By Christopher Cosenza
If someone told you they were a world champion, had friends named Phil Ivey and Erick Lindgren, won $70,000 off those guys playing cards and wore a Full Tilt Poker logo in front of millions of people, you’d say that person must be a professional poker player, right?
Winky Wright will be the first to tell you he’s not the best poker player out there — hell, he’s not even the best poker playing boxer out there — and he admits he only started playing because of Ivey, whom he met five years ago shooting craps in Las Vegas.
“Then we started golfing together,” Wright said. “He was like ‘Hey man, come on over to the poker tournament with me.’ And I was like, ‘Man, that junk is boring!’ But when we’d go golfing, I’d meet all the big-time poker players, only I didn’t know they were big-time poker players because I didn’t really pay attention to them.”
His relationship with Ivey and Lindgren explains why he once stepped into the ring with a Full Tilt logo stitched into his robe.
“I’m down with all the Full Tilt Poker people. I almost got involved with it. Wish I woulda,” he said with a chuckle. “They did a sponsorship with me to help bring their name out at that time.”
These days, if you ever see Wright at a poker table he likely will be playing in a tournament. He hasn’t played many cash games.
“I’m more of a craps player,” said the ex-undisputed light middleweight world champion who’s called St. Pete home since 1986. “But I like poker. It’s fun to do and a great way to make money.”
But if he hasn’t played cash games before, how did he take $70K off Ivey and Lindgren playing cards?
“(We) flew from Vegas to Sacramento to go to a Kings game,” Wright said, “and they wanted to play poker and I was like ‘Are you crazy? I ain’t playing no poker with you! What about Tonk?’ So they were like OK, and by the time we flew to Sacramento and back, man I beat them outta $70,000!”
Speaking of beating opponents, it’s been a while since Wright, 37, has been in the ring. He recently injured his wrist, which delayed a comeback, but he assures Ante Up he’ll be back in the square circle in 2009.
“I’m gonna be back, and it’s looking like April. Looks like they’re trying to get (welterweight champ) Paul Williams in Vegas.”
But before that, Wright has some business here in Florida to take care of. He’s co-hosting the three-day event Champions of the Goodlife at the Venue in Clearwater with Diddy and Deion Sanders.
“The last time Tampa had the Super Bowl I didn’t do anything, but this time I wanted to do something. We put together a super team to go out and make this party an event. So we got Diddy and Deion. … This party’s gonna be THE party of the Super Bowl. Everybody wants to come. It’s not a big venue so it will be real exclusive. Everybody who’s anybody will want to be at this party. But we know there’s a recession on, so each night we have different prices and we held some tickets for the general public.”
Three nights, three crazy celebrity bashes. … that’s a lot of partying.
“Man, when I finally go to sleep, I’m gonna sleep for three days!”
And what about when he hangs up the gloves for good? Will he focus more on his music label, Pound 4 Pound Records, or will he continue with gambling?
“Gambling,” he said. “Phil told me if you want to be a real gambler you need to win more than you lose. … I enjoy it and try to do it in moderation where it won’t hurt me. If I do it in the right way, be smart about it, I can make money and have fun.”