Thanks for the memories, Chris Byrd. You served up a blueprint for undersized guys, in and out of the ring, showing the runts of the world that they could hang and bang with the big boys. But your time as a professional fighter had to come to an end sometime, and we knew, with that big heart and overabundance of competitiveness, that it was quite likely that you'd have to absorb some hard shots to convince you to hang up the mitts.
The hard shots were dished out by Shaun George at the Cox Pavilion at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada in the headline bout on ESPN's Friday Night Fights, but truth be told, the damage had accumulated over 32 years of taking whacks to the head, 45 pro bouts, and hard fought battles with men who outweighed him by 20, 30, 40, 50 pounds...but not in the heart department.
Byrd, even in this last outing, showed that his pride would not allow him to stay in his corner, after it became abundantly, sadly clear that at whatever weight class he campaigned in, the campaign as a professional boxer was over.
The record will show that Byrd was stopped, via TKO, at 2:45 of the ninth round after being bettered in the punches landed department, 155 to 105. He was down in the first, and then twice in the last round of what almost certainly will register as his last pro outing, 15 years after he debuted in Flint.
Byrd (40-4-1 entering, age 37), the Slim-Fast slugger, came in weighing 174 pounds. Facing off with the former heavyweight champion, who won silver at the '92 Games at 165, was George (16-2-2, age 29), on a three fight win streak, and hungry for a shortcut to some paydays that would pay for a new house.
At first assessment, Byrd looked like he would be fighting the same style we'd seen in the last several years; newly slim, he didn't suddenly turned into a master mover, an overnight Astaire. George pumped a jab against the lefty, and hurt the former heavy with a right hand at the 1:09 mark. Byrd wobbled, but regained composure in his legs quickly. Or so it seemed....George landed another right, and Byrd went to the floor. He got up and was plenty happy to hear the bell to end the first. On replay, the shots didn't look they would have hurt the flabbier Byrd; a viewer had to wonder if the pounds drop took some meat off his chin.
In the second round, the Brooklyn, NY native George started out hunting with the right again. George took his time, and didn't overpress his advantage. Byrd went righty, searching for a clue. He ate another right as a lefty, and still looked unable to get off.
In the third, the Michigan native Byrd looked like he might get untracked. He snapped a right to the body, and was just a bit busier. He snapped George's head back with a left, drawing some whooos from the crowd. He also weathered a clean right, so maybe at this point, he was used to his new body and lack of padding on his chin. In the fourth, one had to wonder why George didn't up the ante a bit more. There is a fine line between being calm and cool, and not being aggressive enough.
In the fifth, Antonio Tarver popped in for commentary. He said George should should finish the job, via KO, if he wants to emerge in the division. He didn't go into overdrive, but neither did Byrd give signs that he could avert the disastrous course in his first pro foray at 175.
In the sixth, after Briggs offered his top 5 reasons we'll never see him at 175 (5) friend Leonard's fried chicken, 4) he would have to train, 3) 175 has too many good fighters, 2) he's cheap and doesn't want to buy new underwear, and 1) he just renewed his Krispy Kreme discount card), we saw George closing the distance. He popped combos, but then let Byrd outwork him. George walked around the ring, and Byrd pursued him. Inexplicable.
In the seventh round, Byrd uncorked a couple of combos, one round after he outlanded George. That was saying something, considering it looked like he'd get gobbled up early in the debut of his trimmer physique.
In round eight, Byrd's pop/trainer Joe, said his son was fighting like a heavy, not in a good way. He didn't think the weight loss was the cause of the poor outing, but said that his son simply wasn't throwing. Was it age? The drastic drop in weight? The years of eating punishment? Maybe all three, in a sad stew.
In the ninth, George kept backing up. His trainer Tommy Brooks told viewers that he wanted his man to get nasty, get busy, and go home. A solid right, which would not have phased the chubbier Chris, clipped Byrd on the chin, and made his legs quake with 1:25 to go. A left uppercut-right combo sent Byrd to the floor with 41 seconds remaining. It was a slight delayed reaction, but he then crashed like a load of bricks. He got up at four, and fought on. George laid six shots on Byrd, who collapsed into a corner. Nady gave him a mandatory eight, and then waved his hands. It, the fight, maybe Byrd's career, was over. "I think you overtrained," referee Jay Nady told Byrd. The stop came at of the ninth.
Brian Kenny called the shots ringside, as Joe Tessitore was on assignment and Teddy Atlas had the week off. His wife Elaine had surgery this week, and she gave him permission to work, but he stayed with her. Shannon Briggs (wearing a tie, for which he got ribbed by Kenney) stood in for analyst Atlas. In studio, Robert Flores replaced Kenney, and he worked with Antonio Tarver. Tarver called out Calzaghe, and then Chad Dawson, if Calzaghe is otherwise detained.
Koba Gogoladze (20-2 entering) met Ji-Hoon KIm (13-5) in a lightweight scrap. Koba came out on fire; the lefty was whinging shots and the ref told Kim to show him something, he was so concerned that he wasn't answering. Answer he did, with a curt left hook that sent Koba to the mat. He got up, but he was still buzzed. The 21-year-old Korean blasted a few more shots on the 35-year-old, smeared on the ropes, and the ref stepped in. The stop came with 2:27 elapsed in the first.
In the TV opener Ruslan Provodnikov (7-0 coming in) downed Brian Gordon (4-0 entering) in a junior welterweight showdown. Rus rips a meaaan left hook to the body. I can just about guarantee there will be a red tint in Gordon's liquid output in the next day or two. Rus scored a UD6, by scores of 59-55, 58-56, 60-54.
LAS VEGAS, NEV (May 17, 2008) -- Tracy Byrd issued the following statement today to fans and friends concerned about her husband Chris after Friday's loss to Shaun George:
Chris is ok. His spirits are HIGH. He is closer to the Lord then ever in his life and trusts that he will take care of everything. Chris is disappointed in last night. He said he was feeling off in the dressing room. Felt like his legs weren't there from the beginning of the fight. When he got dropped in the first round he hurt his shoulder. We believe it tore a rotator cuff and ultimately dislocated his shoulder during the course of the fight. We will have it examined on Monday. The injury really kept him from throwing his left.
"When Chris returned to the dressing room the doctors had to sedate him to pop his shoulder back in. The medicines were a bit overwhelming for his body and they couldn't wake him. The result of that was they had to rush him by ambulance to the hospital and use other meds to counteract the ones given to him in the dressing room. It was very scary for his friends and family. But he came through. His shoulder is very sore but he is feeling better.
"Chris congratulates Shaun George on his victory and hopes he takes advantage of the opportunity of his victory to the fullest and continues to work hard. Shaun and his wife have a baby on the way and wishes them the best."
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV