28.02.05 – By Scoop Malinowski: The pressure is on IBF Heavyweight champion Chris Byrd now. The highest powers of the sport – HBO, Don King and the IBF would like Byrd to defend his title against 6th-rated Wladimir Klitschko in Germany in April. Byrd’s contracted minumum of $2.5 million per fight with his promoter King has reportedly been raised to $3 million (also added to entice Byrd is an automatic rematch clause should he lose his title).
Yet still Byrd is resisting this lucrative plan. Instead, Byrd says he prefers to fight Monte Barrett next. But there are a few problems with that idea. Byrd vs. Barrett is a non-draw. HBO does not want to televise it. Don King does not want to promote it. And presumably, the IBF would rather see a sanctioning fee from a fight with Klitschko in it than Barrett.
And Barrett himself has other, more prosperous opportunities than a Chris Byrd fight. Barrett is currently the WBC mandatory challenger for Vitali Klitschko.
So it looks very much like Byrd’s Monte Barrett-escape hatch option is an implausible one.
What options does this leave Byrd with? Well, if Byrd truly is dead-set on avoiding this potential career-best purse with Wladimir, he does have a few alternative routes he can consider. Perhaps he might choose to retire as champion, like Lennox Lewis. Or maybe he can pray that Showtime, ESPN or Best Damn Sports Show will unexpectedly jump in and offer Byrd $2.5 or $3 million to fight Barrett or Valuev or Kirk Johnson or who knows even Riddick Bowe. You can not rule anything out in the crazy world of boxing. Who knows, maybe Byrd will offer title shots to George Foreman or Larry Holmes. Or maybe Byrd will vacate the IBF Heavyweight title and move down to challenge for the newly-vacant Cruiserweight belt. Who knows? If Byrd actually will snub $3 million AND a guaranteed rematch clause to fight Wladimir Klitschko, he is probably capable of anything, logical or illogical.
But it seems most likely that Byrd will eventually accept and obey his obligation as a champion and face this challenge, with the courage, pride and guile that everyone in boxing knows he has.
In the meantime of this curious drama, the action has taken a pause. There is now a distinct calm, as if before the looming storm. Byrd is cornered, with his back against the ropes and his career and reputation on the line. What will he choose to do? What will he say?
No doubt it is going to be very interesting to discover when and what the next decision will be from this cagey, crafty and spiritual IBF Heavyweight champion.