By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
A BASN Interview With Shaun George
“I knew from my whole game plan and training camp that I would knockout Chris Byrd,” George told BASN during an exclusive interview.
Byrd, a former IBF/WBO heavyweight champion, fought some of the biggest punchers in the heavyweight division in recent memory: the Klitschko Brothers, David Tua, Ike Ibeabuchi, Jameel McCline, Fres Oquendo, and Andrew Golota.
After easily shedding away more than 40 pounds, Byrd was expected to beat George in a “competitive showcase” bout to entice other light-heavys like Roy Jones, Antonio Tarver, Chad Dawson, Glen Johnson, and Joe Calzaghe into fighting him.
Instead, George, the opponent-turned contender, quickly dispatched all talk of Byrd’s future when he dropped the southpaw with a straight-right at the end of the very first round of the fight. George kept punching Byrd, who suffered a separated shoulder after getting knocked out in a one-sided fight.
George (17-2-2, 8 KOs) stopped Byrd (40-5-1, 21 KOs) at 2:42 into the ninth round and was leading 79-72 on all three official judges scorecards after round eight.
Considering Byrd was once the hardest target to hit and was not expected to have a successful campaign at 175, George’s win became that much more impressive.
“What people don’t understand is that I’m a big puncher,” George added with confidence. “I just have difficulty finishing guys off. I’m working on keep having to break him down and go in and get him. My record doesn’t show, but I hit much harder than people think I do.”
George read Byrd like a book, mentored by Antonio Tarver in camp
George, an avid boxing fan himself, has studied Byrd ever since his amateur days as a middleweight that included a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. George analyzed Byrd as if he were a heart surgeon preparing to perform an operation.
By no means was George looking to help resurrect life into Byrd’s dream of fighting for a light-heavyweight title. George was out to save his own career as a light-heavyweight contender by damaging Byrd’s quest for a world title fight.
“I’ve been watching Chris Byrd since the 1992 Olympics,” George explained. “As a heavyweight, he was fast and had quick combinations. As a heavyweight, all the guys that he fought always came to him to get his attention. What I did was I stepped back and let him come to me.”
George continued: “He has a very educated left-hand. People think that he doesn’t punch hard. He likes to throw the left hand to the body and his straight-left. I took that away from him with my straight-right.”
George’s victory over Byrd was indeed the biggest of his career. George beat a former two-time heavyweight champion to the punch and knocked him out. George went from being a serious opponent to a light-heavyweight contender.
“I have so much respect for Chris Byrd and the other fighters in the light-heavyweight division. “If I’m calling you out, that means that I respect you. That means that you’re an elite fighter.”
Perhaps the key element in George’s preparation was the fact that IBF light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver both worked with one another in preparation for separate fights. While George was preparing for Byrd in May, Tarver was readying himself for his IBF 175-pound victory against Clinton Woods in April.
“He’s a good guy,” George said of his friendship with Tarver. “I really didn’t like Antonio Tarver before I met him. I didn’t like how his personality came across on TV, but when I met him he was a totally different person. He really is a good guy.”
In addition to having sparred with Tarver, George also worked with former cruiserweight champion Vassily Jirov.
“[Tarver and I] sparred a lot of rounds,” George continued. “He actually mentored me. We were sparring like every other day. I never sparred so much in my life. I sparred with Tarver and Vassily Jirov. Tarver is more of a counter-puncher. Jirov is an aggressive southpaw. That was the first time that I sparred with the top of the food chain contenders. It was good.”
George also said that he key to his preparation, in addition to working with Tarver and Jirov, was the fact that he spent time away from home in training camp.
“8 weeks!” George said. “It was the first time away from home in training camp. I did nothing but training, boxing, and sleep. I’d wake up, train, and sleep. I had to stay away from my wife. No sex, no nothing for two months. It made me a beast. It made me angrier.”
George’s competitive background
George is a 29 year-old from Brooklyn, NY. He had a successful amateur pedigree that included two New York Golden Gloves, New York State Regional and National Championships along with a well-respected 51-7 record.
“I came out very competitive,” George discussed. “Me, my sisters, and my brother – I’m just a very competitive person. Even if I’m playing checkers, I’m playing to win. I’m highly competitive right now. I want to put food on the table for my wife and my kids. I want to fight the best because I know I can beat them. I want to prove myself. I’m a competitive guy. But you can’t force these guys to do it.”
George turned professional in July 2000 as a cruiserweight. He knocked Kenneth Pinckney in the first round. George would remain unbeaten for the next six years before a stoppage loss to cruiserweight contender Matt Godfrey in May 2006.
Following a 12-round decision loss to former cruiserweight world title challenger Alexander Gurov, George has won his last four fights and remains undefeated as a light-heavyweight.
George’s pursues bigger fights.
