Posted: Friday April 21, 2006 2:30PM; Updated: Friday April 21, 2006 4:04PM
It may in the end have less to do with brain than with brawn. Klitschko (45-3, 40 KOs) is showing signs of finally fulfilling his oversize potential. In knockout losses to Corrie Sanders ('03) and Lamon Brewster ('04), as well as in other fights, Klitschko has displayed an alarming tenancy to fall down when hit -- and then, even when he gets up, to more or less go to pieces.
But under the guidance of trainer Emanuel Steward, Klitschko has shown both a more effective boxing style -- using his jab and right hand well from a distance and capitalizing on his size -- and more confidence and heart. In his most recent outing, against Nigerian statue Samuel Peter, Klitschko still went down, but he got up, regrouped and fought with control and discipline, banging out a deserved decision.
Against Byrd, never a feared puncher, Klitschko may have even more confidence. And if he fights relaxed and in control, he will present a lot for Byrd to overcome. Having agreed to the fight in Germany (the Ukraine-born Klitschko's adopted home), Byrd can hardly expect to slap and grab his way to a close decision.
Yes, Byrd's the better boxer and the lighter puncher, but, paradoxically, his best chance may be to bang Klitschko early enough and hard enough to rock the bigger man and remind him that, oh yeah, he can be knocked out. If Byrd can put that deer-in-headlights look in Klitschko's eyes that we've seen before, he may have a chance. If not, it could be a rough night for Byrd.
Closer to home
Byrd and Klitschko fighting in Germany, of course, means that I'll be watching their bout on HBO, filtering my impressions through the TV cameras and through the commentary of Jim Lampley, the increasingly curmudgeonly observations of Larry Merchant and the borderline hysteria of Harold Lederman. That's OK, though. If that's what it takes to see a heavyweight championship fight -- you know, the biggest event in sports? -- then so be it.
Fortunately, I was also able this week to get in some of what A.J. Liebling called "boxing with the naked eye," attending Thursday night's Broadway Boxing card in the Grand Ballroom of the Manhattan Center in New York City.
The Grand Ballroom is, of course, anything but grand, but it does have a certain seedy charm. And with a few hundred fight fans seated in folding chairs around the ring or in the steeply pitched balcony, screaming at the action in the ring -- or chanting "Brownsville! Brownsville!" in support of Brooklyn super middleweight Curtis Stevens -- it feels like boxing.
Throw in ringside appearances by the likes of Zab Judah, Irish heavyweight Kevin McBride (who, face it, must spend half his time just thinking, "I'm the only guy in the room who has knocked out Mike Tyson") and Furio from The Sopranos, and who needs Vegas? Credit promoter Lou DiBella for providing these monthly shows. With a new television deal that will see the fights broadcast on Sportsnet New York, they are the sort of events that can renew interest in the sport, creating a local fan base and marketable stars.
Stevens, who ran his record to 12-0 with a hard-earned eight-round decision over old warhorse Carl Daniels, may be fighting a little over his head at super middleweight (he would probably be better served to pare a few pounds and fight at 160, where his mini-Tyson style would carry more pop), but he has a large and enthusiastic following already. He has honored that constituency by having BROWNSVILLE tattooed across his upper back like the name on a football jersey.
I for one am more impressed by light heavyweight Jerson Ravelo. At 6-foot-2, with a build that recalls Gerald McClellan's, the 28-year-old Dominican produced his second one-round knockout at the Manhattan Center in as many months, flattening Donnell Wiggins in barely more than a minute. Of course, I didn't actually see the knockout.
The veteran boxing writer seated next to me on press row, frustrated at not being able to see over a ringside photographer, chose that moment to stand up, saying that he was going to move further back to where he could see. Turning to let him out, I heard a sharp one-two and then the roar of the crowd and turned back to see Wiggins flat out.
If it were on HBO, I would have simply checked out the replay. This time, I'll have to wait for the Sportsnet New York replay. But I don't mind. That's what live boxing is all about.