Byrd, Klitschko To Collide For IBF Heavyweight Title

By Francis Walker
Updated: April 12, 2006

NEW YORK — Chris Byrd will defend the IBF heavyweight title in a rematch against No. 1-ranked contender Wladimir Klitschko on Saturday, April 22, at SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany.

Byrd (39-2-1-, 20 KOs) will make the fifth defense of his title, as Klitschko (45-3, 40 KOs) looks to become a two-time heavyweight champion. HBO will televise the bout live beginning at 5 p.m. EST.

Byrd has a storied history with the Klitschko brothers. In April 2000, Byrd won his first heavyweight title while fighting in Germany as a substitute opponent for then WBO heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko.

Vitali was winning on all three judges’ scorecards before quitting on his stool for failing to answer the bell to begin the ninth round. Vitali had injured a shoulder injury which prevented him from continuing.

Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir would avenge his brother’s loss by defeating Byrd in October 2001. Wladimir would win the WBO title by unanimous 12-round decision. Wladimir, at 6’ 7,” 238 pounds was much bigger and stronger than the 6’ 2,” 215 pound Byrd.

Since their initial encounter, Klitschko and Byrd’s careers have taken interesting paths Wladimir would be the last opponent to have defeated Byrd in a professional fight. Byrd has not lost a bout in more than 5 ½ years.

Wladimir, however, was once hyped by HBO as the successor to the heavyweight championship throne of Lennox Lewis. Wladimir has suffered two career-breaking knockout losses to lightly regarded Corrie Sanders (TKO by 2) in 2003 and Lamon Brewster (TKO by 5) in 2004.

Wladimir earned the IBF No. 1-ranking last year with a 12-round decision against hard-hitting Sam Peter in September. Although Wladimir won the fight, Peter knocked Klitschko down three times during the contest, broadening speculation of Wladimir’s glass chin.

Although Wladimir does have a glass chin, Byrd is not recognized for having much punching power. In fact, many speculate that Byrd can barely crack and egg because, his punches pack very little pop.

Regardless of how hard (of soft) Byrd may hit, he is the longest reigning heavyweight champion in boxing today. Byrd has been IBF heavyweight champion for nearly 3 ½ years.

Byrd is difficult to hit. His southpaw style has made it even more difficult to land big-money fights throughout his career. Fighters such as Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis ended their careers without having any desire to face Byrd.

He has a reputation of being a very intelligent and highly skilled boxer capable of frustrating his opponents into submission.

It became so difficult for Byrd to land fights that the IBF mandated an elimination tournament to determine a new No. 1 contender to challenge for the title held by Lennox Lewis.

After Byrd defeated Maurice Harris and David Tua for the opportunity to challenge Lewis for the IBF title. Lewis, instead, vacated the IBF title and leaned toward a career-defining fight with Tyson in June 2002.

Byrd finally won the vacant IBF title with a 12-round unanimous decision against Evander Holyfield in Dec. 2002. In 40 months as champ, Byrd has only made four defenses of his crown.

In Sept. 2003 many believed that Fres Oquendo boxed well-enough to win a unanimous decision against Byrd, who was awarded a controversial victory.

In April 2004, Byrd fought Andrew Golota in a grueling 12-round contest that was ruled a draw.

In Sept. 2004, Byrd, fighting a 6’ 7,” 260-pound Jameel McCline, was knocked down in the second round and was behind on the judges scorecards after the first five rounds. Byrd needed to rally in the last seven rounds of the bout to escape with a split decision.

Byrd has only fought once in the last 19 months. In October 2005, Byrd won a unanimous 12-round decision against mandatory challenger DaVarryl Williamson.

Byrd is currently the most recognizable heavyweight champion, aside from WBC titlist Hasim Rahman. However, if Byrd does not box Wladimir carefully he could join Vitali Klitschko, John Ruiz, and most recently Lamon Brewster on the list of former heavyweight champions.

Wladimir is strong and can punch very hard. Even though his chin is weak and his stamina is questionable, Byrd does not have the punching power match Wladimir’s. In fact, 89% of Wladimir’s victories have come by KO.

Sergei Lyakhovich, in his first fight since 2004, won a 12-round slugfest to capture the WBO heavyweight crown from Brewster two weeks ago. Nicolay Valuev defeated John Ruiz for the WBA title in December.