Why Chris Byrd Can’t Lose

19.04.06 - By Lee Hayes: I recently did an analysis of the upcoming fight between IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd and former WBO heavyweight titlist Wladimir Klitschko in an attempt to give an unbiased break down of this Saturday, April 22nd’s rematch of the two combatants. My conclusion was that Chris Byrd would probably win this fight, and possibly even by a stoppage. The response was a bit surprising. I had expected the usual suspects to attack my reasoning and tell me that Wlad the Great was going to steam roll Byrd - and they did, but what I was not prepared for was the slight increase and respect for Byrd. It was a pleasant welcome to a very tiny club.

The last time I had written an article about a possible clash between these two was when their rematch was mentioned by the Klitschko camp, shortly after Byrd had beaten Jameel McCline by split decision. Many Klitschko supporters had sunk to referring to Byrd as a “coward” for rejecting the offer to return to Wladimir’s hometown for the second time to face the big Ukrainian. “Coward” is something that Chris has never been, and I was very surprised by the negative tone and resentment that many readers had toward the always honorable Byrd. Some sank as low as to insult his wife and manager, Tracy Byrd. I personally had always admired Byrd for insisting on fighting the “big boys” and for jumping from an amateur career that was spent mostly in the middleweight and super middleweight division, right up to the heavyweights. All this after only three professional fights.

By this time Sunday morning, Byrd will have fought around his 10th opponent that was 6'5 or taller. He will be out weighted by another 35 to 40 lbs. - something he’s had to do ever since he turned to the 200+ weight division back in 1994. Through all of these obstacles, somehow Byrd has managed to only be stopped once over his entire career. It seems that neither Klitschko had mentioned Byrd as an opponent, until after Ike Ibeabuchi - the former beast of the division, and true heir apparent to the heavyweight throne- pulled the trick 1999. In fact, when Byrd was named as the last minute replacement for Razor Ruddock in the Vitali fight, Wladimir had to remind Vitali, who was taking Byrd lightly at that time, that “Byrd is a good fighter.”

I’ve addressed why I’m picking Byrd in my last article, which can be found here. This article is simply to let boxing fans know why I think Chris Byrd cannot technically lose this fight. It’s not the same as saying “Wladimir cannot win.” Let me explain.

Most boxing fans soured on Chris Byrd’s style long ago. They began booing him, along with HBO commentator Larry Merchant long before he ever fought either Klitschko. Before he had his first professional loss to Ike Ibeabuchi, if we are to be honest. Just as many boxing fans have taken to the immature, unwarranted boo-fest for Richard Steele, at the beginning of every single fight he referees, -ever since the debacle of the stoppage of the Chavez vs Taylor fight- the same “fans” have taken to booing Byrd, it seems, no matter what he does.

Byrd’s style is not pleasing to Tough Man competition connoisseurs. It was never meant to be. His style was meant for purists of the sport. Fans that still appreciate bobbing and weaving, parrying and straight out dodging shots. It’s true that early in his career, Byrd sometimes forgot to counter and got too carried away with the defense game he was so blessed with, however, he’s been incorrectly tagged as a “runner” who avoids his opponents at all costs, and that is not the truth. I’ve seen nearly ever single professional fight that Chris has participated in, and I am yet to see him get on his bicycle in the same way I saw Wladimir Klitschko do it against Sam Peter, trying to avoid being knocked out. Byrd, if anything, prefers to sit in the “pocket,” or close to his opponents, trying to use his body movements to make them miss. He’s as good at it as any heavyweight I’ve personally witnessed, and in some ways, it makes up for his lack of punching power. The man grew up learning to box in a 10 foot by 10 foot ring in his fathers garage. Sparring with his boxing family, learning to avoid punches from much bigger and older siblings. Even then the odds were stacked against him. This is a man that basically made it to the Olympics and won a silver medal out of a garage. Literally. It’s a Rocky type inspiring a story that most boxing fans are not familiar with.

