“Won’t you come see about me?
I’ll be alone, dancing you know it baby.” – Simple Minds
Somehow amidst all of the excitement of James Toney winning the WBA heavyweight title and the anticipated showdown between Vitali Klitschko and Hasim Rahman, Chris Byrd has been almost completely ignored. Some of it may be his own fault, especially if you listen to Don King. But no matter the reason, Chris Byrd deserves to be, at the very least, included in any discussion about the top dogs in the division and should, most likely, be the center of the conversation.
For some odd reason, Vitali Klitschko has been deemed THE man at 200+ pounds. His courageous loss to Lennox Lewis set him up for a title shot against Kirk Johnson. His destruction of an out of shape Johnson put him in line for a bout against an out of shape Corrie Sanders. Sanders, who had been pulled off of a golf course to deliver a knockout blow to Vitali’s kid brother, put in about as much training as Johnson or Lewis did for their bouts with Klitschko (and most likely less). That eighth round TKO somehow made Vitali Klitschko the baddest man on the planet.
Since the time that Klitschko quit against Chris Byrd in 2001, Byrd has consistently fought tougher opposition. While he hasn’t blown people out the way Klitschko has, he has managed to get the W nearly every time out. Let’s break it down:
After the loss to Byrd, Klit took on the undefeated Timo Hoffman, a decent European heavyweight. A string of KO wins against unimpressive competition followed – Orlin Norris, Ross Purity, Vaughn Bean, and Larry Donald. Those wins led to the now immortal fight with Lennox Lewis. It seems that bout, more than any other, is Klitschko’s legacy to date.
I was ringside for that fight. I had Lewis leading and thought he was on his way to knocking the Ukrainian out. Klitschko fought hard and bravely, but was fading and getting nailed with some big shots just before the stoppage.
Byrd, on the other hand, went right back to Germany and faced Wladimir, at a time when Wlad was the second coming of Rocky Marciano. Next was David Vedder, an easy mark. Maurice Harris then called out Byrd. You may remember that Harris was considered one of the finest boxers around, “much better than his record,” everyone said. Byrd, who couldn’t have found a fight at a Klan meeting back then, quickly obliged Harris and smoked him over twelve rounds. A tough David Tua was defeated three months later. A stay busy fight against Jeff Pegues followed. Then Byrd really ramped up the competition. Byrd scored victories over Evander Holyfield (coming off his win against Rahman), the once-beaten Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota and Jameel McCline – all legitimate contenders.
And if the level of competition wasn’t enough – Byrd has a W over Vitali Klitschko. It was by no means pretty, but a win is a win. Klitschko quit rather than face another nine minutes in the ring with Byrd.
James Toney is an exciting new component in the heavyweight division. Klitschko’s power can be thrilling to watch. But if you’re going to name one person as the top heavyweight in the world – even if you don’t like him or his style – it has to be Chris Byrd.
• It had been hoped that Zab Judah’s win over Cory Spinks was a symbol of a new, mature Zab Judah – a version that would finally live up to his enormous potential. Don’t count on it. Word out of South Florida is his training camp was less than rigorous. I doubt Cosme Rivera will have what it takes to pull of the upset, but it’s not a good sign for those of us hoping to see a superstar emerge. That being said, Monday night Yoel Judah told me that Zab “is in tremendous shape and will run right through Rivera.” We’ll see who’s right.
• Kassim Ouma is widely considered the top 154-pounder in the world and he still can’t get a fight. I’m not shocked. Even anyone who thinks they can beat him knows they’re in for a long night. Ouma has a granite chin so he won’t be taken out early – and he’ll make you pay for trying.
• Don’t know where all the love for Hasim Rahman came from all of a sudden. Lots of people think he’ll beat Klitschko. The picture that always sticks in my mind of the Rock is when he landed in Jim Lampley’s lap, after getting knocked out by Oleg Maskaev.
Until next time, obey my commands and protect yourself at all times.