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05-21-2012, 08:55 AM
George Wright, a former Washington state middleweight champion who remained prominent in the local boxing community as both a trainer and coach, died May 10. The 2009 Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame inductee was 76.
Wright, a native of Savannah, Ga., learned to box while growing up in New York City. By the time he settled down in Tacoma after serving at Fort Lewis, his days in the ring were seemingly behind him.
But local sports promoter Stan Naccarato persuaded Wright to resume boxing, and the Tacoma Golden Gloves star went on to become a fixture on regional fight cards while working a full-time job with Nalley’s Fine Foods.
Wright made his pro debut on Aug. 18, 1961, at Cheney Stadium, where he beat Johnny Osborne on a fourth-round technical knockout. Three weeks later, Wright won the state middleweight title with a third-round knockout of Ernie Gipson at the Tacoma Armory.
Wright finished with a career record of 19-3-2, with 16 knockouts. His final bout – an eighth-round KO at the hands of Frank Niblett – was 45 years ago today.
“George didn’t lose many fights,” Wright’s wife, Norma, said Thursday. “But after that last one, I told him, ‘You’ve won a lot of accolades, and accomplished a lot of wonderful things, but I think it’s time to retire.’ Of course, it was up to him. I could only make the recommendation. He was ready.”
Wright stayed in the game as a trainer for, among others, Sugar Ray Seales – a Tacoma resident who first gained fame as the only American boxer to win a gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games.
“He was a good trainer. He helped get me started,” said Tom Mustin, a longtime Tacoma Boxing Club coach whose own career was highlighted by his appointment as head coach of the 2000 U.S. Olympic boxing team.
“George became a mentor of mine. He pretty much stayed around the gym all the time. He was always trying to help out the kids.”
Norma Wright, who met her future husband as a middle-school student in Harlem – they celebrated their 54th anniversary last September – recalled only one match that gave her trepidation: Wright’s fight against heavyweight Bob McKinney in 1962.
“Bob McKinney was so much heavier,” she said, “that it scared me.”
Wright knocked out McKinney in the seventh round.
Services for George Wright are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at SureHouse Open Bible Church, 901 S. 10th St., Tacoma.