Boxing


In Appreciation Of Chris Byrd

chris byrd28.10.07 - Matthew Hurley: When Chris Byrd decided to fight as a heavyweight after spending his successful amateur boxing career as a middleweight most people thought the undersized boxer was playing with fire. He had even less punching power than Evander Holyfield had when he moved up to heavyweight after winning the cruiserweight championship. Looking back it’s hard to believe how skeptical everyone was of Holyfield’s jump up in weight. Byrd laughed at the skepticism leveled at him and entered the ranks of the big men.

Initially Chris Byrd wasn’t a fighter I rooted for. I found his style a bit off putting as his defensive prowess and lack of power dictated distance bouts unless someone like the murderous punching Ike Ibeabuchi, who he fought in 1999, finally caught up to him and took him out. Ibeabuchi, who at the time was a real threat to every heavyweight out there, was steamrolling his way to a title shot. The proposed fight with Byrd stunk of “mismatch” but so convinced that his southpaw stance and defensive skills would lead him to victory Chris Byrd practically begged for the fight to be signed. He had something to prove to all the naysayers, and his main point of contention with his critics was that he, the undersized kid with no power, would climb into that ring with anyone no matter how much bigger than he and ply his craft.

When Ibeabuchi nearly decapitated him in the fifth round of what was an interesting fight, everything changed in terms of my perception of Chris Byrd. I became a fan, a fan who marveled at his courage, his competitive nature and his gentlemanly sportsmanship. I still didn’t think he would ever win a title at heavyweight and always wondered why he didn’t drop down to cruiserweight or even light heavyweight where he probably would have dominated for years, but that was what was cool about Chris Byrd – he was determined to fight at heavyweight and it didn’t matter if the fighter across the ring from him was a hulking Wladimir Klitschko who outweighed him by forty pounds.

That kind of courage can be looked at as either the ingrown nature of a true professional fighter or delusions of grandeur. Perhaps it was a mixture of the two but in the end it served Byrd well because he recovered from the Ibeabuchi loss and went on to surprise not only his dissenters but several heavyweight fighters who became dumbfounded in the ring with the little southpaw who seemed to be dipped in grease and glided around the ring like a ballet dancer.

Those who didn’t like his style and booed him didn’t really get it. Although his hit and run tactics are a required taste his willingness to call out anyone and everyone was refreshing and very old school. And then, as he got older and his speed began to slow just enough, the fighter in him took over and he stayed in the pocket, willing to trade punches with bigger, stronger men. Those men included Wladimir Klitschko (L 12, L TKO 7), Evander Holyfield (W 12), Fres Oquendo (W 12), David Tua (W 12), Andrew Golota (D 12), Jameel McCline (W 12) and most recently Alexander Povetkin (L TKO 11).

The bout with Povetkin was marked by that diminishing speed which forced Bryd to fight inside, relying on his heart and will rather than his legs and boxing ability. It included a sixth round that was fought at such a brutal, exhausting pace that it brought an appreciative crowd to its collective feet. But that round signaled the beginning of the end for Byrd. It concluded when Byrd’s father threw in the towel in the 11th round.

The talented Povetkin in now in line for a shot at Wladimir Klitschko and it is worth noting that Byrd was fighting this IBF eliminator for the same thing which would seem insane considering the beating Klitschko administered to him in their rematch but by the same token it seems perfectly sane when you consider that it is Chris Byrd who would find nothing unusual in trying to get in the ring with the big Ukrainian again.

In the end Povetkin summed up Chris Byrd perfectly because praise for a true fighter should come from another fighter who knows what it’s like to climb through those ropes.

“Chris Byrd was always a hero of mine,” he remarked. “I’ve always admired his heart and skill. I just loved the way he moved. The fight was tough, very tough because he was very experienced. I couldn’t land my blows the way I wanted.”

I always admired his heart and skill. That sums up Chris Byrd in a nutshell. He always had the skill but his heart should always be mentioned first. He may not have been as exciting as a Mike Tyson or as dominant as a Lennox Lewis but he was as true and pure an example of the mettle it takes to be a world-class fighter. And on top of all that he was and remains one of boxing’s good guys. Not bad for an undersized kid whom everyone doubted when he entered the heavyweight ranks.

Article posted on 29.10.2007



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