Byrd Edges McCline, Retains IBF Heavyweight Title

By Francis Walker
Updated: November 15, 2004

Chris Byrd

NEW YORK — Chris Byrd successfully defended the IBF heavyweight championship with a 12-round split-decision against No. 1-ranked contender, Jameel McCline (31-4-3, 19 KOs) at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Despite being outweighed by more than 56 pounds and nearly 6-inches shorter, Byrd (38-2-1, 20 KOs) overcame a first-round knockdown and a vicious onslaught to box his way to victory. It was Byrd’s third defense of the IBF title he won with a decision win against Evander Holyfield in Dec. 2002.

Byrd’s victory could possibly set the stage for a unification bout with WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz, who won a hard-fought 12-round decision against Andrew Golota on the Don King promoted, “Battle for Supremacy” fight card. Both Byrd and Ruiz are under contract to King, which means the famed promoter has control of both the WBA and IBF heavyweight championships.

King could lure Vitali Klitschko, the WBC champion, into match the winner of Ruiz-Byrd. The problem is that Klitschko is not under a contract with King. The famed could wait until another one of his fighters, the WBC No. 1-ranked, Hasim Rahman, fights Klitschko for his title. If Rahman wins, so would King because he would then have 100% control of the heavyweight championship and could easily unify the titles.

Byrd-Vitali Klitschko would be an interesting fight considering Klitschko quit on his stool after building a large lead on the three judges scorecards when they fought 4 ½ years ago. Klitschko injured his left shoulder and Byrd walked away a –TKO winner.

But Byrd lost to Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir, who is no longer in heavyweight title contention, avenged his brother’s loss that year with a 12-round decision.

McCline nearly took Byrd out of the heavyweight title picture in the final seconds of the second round. With Byrd pinned against the ropes ducking and weaving punches, McCline leveled the IBF champion with a hard right to his head. Byrd was seriously hurt.

“I can’t believe it happened,” Byrd said after the fight. “He hit me right behind the ear. It was a perfect shot. He came at me really hard. I got my legs back in the third. The way I fought back proved that I am a true champion.”

McCline was aggressive and perhaps should have been more dominant since he is 6’6, 270 pounds. Byrd at 6’ 2,” 215 pounds is not recognized for the little punching power that he has. Byrd managed to regain his strength and engaged McCline in a tactical boxing match.

“I thought I hit him perfect,” McCline said referring to the knockdown in round two. “I was surprised when he got up.”

Byrd used his southpaw (left-hand) style, quick reflexes and hand-speed to outbox the 6’6, 270-pound McCline in the middle of the ring. Byrd threw more punches (634-561) and landed more punches (245-166). Byrd also out-jabbed McCline (107-29).

Overall, McCline missed 395 of the 561 punches he threw at Byrd.

“He has fast hands and took me out of my game plan,” McCline commented. “I expected to walk out with the title.”

Byrd surprisingly kept McCline off balanced with straight-lefts and right-hand combinations throughout the contest. Byrd was able to use his hands to protect his face while blocking McCline booming rights. Also, Byrd’s head movement made it difficult for McCline to come straight ahead and land.

“It looked like I fell apart a little at the end and it cost me,” McCline added.

The three judges at ringside scored the bout 114-113 for McCline, 115-112 and 114-113 for Byrd. Byrd out landed McCline 70-25 in total punches connected to win the final two rounds to retain his belt.

Patience A Virtue For Byrd: Throughout Byrd’s career heavyweight champions Holyfield, Lewis, and Hasim Rahman, John Ruiz, Mike Tyson as a possible opponent, avoided him. Even boxing television networks HBO and Showtime had no interest in airing any of Byrd’ fights unless there was a fighter big, strong, and willing to fight Byrd.

Byrd’s career began to change for the better in 2001. After defeating Maurice Harris and KO-artist David Tua to become the IBF No. 1-ranked contender, Byrd was next inline to face Lennox Lewis for the IBF heavyweight championship. Lewis vacated the IBF heavyweight championship because he felt a title defense against Byrd would have been “non-competitive.”

Byrd waited until 2002 before finally facing Holyfield for an opportunity to win the vacant IBF belt. Holyfield would not have fought Byrd unless if a title was at stake. Holyfield looked miserable in trying to figure out how to hit Byrd.

In three defenses of the heavyweight title, promoter Dom King has struggled to find opponents for Byrd. Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota, and now McCline have all been frustrated by Byrd’s defensive-for-offense style.

With King in control of the heavyweight division, Byrd can have a variety of opponents from Larry Donald, who defeated Evander Holyfield on the undercard, to Hasim Rahman, the WBC No. 1-ranked contender, who is also under contract with King.