, of Los Angeles, and Fernando Vargas, of Oxnard, Calif., are considered the 154-pound division's best. Vargas handed Wright one of his defeats in a bout where Wright "beat him 10 out of 12 rounds, but they gave it to Vargas," Birmingham said. Some national boxing writers agree that Wright should have been declared the winner.
"I think he'd beat de la Hoya," Birmingham said. "He's got a little better hand speed."
Wright's next fight is scheduled for Feb. 2 against an opponent to be named. It will be a mandatory defense of his title and will win him exposure on HBO, although it probably won't be the rich fight he's looking for.
But he's confident the big payday will come along.
"Definitely. I'm the champ. (Challengers) need me," Wright said.
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