Byrd-Klitschko is no Ali-Frazier, but it's still intriguing
Posted: Friday April 21, 2006 2:30PM; Updated: Friday April 21, 2006 4:04PM
Chris Byrd (left) faces a tall order from 6-foot-6 Wladimir Klitschko, but he has the tools to beat the Ukrainian early on.
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Every boxing writer has a default paragraph or two to trot out on the occasion of a heavyweight championship fight these days -- or, rather, a fight for one or another of the alphabet versions of the heavyweight title. The thrust is that once the heavyweight championship was the most celebrated prize in sports, the champion the most revered athlete of them all, and that when he put his title on the line, the event galvanized the world.
And now? Well, now not so much.
Saturday night's bout at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany, between IBF champion Chris Byrd and challenger Wladimir Klitschko would seem a classic opportunity for such harrumphing: Chris who? Wladitali? Vitaldimir? Which Klitschko is this?
But isn't that just being lazy? It's easy to be a boxing fan when you've got Ali and Frazier in the ring, or even Mike Tyson racking up knockouts. With Byrd and Klitschko, on the other hand, you have to work a little harder to get, well, interested. Think of it as being a White House correspondent during the Coolidge administration: You couldn't just keep writing about how the guy was no Abe Lincoln. You got on with it and covered the news of the day.
Byrd and Klitschko offer an intriguing matchup. Byrd (39-2-1, 20 KOs) is the longest-reigning of the current champs, having held the IBF belt since December 2002 (claiming the vacant title with a 12-round decision over Evander Holyfield). He is also, with the exception of the amazing James Toney, the most technically proficient boxer in the division.
Though small for a heavyweight at 6-feet and barely over 210 (he started his career as a middleweight), Byrd is a fast, smart southpaw who on a good night can make any opponent look foolish. How many more good nights he has left, however, is a question. Byrd is 35, and in his last fight, a unanimous decision win over DaVarryl Williamson -- in a bout spectacular for its absolute lack of action -- Byrd looked far from dynamic. Yet he says he is fit and eager to fight.
"At my age," Byrd said on Wednesday, "I have gained a lot of experience, and I consider myself a lot wiser."
He still is facing a far bigger, stronger and younger man in the 6-foot-6, 240-plus-pound Klitschko, who just turned 30 -- and who also happens to be the last fighter to have beaten Byrd. In Cologne in 2000, Klitschko dropped a tiring Byrd twice in the later rounds and went on to take a unanimous decision. This time Byrd promises to fight smarter and avoid taking "punches for no reason."
"I have to change up some things to really get the respect of the bigger guys when I am fighting them," said Byrd. "I cannot just sit back and let [him] outbox me or pound me from a distance. I come to fight and do it in an intelligent way."