Retirement Is The Only Option

By Francis Walker
Updated: May 20, 2008

NEW YORK — Perhaps we have seen the last of former two-time heavyweight champion Chris Byrd. His last fight (and it should be) was a nationally televised event in his home of Las Vegas thispast Friday. In an almost unprecedented move in boxing, Byrd dropped nearly 40 pounds to compete as a light-heavyweight.

The repeated images of Byrd’s amazing transition from a 215-pound small heavyweight into a tall, well-trimmed 175-pound light-heavyweight shocked the boxing community. However, Byrd proved no longer the same fighter that challenged Evander Holyfield and Wladimir Klitschko for heavyweight titles.

At age 37, Byrd (40-5-1, 21 KOs) was beaten to a pulp by 175-pound contender Shawn George (17-2-2, 8 KOs). From the opening round, things did not go well for the fighter once recognized for his speed and defensive mastery.

George, 29, Brooklyn, NY, caught Byrd with a right hand that wobbled him momentarily. Byrd, a southpaw who learned how to hit and avoid punches by training with his father in 10′ x 10′ room in the basement of their home while growing up in Flint, MI, couldn’t see George’s right hand coming. When Byrd did see the right hand, he no longer hand the reflexes, head-movement, or the footwork to avoid the punch.

George landed a right hand that dropped Byrd to the canvas at the end of the first round. Whether it was the fact that Byrd dropped so much weight and was fighting below 200 pounds for the first time in more than 14 years, or whether it was the punishment he absorbed fighting much larger throughout his career, it was clear that Byrd’s time has arrived.

It’s time to end what was an overachieving and amazing boxing career.

It was heartbreaking for those that know Byrd to watch him struggle to keep pace with a younger, less experienced, but very hungry fighter like George. Byrd’s mind was perhaps as sharp as a blade and as fast as a rollercoaster. Maybe Byrd knew George’s weaknesses and could strategize a plan to rally himself back into the fight.

The problem was that Byrd’s body was not nearly as responsive. George was hurting Byrd every opportunity he received. George was able to put his punches together very well, but his right hook proved to be most effective in the biggest fight of his career. Byrd’s legs were unsteady and it was simply a matter of time before George would enhance his intensity and try to stop Byrd.

The end of the one-sided beating administered by George came during the ninth round of perhaps the sloppiest round of Byrd’s 15-year professional career. Byrd went down awkwardly on his left arm extended on the mat after George landed another right hand to his head. George followed up with a barrage of punches that led to a third knockdown and a TKO stoppage at the 2:45 second mark.

Byrd would prove delusional should he resume his boxing career, as George handed his third loss in his last four fights – all three by TKO.

What if?

Had Byrd defeated George, then that would have positioned Byrd in a spot to face one of the star light-heavyweights available. Namely: Antonio Tarver, Chad Dawson, Glen Johnson, Roy Jones, Jr., and even unbeaten Zsolt Erdei of Germany.

Instead, Byrd, who reportedly passed out in his dressing room after the loss to George, career is in doubt. He should hang-up his gloves.

Chris Byrd had a wonderful career

Byrd’s career was a great one – both as an amateur and a professional.

Following an impressive amateur mark of 267-24 that included two USA Championships (1989, 1991), a US Boxing Championship (1992), and a silver medal in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain as a middleweight.

Byrd made his pro debut as a middleweight boxer in his native Flint, MI on January 28, 1993. Byrd won a six-round unanimous decision against Gary Smith.

In search of more recognition, bigger fights, and greater attention on the national front, Byrd fought his first heavyweight fight at 200 pounds against Gerald O’Neal (TKO 2).

Byrd intimidated heavyweights with his style

As Byrd progressed, so did his reputation as slick southpaw (left-handed) fighter that was nearly impossible to hit. Byrd had a difficult to solve, peek-a-boo style. Byrd wouldn’t exchange with the bigger heavyweights.

It was hard to hit him with right hands because, he kept moving his head, shoulders, and waistline to slip punches. Plus, Byrd was tremendously quick. Byrd’s reflexes were a lot quicker than the heavyweights that he fought and he was more illusive.

Throughout Byrd’s career, some of the biggest and the best heavyweights in boxing turned Byrd down for fights for various reasons. Lennox Lewis even vacated a world heavyweight championship for refusing to fight Byrd.

