LAS VEGAS, April 20 – Jose Torres, the writer who used to be the light-heavyweight champion of the world, maintains that boxing is predicated on lies and, remember, he fought before the days of Don King and Bob Arum. Chegui, however, was not referring to the mendacity of the promoters of his day, but to the guiles of his contemporaries in the ring.
A simple feint, he argues, is a “lie,” the telling of which is to make an opponent buy the Brooklyn Bridge and thereby open himself to ruin. In other words, Wladimir Klitschko should not believe Chris Byrd’s transatlantic assertions that, heaven forbid, their confrontation Saturday night will involve chin-checking.
“If you try to check someone’s chin, you will get checked,” said Byrd when asked on a teleconference call to Mannheim, Germany, if that was his plan, given that Klitschko has been down nine times in his last seven fights.
Byrd said he would just do what he had been training to do and you didn’t have to look behind him to see his fingers crossed. He was being deferential to Baby Brother, who beat him like his daddy back in the year 2000. It is not Byrd’s style to wage psychological war before a fight. He is not a Ricardo Mayorga, calling his opponent “Chicken” De La Hoya (see OUTHOUSE below). Byrd’s fight plan is indeed to test Klitschko’s chin, to set the 6-foot-6 giant’s mind whirling with doubts. But he shall wait until they are in the Mannheim ring together Saturday night to implement the strategy.
The Byrd game plan is partially based on the preachings of Evander Holyfield, who in boxing terms at least has brought science and religion into peaceful coexistence. Even atheists could marvel at how Holyfield’s faith would deliver him from the fiery furnace and the lion’s den. But the Real Deal believed in one of the laws of the sweet science, one that he articulates by saying it’s not who hits the hardest, and I paraphrase here, “It’s whether I can take his’n and if he can take mine.”
That’s the key to the most important heavyweight title fight this week. It’s why I believe, that while the odds are massed against Byrd – facing a man who beat the tar out of him more than five years ago, in the man’s adopted home country of Germany while he, now 35, has looked ragged in recent fights – he will escape with his IBFelons belt and the recognition that any attempt to unify the outlying districts under one banner must go through him.
Byrd will also have to worry about his back. The IBFelons are in charge and Klitschko would be a much more popular winner with those who count; HBO certainly will be rooting for its one-time anointed savior. Byrd apparently has lucked out with the appointment of John Coyle, a no-nonsense English referee who figures not to allow Wladimir Klitschko get away with the amount of clutching and holding he did in beating Samuel Peter to earn this spot.
Still, it is the conventional wisdom that Byrd, to get a draw, will need a knockout. It is also conventional wisdom that the 212-pound 1992 Olympic middleweight silver medal winner can’t punch. To which I say, Holyfield’s Law applies here. We know Byrd can take Klitschko’s; he absorbed 12 rounds of such a beating that his father, and trainer, Joe Byrd, had to be stopped by eldest brother Patrick Byrd from climbing into the ring with a towel.
The question now is whether Klitschko can take Byrd’s. On the conference call the other day, I asked Wladimir how hard Byrd punched. He asked if I saw the fight and Byrd himself answered, “I didn’t hit him.”
In any case, the Klitschko of the year 2000 was the flavor of the new millennium. The current version, Vitali’s little brother is quick to admit, has lost a bit of respect after getting knocked out by Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster and dropped by such as DaVarryl Williamson and the novice Samuel Peter.
It is not very far from his thoughts, what people think of him, “that I have no, chin, no stamina, no balls, dead man walking.”
He said by getting up three times against Peter, he hoped fans were convinced “that dead man can keep walking and walking and walking.”
I wondered if he had his fingers crossed behind his back. Even against Peter, Wladimir fought with the skittishness of a man unsure of his chin or himself. An opponent raises an arm to hit him, it is as if he can not get away soon enough. In the rematch with Oliver McCall, who was going through an in-ring nervous breakdown, Lennox Lewis turned and ran early when McCall, who had knocked him out earlier, simply lifted his right hand. Wladimir Klitschko has looked that way ever since the Corrie Sanders ambush three years ago
Papa Joe Byrd has noticed that Klitschko is so afraid of his chin that his guard is unusually high, meaning Chris should have ample opportunity to soften the giant with body shots. Recently, at the UFC gym here where he prepared, Chris said he wondered what would happen when he absorbs Wladimir’s shots and keeps moving forward. The questions of stamina – Wladimir did well in the final round against Peter, of course – might once again whirl in the Klitschko brain. And Wladimir’s brain is what might be his most vulnerable part. He may simply be too smart for this game, too aware of the bad possibilities that he faces in the ring.
He is a very talented young man. He has the goods. Good jab, good boxing ability, good power. Good training, now with Emanuel Steward, previously with Freddie Roach. Most Americans thought he was the best of the Klitschkos. But Chris always voted for Vitali, saying Big Brother hit harder and was much tougher to reach. And it should be noted that both the Soviet coaches and German promoters who handled both Klitschkos must have agreed. Vitali was the Soviet superheavyweight; Wladimir had to starve himself to become the 201-pound representative until Vitali failed a steroid test (ahem, it was part of his medicine; Chris always said it was Vitali who hits harder and is tougher to reach.) Even after Wladimir moved up to superheavy and won the gold medal in the 1996 Games, when the brothers turned pro it was Vitali who was given top billing by their German promoters.
