Sharkie’s Machine: "The End Of A Legendary Career"

Humming Byrd vs. Evander Forty-field
(35-2-0-20 KO’s) (38-5-2-25 KO’s)

Battle for the vacant IBF Heavyweight Title

By Frank Gonzalez Jr.

16.12 - Evander Holyfield is a Boxing legend. He’s a four time Heavyweight Champion whose best days are clearly behind him. He still says he wants to become the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World before he leaves the sport. His body is chiseled, his heart is unquestionable but Father Time ignores no man, rendering his quest unrealistic at this point in time. Even having Don King as his promoter with all his slippery politics and eyebrow raising schemes, it’s just not likely to happen again for Evander. Besides, King owns most of the other Heavies out there too.

Hey, Evander’s had a storybook career, made tons of money and been an inspiration to Boxing fans worldwide. What more can you ask for?

After three wars with the sloppy John Ruiz, Holyfield’s age has become a big issue. After head-butting his way to victory over Hasim Rahman in June of 2002, it seemed like Evander still had enough left to go on as a fighter although not enough to win it all a fifth time. Five years ago I would’ve bet the world that Holyfield would beat Byrd. Today, I’d only bet the reverse.

Chris Byrd is a #1 contender that no one’s too eager to contend with. Holyfield, being true to his namesake of The Warrior choose to take on Byrd, who Evander previously said he wasn’t interested in fighting, citing his style as a match up he’d rather pass on.

Chris Byrd is a ‘boxer’ who uses speed, movement and slick boxing skills accompanied by soft, yet clean jabs that frustrate his opponents once he gets his rhythm going. He is best known for being TKO’d by Ike Ibeabuchi in March of 99, winning by TKO over Vitali Klitschko, who was winning the fight until he was retired due to injury, (a torn rotator cuff after the ninth round). Like an act of vengeance, younger brother Vladimir fought Byrd next and won a convincing unanimous decision, knocking Byrd down in the 9th and 11th rounds.

Byrd beat the cagey Maurice Harris to win the vacant USBA Heavyweight title in May of 2001 then went on to beat David Tua by UD12 in August of 2001, really making his statement in the division as he made Tua look sloppy and confused.

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The Fight

In the first round, Holyfield looked like he might be able to knock Byrd out with power shots as he steered him into the ropes where Byrd was less likely to escape. Byrd’s corner, consisting of his father and mother, instructed Chris to stay in the center of the ring where he could better negotiate Holyfield.

Byrd followed that advice going into the second round and popped his fly-swatter jab successfully and left Holyfield looking old, unbalanced and confused. The third round was more of the same, with Holyfield able to score with a head butt and not much else while Byrd stayed busier and scored often with love taps. Byrd always first, beats Holyfield to the punch every time.

In the fourth, Holyfield scored with a few good power shots but Byrd took them better than expected. I gave the fourth to Holyfield since he did more damage.

Rounds five through 10 were boring. With Chris Byrd doing about as much damage as a shadow-boxer might, all the while scoring points. I don’t know how legal it is to punch with open-handed gloves. Referee Randy Neumann never warned Byrd about it at all. At one point, even Evander was doing it. He was doing anything he could in his frustration but to no avail.

Holyfield made the mistake of trying to counter punch a counter puncher when he should have been just looking to touch Byrd and like Byrd, score points and win rounds. Chris was too athletic for Evander, who is more accustomed to fighting bigger, slower men. It’s possible that Evander’s 40-year-old reflexes simply couldn’t keep up with the 30 year old Byrd.

At the break between the ninth and tenth rounds, Holyfield’s corner was telling him the truth, that he was far behind and needed a KO to win. They said, “Fight like an Amateur, think like you only have three rounds and put everything you have into them rounds.”

In the tenth, Holyfield did all he could to corner Byrd or get him against the ropes and wail on him the best he could. I gave Holyfield the tenth, although it could easily be argued that Byrd’s ring generalship won him that round too.

In the eleventh, Byrd was playing Holyfield like a fiddle until late in the round when Evander caught Chris against the ropes and got some solid bodywork in and a few good shots upstairs too. I gave that round to Holyfield as he did hurt Byrd a bit and stole the round at the end.

In the 12th round, Holyfield and Byrd squared off many times. To my surprise, Byrd hung in there and traded with Evander instead of Boxing from the outside and protecting his huge lead. I gave Chris credit for giving the fans what they want to see, action. Holyfield did his best, but it was far from enough to conquer Byrd. I called this round even since both men put in so much effort. There were no knockdowns in the fight. Byrd had out-boxed Evander all night.

Punch Stats
Holyfield Byrd
102 Landed 252

344 Thrown 747

30% Percentage 34%

Holyfield Byrd
3 Landed 154
37 Thrown 525

8% Percentage 29%

The Judge’s Scores were:

Eugene Grant – 116-114 for Byrd

John Steward – 117-111 for Byrd

Steve Weisfeld – 117-111 for Byrd

I had it 117-112 – for Byrd

Clearly Holyfield was outworked by Byrd and abandoned his jab, one of the biggest mistakes you can make in Boxing. Everything flows from the jab. Byrd frustrates slower fighters and forces them into desperation mode, which is what Evander was in most of the fight, trying to land that big shot that never came.

It may not just be age that made Holyfield look so bad but that style of Chris Byrd’s. He can make you look bad without ever hurting you. And win fights. Both were gracious during the post fight interviews, with Byrd crediting Holyfield for his greatness over the years and Holyfield, albeit more difficultly admitting that Byrd’s jab kept catching him and kept him off balance.

* * *

Lennox Lewis was in the audience with his new buddy, Don King.

As Lewis appears to have sold his soul to the Devil (Don King) as well as his IBF title for a million and a range rover, Lewis said he passed on fighting Byrd because he “Doesn’t think the public wants to see it.” No point in asking the public themselves. Fans want to see exciting fights. Fights where anything can happen. Right now, Lewis may only have one or two good fights left in him. Who he spends them on will be the difference between his career going out with a whimper or a bang.

More than seeing Lewis fight Byrd; I’d rather see him fight either of the Klitschko brothers. But I can see Byrd giving Lewis a hard time with his cagey style. A hard time is something Lewis has no interest in, especially for the relatively small purse a Chris Byrd fight would muster. In Boxing, like many other sports these days, it’s more about money than pride, integrity or anything else.

The Heavyweight division isn’t exactly bursting with talent. Between Ruiz, Tua, Rahman, Tyson, Oquendo, K. Johnson, McCline, Holyfield and Byrd, the next ruler of the division looks like it’s heading towards the East. Vladimir Klitschko looms on the Eastside of the globe, a proven fighter perched to conquer the division. Time is very much on his side. He is only 26. Lennox Lewis is 37, the sand in his hourglass is bottoming out.

With moneymaking issues like the unwarranted rematch with Mike Tyson, the buzz is that Lennox will face at least one of the Klitschko brothers soon, possibly Vitali, the older brother. After losing to Byrd, Holyfield is unlikely to get another chance at Lewis, who would more than likely beat him a third time anyway.

In closing, I want to thank Evander Holyfield for many exciting years of dramatic fights. I wish Chris Byrd luck, swimming upstream in a division where his style makes him an unappealing opponent. After all, who wants to be made to look bad without even getting hurt? Although it’s my opinion that Byrd’s style is better suited for the lighter weight classes, maybe if he works on developing power to compliment his excellent Boxing skills he may win it all himself some day.

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