Logically, it would make sense for George to pursue bigger fights against the other top light-heavyweights in boxing. But fighters, including Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones, Jr. are very selective as to whom they’d want to fight.
“You have fighters that are messing up the cycle. Fighters like Bernard Hopkins won’t fight anyone in their twenties. Suppose Roy Jones, Jr. says he’s done and Calzaghe, next year, retires. Everyone is going to look at who’s in the light-heavyweight division and the light heavyweight division is going to be dead.”
George credits his mother, his late brother, and sisters for motivating him to be a competitive person. George is willing to fight the best, including Joe Calzaghe in a packed Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales or anyone else. However, George understands that he must first take small steps before he can sprint a mile.
“I would love to fight those guys now,” George said, “but you just can’t call out the world champions. You have to be able to walk before you can crawl.”
George dreams of a Calzaghe fight
“My dream fight would be with Joe Calzaghe in Whales in front of 60,000 Welshmen rooting against me. I’m comfortable in the underdog role. That fight probably won’t happen. I always wanted a fight like that – in a situation where no one believes in me. I would really like to be put under that kind of pressure situation.”
“The pressure won’t bother me. I’d thrive off that fight,” George added.
Calzaghe would have to be considered one of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound. After making a division record 21 consecutive defenses of the world super middleweight championship and becoming the only boxer to have won the WBO, WBC, WBA, and IBF 168-pound championships, Calzaghe moved up to 175 pounds for his U.S. debut to win a 12-round decision against Bernard Hopkins in April.
A fight with Calzaghe, who generates more than 40,000 ticket sales and lots of revenue in Cardiff, would mean everything to George.
“It’s just so much, it’s everything,” George said. “Calzaghe is considered the best light-heavyweight in the world and I know he’s not.”
George continued: “No one gave me a chance against Chris Byrd. If there’s going to be a fight between Calzaghe against myself, it’s going to be 10-times worse. A lot of people are going to be against me. He sells tickets. They consider him to be the best and that’s the fight that I want.”
George wants Glen Johnson next
George more than likely won’t get a fight with Calzaghe next. Perhaps the most realistic and most logical opponent would be 39 year-old, former IBF light-heavyweight champion Glen Johnson.
“I grew up fighting guys like Glen Johnson,” George said. “Glen Johnson likes to fight. Glen Johnson likes to beat you mentally. If you throw one punch, I’m going to throw two. Glen Johnson beat Roy Jones mentally before Roy could fight his fight. Glen Johnson KO’d Roy Jones. Tarver didn’t want to fight Johnson again (for a third time).”
George added: “Glen Johnson is a great fight for boxing. It’s a must-see TV type of fight. It’s a great style match-up. He turned me down last year. They offered him a tad less than a quarter of a million dollars ($250,000) to fight me.”
The night Tarver defeated Woods for the IBF title, Johnson challenged Chad Dawson for the WBC light-heavyweight championship. Johnson, after falling behind in the fight, rallied and seriously hurt the younger 25 year-old champion several times during a very entertaining contest that saw Dawson the winner on points after twelve rounds.
“Chad Dawson was hitting him with everything in the book,” George explained. “Johnson was still there. Dawson started to breakdown mentally. You’ve got to be first and last every time. You have to be sharp mentally and physically every time.”
George had Dawson winning 8 out of the 12 rounds of the fight, which is equivalent to a decisive 116-112 edge on an official scorecard. Coincidentally, all three official scorekeepers had Dawson beating Johnson 116-112.
Why else would he be fighting? The more he fights, the more he risks tarnishing his legacy. I don’t understand why he’s fighting. I would like to fight Chad Dawson too. Johnson exposed some things, but I cannot call out a world champion.
Fascination with Roy Jones
George was truly a mesmerized by Jones’ unique combination of speed, power, and overall boxing skills that led him to multiple world titles in four weight divisions including a WBA heavyweight championship in 2003. George was introduced to Jones’ prowess by his late brother.
“Roy Jones, Jr. is the face of the light-heavyweight division,” George stated. “I remember watching Roy Jones for the first time. My brother put me on to Roy Jones. After my brother died, I saw Roy Jones fight Percy Harris. The way he defeated him, I was hooked on Roy Jones. He had everything in his hands and messed everything up.”
“Out of respect for Roy Jones, I will not call him out,” George added.
There were people, like George, that believed that Jones was untouchable, unhittable, and the closest thing to boxing’s real life superman, was shocked when Jones was knocked out twice in 2004.
“You’re talking to a Roy Jones, Jr. fan,” George stated. “Roy Jones, Jr. is a boxing legend. He made the light-heavyweight division what it is today. Roy Jones made Antonio Tarver and when Tarver KO’d Jones, my jaw dropped.”
Make no mistake though, should an opportunity to fight his idol Roy Jones or his friend Antonio Tarver arrives, George is no fool and will seize the opportunity to fight.