Undersized, overmatched

Throughout Byrd’s career he was often undersized and overmatched. However, he still found ways to win using his more superior boxing skills.

At 6-feet-2, Byrd fought at a weight no higher than 222 pounds. That was a far cry from the weights of some of the largest heavyweights in boxing history: Ike Ibeabuchi (245 lbs.) Ross Purity (247 lbs.), Craig Peterson (245 lbs.), and the Klitschko Brothers (240-245 lbs.)

Byrd’s first defeat

Byrd brought his unbeaten record into the ring on March 20, 1999. Byrd fought Ike Ibeabuchi during a time when no top heavyweight would fight him. Byrd’s slick movements and illusive boxing skills was challenged immensely by a much bigger and very quick 245-pound Ibeabuchi.

Ibeabuchi knocked Byrd out in the fifth round of a very entertaining fight.

Byrd shocks the boxing world; rivals with Klitschkos

Byrd would win his last four bouts, including one of the biggest and most surprising upsets in heavyweight boxing history.

On April 1, 2000 in Berlin Germany, Byrd filled in as a late substitute and challenged 6-foot-7, 245-pound Vitali Klitschko for the WBO heavyweight title. Klitschko, using his larger size and distance, built a large lead on all three judges scorecards, but was frustrated by Byrd’s illusiveness and pecking right-jab.

Klitschko would retire on his stool after the ninth round following an in jury to his shoulder, thus losing his heavyweight championship to Byrd.

Several months later, Byrd would lose the WBO title in his first defense to Vitali’s younger brother Wladimir on a lopsided 12-round decision.

Byrd enters IBF elimination tournament

In 2001, Byrd accepted an invitation by the IBF to enter a heavyweight championship elimination tournament. Byrd was one of four men that would compete for an opportunity to become the IBF No. 1-ranked contender for world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis.

In May 2001 on the Felix Trinidad-William Joppy HBO Pay-Per-View undercard at Madison Square Garden, Byrd outpointed hard-hitting Maurice Harris through 12-rounds.

In August 2001, Byrd, in one of the biggest victories in his career, was too fast, too slick, and proved too smart for David Tua (W 12).

Byrd, however, had to wait for more than one year for his title shot, as Lewis ended up vacating the IBF title.

On December 14, 2002, Byrd would fulfill the IBF heavyweight championship vacancy in what would have to be considered the biggest win of his career against Evander Holyfield. Byrd was mystifying, as Holyfield simply could not get his punches off. Hoyfield waited for Byrd to throw punches, stand still, and bang with him.

That didn’t happen.

The few punches that Holyfield threw, Byrd either blocked them by moving his gloves, shoulders. Byrd’s illusiveness behind his head, feet, and his waistline made it difficult for a 40 year-old Holyfield to pressure him.

Holyfield even tried to pin Byrd against the ropes with his left arm and hammer him with a solid right because Byrd was so illusive. Byrd bested Holyfield by wide margins of 117-111 (twice) and 116-112.

Byrd was a successful heavyweight champion

As IBF heavyweight champion, Byrd wanted to appeal more to fight fans. He had always been a careful defensive fighter, which didn’t sit too well with the boxing public. Byrd, therefore, became more exciting by allowing himself to get hit more during his fights.

Byrd was hit more and became more aggressive in title defenses against Fres Oquendo (W 12), AndrewGolota (D 12), Jameel McCline (W 12), but went back to his defensive mastery against DaVarryl Williamson (W12).

The Golota fight was very close fight, as Golota landed the harder punches and some believe that he actually beat Byrd.

Against McCline, Byrd was 5 inches shorter and weighed in 56 pounds less than the 6-foot-7, 270-pound McCline. Byrd was dropped viciously in the second round and appeared to be queer.

It wasn’t until the second half of the bout in which Byrd pressed the action and gallantly rallying behind to overwhelm McCline with speed and aggression. Byrd nearly stopped a tiring McCline in the later rounds, but settled for a split-decision in an intense title fight.

Byrd’s fifth defense of the IBF heavyweight title was perhaps the most dangerous fight of his career. In April 2004, Byrd fought a much improved Wladimir Klitschko and was stopped in the seventh round in what was perhaps Wladimir’s most impressive fight as a professional.

Following the loss to Wladimir, Byrd would lose two of his last three including a TKO defeat to upcoming young heavyweight Alexander Povetkin (TKO 11).