Byrd vs. Klitschko: Byrdís title reign is about to end!

07.02.06 - By Geoffrey Ciani: On April 22, IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd will defend the title against #1 contender, Wladimir Klitschko. This will be the second time these two square off. The first time they met was back in October of 2000, when Wladimir Klitschko pitched a virtual shutout against Byrd, winning very round while dropping him twice en route to a lop-sided unanimous decision. And frankly, I canít envision anything differently happening this time around (barring a KO win for Klitschko).

To be sure, this is professional boxing where anything and everything can happen Ė particular in the heavyweight division, where one punch can change the entire course of a fight. That said, Iím hard-pressed to think of anything Byrd can do differently to reverse the outcome of their first encounter. In fact, Iím hard-pressed to think of anything Byrd can do differently to even make things slightly more competitive. Judges scorecards in their first bout read 120-106, 119-107, & 118-108, all in favor of Wladimir; and these scorecards were actually generous to Byrd (how anyone could have scored the bout anything other than 120-106 means someone was just looking for a way to give Byrd a ďcloseĒ round here or there).

Is there realistically anything Byrd can do differently this time around? Truth be known, I donít think there is. In fact, Iím even willing to go so far as to say Byrd has virtually no chance of winning this fight (barring a freak injury suffered by Klitschko). Of course, anything is possible, but if I was Chris Byrd, this is the last person Iíd want to have to defend the title against. Byrd would have best served his own interests by avoiding Klitschko like the plague.

Am I saying Byrd is that bad? No, not at all. Byrd is an outstanding technician in the ring with an abundance of skills. Heís slick, heís quick, and heís a great boxer with a tremendous chin and a gigantic heart. Am I saying that Klitschko is that good? Nope. While the younger Klitschko is clearly one of the top talents in the division, he is a far cry from perfection personified. Like any other fighter, he has his flaws, and these can be exposed by the right opponent. So what am I saying?

Simply put, as the old saying says that Styles Make Fights! And this fight is a stylistic nightmare for Chris Byrd, any which way you slice it. Granted, a lot has happened since their first encounter. Byrd has since won the vacant IBF title from Evander Holyfield which he has Ďsuccessfullyí defended four times, whereas Wladimir has suffered some major setbacks with knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster. Some might view such as evidence of Byrd having a chance. After all, the first encounter was over five years ago! However, none of this really matters much in the context of this particular match-up, because regardless of what has happened since, Klitschkoís style is clearly superior to Byrdís in a head-to-head fight.

The problem for Chris Byrd is that heís not slick enough to out-slick Wladimir and heís not powerful enough to cause much damage. Like Byrd, Klitschko is an outstanding technical boxer, with an impeccable jab, a snappy left hook, and a wicked right down the pipe; overall, he has very good boxing skills. Add to this the fact that Klitschko has a tremendous size advantage, which he is quite capable of utilizing, and this spells D-O-O-M for Byrd Ė much like it did in their previous encounter.

Also consider that Byrd is clearly on the downside; heís not the same fighter he was when he first squared-off against Klitschko. After beating Holyfield for the vacant title, he was given gift a decision over Fres Oquendo and awarded a very controversial draw with Andrew Golota, in bouts most feel he should have lost. Then he beat Jameel McCline by the skin of his teeth, before beating the very ordinary DaVarryl Williamson in his last bout. Byrd is no longer the caliber fighter he was when last these two met; in fact, a strong case can be made that Byrd has been in steady decline since he defeated David Tua in an elimination bout prior to fighting Holyfield.

Then thereís the fact that nothing Byrd tried worked against Klitschko last time around, and thereís no logical reason to believe that this time will be any different. Byrd is a versatile fighter with tremendous heart, and none of this mattered one bit when faced with a stylistic nemesis. The problem for Byrd is heís incapable of exploiting Wladís weaknesses Ė namely, his chin and his stamina. It takes a power puncher to beat Klitschko: someone who will either overwhelm him with brute force, as in the Sanders bout, or someone who will affect his stamina by administering a prolonged beating keyed by a successful body attack, as with the Brewster bout. Byrd has never been much of a power puncher; he simply doesnít have the tools to execute an effective attack against Klitschko. And even worse, Byrdís best assets are easily nullified by Wladimir.

Byrdís best chance to win this bout may very well be to go-for-broke from the opening bell. If Wlad enters the ring cold (as is oftentimes the case), Byrd might be able catch him off guard and stun him with a barrage of punches. I doubt it, though. For starters, this isnít Byrdís style. Secondly, enacting such a fight plan will open Byrd up to the possibility of suffering an early KO loss. And finally, Iím not so sure Byrd is going to be overly eager to engage with Klitschko. Lest we forget, Klitschko has a clear psychological advantage going into this one. But, be that as it may, I still think this is Byrdís best chance to win. The alternative to going for broke will likely result with Byrd being on the receiving end of a brutal prolonged beating.

The landscape of the heavyweight division is about to change. Byrdís championship reign is about to end and the Klitschko reign is about to begin.

Mark my words: Wladimir Klitschko will become the IBF heavyweight champion of the world this April.

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Article posted on 08.02.2006

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