'Winky' Wright's trainer from area
Dan Birmingham is a graduate of Fitch High.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Ronald "Winky" Wright's victory over Felix Trinidad May 14 in a WBC middleweight boxing match was a special night for a former Austintown resident.
Dan Birmingham has trained Wright, for 18 years. Their tale is of two men who together have paid their dues in the sport.
Wright, now 33, is first in line to face Bernard Hopkins for the middleweight title.
Birmingham, 53, is the oldest of five brothers and he grew up in The Hollow on Youngstown's East side until the sixth grade, when his family moved to Austintown.
For Birmingham, who graduated from Fitch High in 1969, boxing was always his first love since watching the Golden Gloves tournament at the Struthers Fieldhouse with his father.
"I wanted to learn to fight," said Birmingham, so a friend, Roger Gagne, took him to Art Mayorga's house on Kirk Road, where he trained fighters. Birmingham started when he was 15 and continued for six years and he developed a long relationship with Mayorga.
"There was just a big bag and four walls, but everything I know about boxing came from Art and that Kirk Road basement," said Birmingham.
"Sparring was a major factor for Art's training because he felt that the best way to learn the sport was against an opponent," said Birmingham.
Lou Schiavoni was training in the Mayorga basement at the same time.
"Some of the best battles I have ever seen were between Dan Birmingham and a kid named Tony Carpec," said Schiavoni.
Added Birmingham: "Art had me sparring with a lot of guys, but that Carpec kid could really hit."
Birmingham entered the Golden Gloves tournament in 1968, finishing with a 3-1 record. His only loss came in the Novice 112 pound finals to Ollie Richardson, the older brother of former bantamweight champion Greg Richardson.
Birmingham grew to a 139 pounder and Mayorga threw him into area smokers and between those fights and encounters as an open golden gloves fighter he had a 24-6 amateur record.
Moved to Florida
In 1971 he got an itch to travel and along with his brother Ray hitchhiked to Florida.
Soon his brothers Chip, Mike and Pat followed and all the brothers were Florida residents.
Mike Birmingham, who is nearly eight years Dan's junior and who also trained with Mayorga, also stayed in boxing and today is considered one of the best cutmen in the sport.
Dan Birmingham met a veteran trainer, Jim McLaughlin, who had his own gym and in 1975 began to train kids full-time. Mike Birmingham joined in 1976.
In the beginning it was all amateurs and some very good local teams. In 1984 Birmingham opened his first gym. It was the first of six buildings that Birmingham has been training boxers in over the last 21 years.
Nine years ago he moved into his present gym, which he and Wright own. It is called simply, "The St. Petersburg Gym."
Shortly after Wright's family moved to St. Petersburg from Washington D.C., he walked into Birmingham's gym and said, "I want to try this."
"He was a natural right-hander who we converted into a southpaw and after his first three weeks of training in 1988 he won the Florida Golden Gloves," said Birmingham.
Within a year Wright was fighting international competition. In 1989 he won the Nationals Police Athletic League competition at 139 pounds, lost in the finals of the National Golden Gloves and made it to the Olympic Festival USA semifinals.
Fast start as pro
In October 1990 Wright turned pro and won his first 21 fights. He lost a unanimous decision to Julio Cesar Vazquez in a 12-round battle for the WBA light middleweight title in August 1994.
He won 13 straight fights after that before a majority decision loss to Harry Simon in August 1998. His only other loss was a majority decision defeat to Fernando Vargas in December 1999.
Since then Wright has won 10 consecutive fights, improving his pro record to 49-3 with 25 knockouts. Along the way he has won just about every version of the light middleweight (154-pound) championship. There were two wins over Bronco McKart, one over Angel Hernandez and back-to-back victories over Shane Mosley, both of those in 2004, that finally gave him national recognition.
Then came the win over Trinidad that has him waiting for the Hopkins-Taylor winner.
Birmingham is also training Jeff Lacy, who was a 2000 Olympian and is presently the IBF super middleweight champion. Lacy (19-0-1, 15 KOs) will defend his title Aug. 6 in a 12-rounder against Robin Reid at the St. Petersburg Times Forum.
There's also 6-foot-3 southpaw Chad Dawson, who is 18-0 with 12 knockouts. Birmingham believes Dawson would be a good opponent for Youngstown middleweight Kelly Pavlik.
The Boxing Writers Association named Birmingham the 2004 Trainer of the Year and a few weeks ago he, Wright and Lacy were presented with the keys to the City of St. Petersburg.
"I miss my roots in Youngstown because I have a lot of friends there," said Birmingham. "Most of all I miss Art Mayorga. "He taught me everything I know about boxing." He taught me so many of the little things that mean so much."