With that type of natural talent, you would think that Byrd -although unpleasing to the beer filled masses of men looking to see Tyson-esque knockouts- would at least attract the type of fan that Pernell “Sweat Pea” Whitaker used to draw. Perhaps if it had become the custom to boo Pernell, he too would have endured the same un-classy ritual fight after fight. In an age where heavyweights rarely if ever even move their heads to avoid punches, it would seem this lost art form was indeed, finally dead, and not lost at all. Think about it, how many other heavyweights have you seen showing any head movement at all? Certainly not Nikolay Valuev. John Ruiz only moved his head in short bursts, or when he was flying in for a clinching clinic. Even the newly crowned WBO champion Sergei Liakhovich seems to have fallen prey to the curse of the “modern heavyweight.” Little footwork, and no head movement. I’m a Hasim Rahman fan, but, he’s not much better.

Yet with this advantage he once possessed on the larger, more lumbering heavyweights of today, in his last 3 or 4 fights, Chris has made a conscious decision to lay down on his punches more, to avoid less and to throw more power punches. Why on earth would he give up the one unique quality he possessed and take more risks? Because of those fans that have continued booing him. It’s a disgrace in my opinion, and it’s an insult to a true warrior. A true road warrior in fact, as Byrd has never had a problem with fighting opponents in their back yards - even though it’s been ten years since he made anyone fight him in his. He’s a true boxing purist and history buff and he’s always wanted his place in boxing to be more than it appears it will ever be allowed. He hears every one of those boo’s. Insults that still come after even the most exciting rounds he’s ever displayed in the ring. He’s gotten up from every single knock down ever scored on him, even after Ike Ibeabuchi landed one of the best bombs the “Nigerian Nightmare” ever threw in the ring, with drool hanging from his mouth, Byrd still protested the stoppage.

So, as I’ve stated in the title of this article, what is there for him to lose? We all know that his IBF strap is worthless. The IBF has taken pains to demonstrate over and over that they are at least as bad as all of the other alphabet soup belts. He’s not going to win over any new fans, even if he manages to knock Wladimir out of the ring and into the twentieth row. It seems that Byrd will forever be booed, much like his elder Richard Steele, until the day he retires. He has already lost to Klitschko, and odds makers are making him a rather large underdog, even though he’s managed to hold his title for roughly four and a half years (around twice as long as Wladimir was able to hold on to his less significant WBO belt).

With most boxing fans, the odd’s makers, the tale of the tape, and most logic going against Chris, the question that remains is, what does he lose if he loses? Not money. This will be a very handsome payday indeed. Even if he loses to Klitschko, Wladimir himself has proven that a loss, even a devastating knock out loss, does not mean the end of a career. Byrd would stand a very good chance at out boxing all of the other current titlists. He certainly will not lose any more fans, since he has only a select few, and those who admire him admire him for taking fights like this in the first place, and for his gusty showing. Something we are guaranteed to see come Saturday night, no matter what the outcome. If the German judges have there way and Byrd “wins” the fight, but doesn’t get the decision, he may even gain some new fans, from sympathy if nothing else. He certainly wouldn’t lose any more. And if by that off chance, the one I’m personally betting on, Byrd decides to let it all hang out and test Wladimir’s chin, by throwing some quick hard punches to it, you may just see a big upset. One that never should have been an upset to begin with. It’s just hard for me to envision a scenario where Byrd actually loses anything besides the devalued belt he has around his waist. The only real losers in the ring on Saturday will be those booing a class act and talented fighter of Byrd’s level. It will be a long time before someone with his capabilities ever fights at the heavyweight division. Maybe never. Byrd has won my respect time and time again, and as a fan of old school boxing techniques, I will be a fan of his win lose or draw. Wladimir can win this fight -although I personally do not think he will- but one thing is for sure, Byrd has nothing to lose.

There’s nothing more dangerous in boxing than a man who has nothing to lose. Wladimir and Klitschko fans have been forewarned.

This author welcomes your positive comments/suggestions:

Article posted on 19.04.2006

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