Chris Byrd on James Toney: “I’ll Smoke Him!”

28.10.03 – Interview by Carlos “Stiff-jab” Kalinchuk: Recently Chris Byrd was ringside catching Oscar DelaHoya’s HBO Latino show in Houston. Being an avid boxing fan, and being in Houston for a Fellowship of Christian Athletes conference was just too much for Chris to pass on coming out to the fights. We caught up with him and got his thoughts on a variety of topics. From Toney to Holyfield to the Klitchko’s, Chris was candid about everything including his sub-par performance against Oquendo. In spite of his recent poor outing against “The Big O”, he was open and answered every question without reservation.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean I’m opening up a Chris Byrd fan club in Houston, it just means the guy deserves respect for at least addressing his lackluster performance against Oquendo. Perhaps in his next fight, he’ll fight with more zest and zeal, as a real Champion should. Let’s hope the criticism and questions about his effort drive him to bigger things. According to our conversation though, the chance of seeing a more offensive minded Byrd is not going to happen. Only time will tell.

Eastside: It’s interesting to see you down here. What brought you to Houston?

Chris Byrd: The FCA, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Mecardo Henson (a friend of mine) is part of the group and we’re speaking to schools and colleges. Tomorrow, actually I get to speak to the Texans.

Eastside: What did you think of Raul’s performance tonight?

Chris Byrd: He looked great. He fought a difficult guy. Most professional fighters wouldn’t figure out a style like that until the fight is over. Like ahh, “this is what I should have done, this is what I should have done!” He figured it out. Because of his experience, he figured it out. Difficult style. A guy (Aranda) who’s a crafty guy, he knows what to do but Raul took his time-picked his shots and finally caught him with a great body shot.

Eastside: Everyone knows you’re a huge boxing fan, and that you’re always looking for a good match to attend, will you be in San Antonio to see Barrera and Pacquiao on the 15th?

Chris Byrd: Oh man! If my wife lets me go…I’ll be there in a heartbeat!

Eastside: What’s your prediction of that fight?

Chris Byrd: Picking fights…I used to pick them all the time but now, it all depends what the guys do in the ring. Pacquiao is a strong guy. A southpaw, but he’s pretty wild with his punches. He doesn’t throw a lot of things straight AND he’s moving up to 126! That’s a lot of weight. 4 lbs makes a difference in the smaller weight guys! Barrera’s a smart guy. He’s more patient. He’s a lot more patient than he used to be and he picks his shots well. And even fighting Prince Naseem Hamed, PATIENT. Picking his shots, knowing he had a slippery guy and a slippery southpaw for that matter…I think the confidence from that fight going into this fight-too big, too strong!

Eastside: In your last fight against Fres Oquendo, there was a lot of controversy.

Chris Byrd: Oh-yeah (smiles).

Eastside: Honestly, what is your opinion on it because…

Chris Byrd: My opinion…once I talked to a few referees, they said they would have disqualified him. I mean there was a lot of holding and a lot of stuff going on in the fight. Fres Oquendo, I can’t take anything away from him. He had a great game plan in the ring. I can honestly say that I underestimated him going into the ring. I was thinking about “other” major fights-man! I wasn’t thinking about Fres Oquendo!

Eastside: How would you rate your performance?

Chris Byrd: Not…overall I give it a “B.” A “B-.” I didn’t get off like I should have. I waited too much and in this fight I wanted to prove to the fans that “I can go forward and make a fight!” I weighed 211 wet! When I got in the ring I weighed 202! And he weighed in at a solid 224! I was like “This Chris Byrd’s going to fight!” You notice in the fight I was going forward. I’m trying to make the fight but he never wanted to fight back and I thought we were going to stay in the middle and we were just going to duke it out. But I’m going back to the “Old Chris Byrd Style.” I’d rather just be patient. I could have been patient and won a stinky 12 round decision! But it turned out to be stinky anyway because of all the holding; I got tackled in the 12th round! It was crazy! If you listen to Larry Merchant and George Foreman, you would think I got smoked! Blown out! And even Harold Lederman! But even Harold Lederman had it 115-113 for Fres Oquendo! Which is a close fight! So any round could have made it even or any round they could have given to me and I would have won the fight handsomely. I tell people now, don’t listen to the commentators. Judge the fight for yourself. Because when you judge it for yourself, you’ll know who the real winner is because you could score it for yourself. You could honestly say, “Okay, I wrote this down and I came up with 115-113 for either guy. Don’t listen to commentating. It influences the people so much that most guys say “Oh, you got your butt whooped!” I’m like; well the HBO commentator had it 115-113. That’s not a butt whooping!

Eastside: So you’re saying instead of getting up and grabbing some nachos while your watching the fight, and depending on the HBO team to score it, score it yourself.

Chris Byrd: Yeah! Score the fight! If you’re a true boxing fan, that’s what I do! I’m a boxing nut! I sit back and I tell my wife all the time, “Score the fight. Just score the fight for yourself. Every round, count it.” Like I give that round to such and such and after every round, you’ll know who’s winning. And you know who to go for instead of listening to another guy’s opinion. That’s their opinion of it! But what’s your opinion? Watch the fight. That’s what I try to tell boxing fans now. I maybe had lost. I can’t do anything about it. The judges gave it to me. Okay, I may have lost.

