He’s old. He’s fat, although maybe not as much as some think. And, oh yeah, he’s the 20th-ranked heavyweight in the world according to the World Boxing Council.
Meet 50-year-old, 320-pound “Bronco” Billy Wright, father of nine, grandfather of 12, unrepentant lover of lemon pie and winner by knockout of his last 16 bouts since he ended a 55-month retirement from the ring in February 2007. A pro since 1986, the Arizona-born, Las Vegas-based business owner (of an auto repair shop) has been likened to heavyweight novelty act Eric “Butterbean” Esch by some (a comparison which Wright abhors) and to power-punching, two-time former heavyweight champion George Foreman by others, which he doesn’t mind so much.
“If you think I’m a bum or a joke, say it to my face,” says Bronco Billy, who’s 6-foot-4 and has a record of 49-4 with 40 knockouts, 31 of which have come in the first round. “I guarantee you won’t be laughing very long.
“I can knock out anybody on the planet, with either hand. I can knock them cold. I train to break people’s ribs. I train to make their heads rattle so much that they don’t wake up for three minutes. When I fought Chauncey Welliver, he fought back. I liked that. He fought back until I broke his arm with a punch. (When I fought Esteban Hillman Tabary), I broke three of his ribs. They brought him to the hospital because they thought I might have ruptured his spleen.”
But lest anyone dismiss Bronco Billy as a sideshow attraction, a pugilistic bearded lady or sword swallower at the carnival passing through town, be advised that the combined record of the guys he’s fought on this latest comeback trail, at the time he fought them (including two bouts apiece with Tabary and Saul Farah), is 322-162-25, with 225 wins inside the distance. There might not be many recognizable names on the list, at least to American fight fans, but it’s generally a more representative group than the steady diet of designated victims gobbled up by Butterbean during his days as “King of the Four-Rounders.” Wright, who holds the fringe WBC Latino and WBC FECARBOX titles, has appeared in a scheduled four-rounder only twice since 1990. Of his last 14 bouts, 13 were scheduled for 12 rounds and another for 10 rounds. They just never lasted long enough for the judges to use their pencils much.
“I make guys in the Top 10 nervous,” Wright said. “They’re, like, ‘What happens if Bronco Billy knocks me out?’ Which I can, and they know it. I’m fighting and beating guys that are 25, 27, 31. They’re the age of my older kids (his children range from 33 to 6). All of them went in there thinking I was too old and too fat to be much of a problem, but they weren’t thinking that after I knocked them stiff. The only question anyone should have about me is whether I have the stamina to go 12 rounds, if need be. But there’s only way to determine that, isn’t there?”
In many ways, Wright is one of the more interesting fighters in the heavyweight division, if not all of boxing. He’s older than Bernard Hopkins (Bronco Billy turns 51 on Dec. 10, B-Hop blows out the same number of candles on Jan. 15, 2016) and has more descendants than Evander Holyfield. He weighs as much as Nikolai Valuev, although he’s eight inches shorter, and is personable enough to be any interviewer’s dream. You’d think some U.S. broadcast outlet would be eager to put him on television, if for no other reason than to ascertain whether he is or isn’t legit.
But Bronco Billy remains something of a mystery man. Maybe that’s because six of his last eight fights have been off-U.S. TV in Bolivia, which most Americans know only as the place where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid met their bullet-riddled fate. Maybe it’s because well-aged heavyweights, or well-fed ones, or a combination thereof, haven’t really been in vogue since a plump, 45-year-old Foreman knocked out Michael Moorer in 1994 to win the world championship again – nearly 22 years after he did it the first time with a six-knockdown, second-round dethronement of Joe Frazier.
Wright, who weighed a career-low 225½ pounds when he stopped Hector Fernandez – in the first round, naturally – on Nov. 26, 1986, makes no apologies for who and what he is. Everybody gets older and, well, they often get heavier as well.
“For those of us who take care of ourselves, to some degree age is just a number,” he said. “Yeah, I’ll be 51 in December. I guess that’s a big deal to some people, but the way I look at it, if you can do something, go ahead and do it. It really shouldn’t matter how old you are.
“And it is true that I’m a hundred pounds heavier than I was 25 or 30 years ago. So what? I punch harder now. I’m as fast as I was then, maybe even faster. OK, so I have a belly. I don’t kid nobody about that. I like my sweets. But I train harder and have more discipline, by my standards, than I did when I was a younger man.
“Look, I know the public wants to see a Calvin Klein underwear model that can punch like King Kong. When I turned pro in the mid-1980s, heavyweights didn’t have six-pack abs. Mike Weaver, maybe, and Ken Norton. (Muhammad) Ali and (Larry) Holmes didn’t, but they were supremely conditioned athletes just the same. You don’t have to be an Adonis to be a heavyweight boxer.
“Big belly or not, I’ll fight anybody in the world. Come on. Right now. Tomorrow. Next week. Call me up and we can do it.”
It’s a call that might never come from upper-tier heavyweights or their handlers. Wright has that No. 20 ranking from the WBC, but he isn’t rated by any other world sanctioning body and Boxrec.com has him at No. 95, which could restrict him to more off-the-radar boxing trips to Bolivia, Chile and New Zealand. Wright said if he can’t draw interest from a major U.S.-based promoter, he’ll investigate the possibility of getting a promoter’s license and staging his own fights in his home state of Arizona, although that probably would disappoint a lot of Bolivians.
“People think I’m in boxing for the money,” he said. “They don’t understand that you don’t make hardly anything in this sport until you hit the top, or get close to the top.”
So why do it? Bronco Billy – his nickname comes from the huge, jacked-up monster truck (a Ford Bronco) he once owned, not from the 1980 movie starring Clint Eastwood – said he figures he can continue flattening opponents until he’s 55, and it is his intent to do just that.
“I just hope there’s some light at the end of the tunnel,” Wright said. “The reason I got back into it was because I taught my sons, the older ones, all their lives that if you start something, you stick with it until you finish what you began. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t follow my own advice.”