29.09.05 – By Aaron King: When Chris Byrd and DaVarryl Williamson meet this weekend in Reno, Nev. for Byrd’s IBF championship belt, they will present two drastically different styles. There are virtually no similarities between the two: Byrd is a southpaw and one of the slickest boxers to hold a heavyweight title, using his legs and quick fists to stick and move; Williamson is a heavy fisted slugger who has recorded knockouts in all but five of his victories..
However, beyond the stylistic differences, the two men are alike in many ways. Both are observably kind and humble men. Both are very loyal to their families. Both are deeply spiritual. What’s more, they are actually good friends. They know each other’s families and call each other periodically. You almost forget that they are preparing to fight in a few days.
It’s not the first time this issue has come up. How are you supposed to enter the ring with a close friend, only to then have to see him as a mortal enemy? I think that it is emotional enough to be the heavyweight champion and to literally like a guy. “We are a lot alike, we like a lot of the same things, we are both family oriented, spiritual wise; this is just huge opportunity for both of us,” Williamson (22-3, 18 KOs) said to Doghouse Boxing. Byrd (38-2-1, 20 KOs) agreed saying: “I share the exact same attitude as he does. This is certainly a huge business and I want to win. I want to win this fight and he knows that and it will be very competitive. It is going to be a barn burner, I can assure you.”
Tracing their careers, road blocks mark paths of both Williamson and Byrd. Although Byrd hasn’t lost in almost five years, when he dropped a decision to Wladimir Klitschko, his quest for respect in the heavyweight division has been an uphill climb. Byrd, despite a lengthy tenure as IBF champion, has never been truly mentioned as the best heavyweight in the world at any point. He was cast aside in the wake of Lennox Lewis’s last years as champion, and now, considered at best second to Vitali Klitschko.
Although he, and undoubtedly others, believes he is the best in the world, Byrd hasn’t always helped his cause. In March 2004, Byrd fought to a draw with Andrew Golota in New York. His next fight, near the end of 2004, was against Jameel McCline. Byrd went down in the second but managed to stay away from the 270 pound McCline to squeak by him with a split decision. The confidence of Byrd was palpable. He didn’t appear deterred by the fight.
“I have got a great chin. I can trade with anybody. I do not want to get my chin tested, but certain styles bring out certain things in me. It made for a great fight,” Byrd would later say.
The problem is that Chris Byrd may be getting his chin tested. Williamson is a devastating puncher, and Byrd is 35 years old. How much longer his legs will be able to carry him through fights isn’t clear.
Even though he only has 25 fights to his professional record, Williamson isn’t a puppy. In fact, he’s two years older than Byrd, and his career is as full of setbacks and comebacks as any other.
Williamson had a storied amateur career, posting an amazing record of 120-17-1 with 103 KOs. After not qualifying for the Olympics in 1996, he had a plethora of career choices spanning from comedian to trying out for a couple of NFL teams. He turned pro in 2000 and flew out of the gates with an 18-1 record, winning 16 by knockout. Then disaster struck.
Williamson was supposed to be a great test for another prospect, the undefeated Joe Mesi. 1:46 later, the hometown Buffalo fans were on their feet and Williamson was on his back.
DaVarryl was humiliated in his first shot at national exposure. He had a chance to make a name for himself, and he did. The chiding about how “Touch of Sleep” was indeed touched surely got to him. How couldn’t it?
Since that fight two years ago, Williamson has continued to travel through the ups and downs. First he won the NABF title, then he lost a technical decision in the fifth round when Wladimir Klitschko suffered a cut on his forehead. However, it can be argued that he is fighting better now than ever before. He beat Oliver McCall last year and earlier this year, knocked out Derrick Jefferson in two rounds.
The fight will be on the undercard of the James Toney-Dominick Guinn fight. If there is a hidden advantage in this one, it may be on the side of Williamson, for Chris Byrd has an ongoing feud with Toney. “Oh, please James is running scared. James has got the biggest mouth in boxing, but he doesn’t have any heart. He had a chance to fight me when he fought John Ruiz. We thought we were going to make something then. Then it fell apart,” Byrd said of Toney. “He keeps bringing my name up, but then will not sign the contract.”
Undercard or not, Byrd-Williamson should have all the makings of a marquee fight. Two contrasting styles, two experienced fighters, and one championship on the line. It doesn’t get much better than that.