Eastside: Right now, you’re one of the most avoided guys in the Heavyweight Division. People avoid you.

Chris Byrd: Always.

Eastside: How difficult for you in finding you next opponent that’s a marquee opponent?

Chris Byrd: I leave that up to Don King really. There are certain guys I want to fight real bad. Even Roy. I want to fight Roy. Roy’s a good friend of mine. It’d be a great fight. I want to fight James Toney. Now he’s in the mix. He’s talking trash but do he really want it? He’ll talk the trash but he don’t really want it! And any other guy! There’s Lennox Lewis and I really don’t mention him no more. But any other guy out there. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m still champ. I know I’m going to fight soon and I’m having fun. I just want to fight more often. I took 10 months off after the Holyfield fight-to-fight Fres Oqeundo so I was a little rusty. I’m not 23 no more, I’m 33 so I know my body don’t function the same with the long rest. I just want to fight often. I’m having fun doing it and whomever I don’t care!

Eastside: Did you see Holyfields last fight with Toney?

Chris Byrd: Oh man (disgusted)…

Eastside: What do you think as a legend and future Hall of Famer like that, what is your opinion of what he should do next in boxing?

Chris Byrd: Retire. I’ve always defended Holyfield and I’ve always thought, fight until you just get it out of your blood. It’s out of his blood. It’s gone. I honestly could tell you, from the Rahman fight, he looked pretty good against Rahman. He fought me for 12 rounds. He fought! After 3 rounds with James Toney, he was done! He couldn’t throw punches anymore! I stopped watching the fight. Now everyone is talking about how great James Toney is now. I take nothing away from the performance, but he had a dead man in front of him. He just had life and death against Vasily Jirov at 190, so at “217” now he’s a heavyweight contender (laughing)? A major heavyweight contender? Come on! Be realistic! He looked great against Holyfield but look who he had in front of him this time! I took 10 months off. I looked bad against Fres Oquendo at 33. Holyfields 41 and took 10 months off too. And he’s 41, and he’s been through wars! How do you think he feels?

Eastside: How do you re-invigorate your career? Looking back after the Holyfield fight, there’s was a lot of excitement/momentum and people were talking about you. But it seems after this last fight, people have been pretty critical of your career. How do you turn that around?

Chris Byrd: That’s boxing! That’s sports in general I think (smiles). One fight, you’re as good as your last fight. My last fight wasn’t good, so I’m not good right now (laughs)!

Eastside: (Big Laughs.)

Chris Byrd: But let me come back and fight James Toney and I’ll smoke him! I might just look great! Now, I’m the best heavyweight in the world by far! I mean they view you like that! You can’t go by…every style is different! And one guy and…I didn’t have to fight Fres Oquendo! We were all knowing going in that…my father was like “Ohhh, that’s a difficult fight because he’s got a difficult style!” Fight him! That’s how you prove that you’re the best in the world! You don’t pick and chose! You fight whoever’s there. I’ve never had the opportunity to pick and chose who I was going to fight, I just fought who was there. And that’s my mentality! I may look bad in this fight but I may come back and fight another David Tua guy and look great. After I fought David Tua, I was supposed to be dead before David Tua! They thought he was going to kill me! I fight David Tua and I’m the second best heavyweight under Lennox Lewis! What!!! I’m back in the shuffle! Now I’m back here. James Toney, they’ve got up there with Roy and me and everybody off of Holyfield! Let him fight another heavyweight and he struggles? “Ahhh, I don’t think he’s no good” Now he’s in the back of the pack again! Fair-weather man! People are fair-weather! People don’t stay with you until the end and say, “Okay, he had a bad day!” Everyone is entitled to one bad day! In my career, I’ve beaten guys by wide margins in every fight. So I have one close fight and now it’s like “Whoah! He might be falling off!” Guys get up for me!

Eastside: Do you have a date with destiny with Vladimir Klitchko? I mean every fighter wants to avenge a defeat. I don’t know any fighter who doesn’t.

Chris Byrd: Ahh man! Both brothers! I got dogged on both of them! Vitali denied me a knockout! I’m telling you. The body shots, I tell you, I heard him grunting in the ring (laughs) and he quit claiming a shoulder injury. Both brothers! Look at me man; I like weigh 185 lbs right now! I’ll fight both of them. I have nothing against them but I’m competitor. I’ve got to get those fights back.

Eastside: Time frame? When do we expect to see you? How many months?

Chris Byrd: Don King is talking about January. That would be sweet because it gets me right back in the ring. I’m staying in shape. If I took my shirt off right now, I’m kind of ripped up so I’m staying in shape and I’m pumped and I’m ready to fight whoever.

Eastside: Thanks again.

Chris Byrd: “Hey” thanks to you too.

Carlos “Stiff-jab” Kalinchuk
Contributing Writer & Photographer

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