After Vitali gave Lennox Lewis so much trouble and then knocked out Sanders to win another paper title, Klaus-Peter Kohl, the head of Universeum, said to me, “I told you Vitali was the better.”
Kohl has characterized Wladimir – who has left him, of course – as being a professional boxer only two months a year. I don’t think Baby Bro really likes this game. Byrd, on the other wing, is acting like a kid with a new old toy. His love of boxing has been rekindled since he escaped Don King.
“I feel free,” he said on the conference call. He said he had “a great training camp” without King constantly calling to bother him. “I feel pumped.”
This is the first rematch of Byrd’s career. His only other loss was to the almost mythic Ike Ibeabuchi, who is locked up somewhere, safely I hope. Papa Joe says every time he runs into referee Ron Rall, he gets an apology for stopping the 1999 bout at 2:59 of the fifth round with Byrd on his feet.
According to Papa Joe, Chris zigged when he should have zagged, right into a big right hand thrown and went down face first in the fifth.
“That’s when I knew Chris had a chin,” said proud Papa. “Guys who go down that hard on their face never get up. But he bounced up, and was managing to hang in there when the signal for ten seconds to go sounded. Chris thought it was the end of the round and dropped his hands and the ref thought he was defenseless and stopped the fight. He apologizes to me every time he sees me now.”
Papa Joe had long learned that Chris, the youngest of his eight boxing kids, was special. “He had a rubber waist,” said the trainer.
He also had mercurial hand speed and terrific balance and agility. He has learned as his feet have grown a bit slower that he does not have to dance away from the bigger guys, that he can stay inside, avoid their punches, and “fight in the trenches.” He is more settled and that adds a bit to his 215-pound power. That’s what he’ll need against Wladimir.
If I’m wrong, never too far beyond the realm of possibility, then let us stop now and praise Byrd for his amazing accomplishments so far, to have gone up against the biggest and baddest for all these years – the only ones he missed were Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis, neither of whom wanted to be embarrassed by the stylish southpaw – with the foreknowledge that he would be unable to really dent his opponent. For an Olympic middleweight to take on such as both Klitschko brothers, Ibeabuchi, David Tua, Holyfield, Foul Pole Golota et al, knowing he couldn’t hurt them, says reams about his bravery. And it’s not because he’s a “little” guy. Hell, Buster Mathis – father and son – also went in the ring knowing they couldn’t hurt opponents, but that didn’t stop them from fighting, respectively, Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, Riddick Bowe and Mike Tyson.
Call it what you want – heart, courage, guts or my favorite, “character” – Byrd may have the big advantage here. And if I’m wrong, it won’t be terrible to have a confident Wladimir Klitschko in the mix.
PENTHOUSE: Kermit Cintron no longer has to circle the bandwagons, not because he stopped David Estrada last night, but that he came through duress to do so and, in his own heart at least, should now be satisfied that he erased last year’s embarrassing loss to Antonio Margarito. Losing to Margarito is no crime. It’s the way Cintron collapsed when his aura was shattered. But Emanuel Steward – who was not at ringside since he is with Wladimir Klitschko in Mannheim – has given a confidence boost to another fighter and there may be another player in the welterweight division. I am not back on the bandwagon; Estrada is a tough but limited fighter and if he could punch he probably would have hurt Cintron. The big thing is that Cintron should be back on his own bandwagon.
OUTHOUSE: Marian Muhammad has become the Gypsy Rose Lee of boxing, taking over from Jose Sulaiman as the No. 1 stripper in the game. Her IBFelons have “ordered” Floyd Mayweather Jr. to give Zab Judah a rematch, which is a fight no one could possibly want to see again since we all know the outcome, though Don King would of course accept it. Zab loses another fight, I maintain, he becomes IBF champion for life. Also, what is Gypsy Rose – and the accent should be on gyp – going to do after Nevada gets through punishing Zab for his behavior in the Mayweather melee. Zab, remember, was suspended six months and fined $75,000 for going after Referee Jay Nady for protecting his life from Kostya Tszyu. That “prior” will weigh heavily on Judah’s penalty this time. He will not be available, I believe, for any rematch any time soon….Yoel Judah, who with his son and Mayweather second Leonard Ellerbe, also faces Nevada punishment when the commission meets next month, belongs in here for his handling of Zab’s career. Maybe, just maybe, Zab ran out of gas after five rounds against Mayweather because he did not have adequate sparring – his father taking the $250,000 training fees and pocketing most. Say this, the talented Zab – okay, he’s no pound-for-pound giant – will have a tough time paying his reported $1.6 million IRS bill with his father in the corner.
There’s always a warm spot in my OUTHOUSE for Ricardo Mayorga and his oft-foul mouth, though this time he is merely being imitative (flattery will get you nowhere) when he uses the name “Chicken” for Oscar De La Hoya. It’s okay he says he’ll knock out the Golden Boy by the sixth round of their May 6 encounter here. It’s even okay to kid that he’s been sparring with “live” chickens to acclimate to De La Hoya’s style. It’s humorous that he says he’s taking this fight so seriously “I have even tailed off the drinking and cigarettes.” Or that “Oscar’s washed up.” He’s not the only one who says De La Hoya “took a dive” against Bernard Hopkins (though being in the same company with Bob Arum should give the Nicaraguan some pause). Or even that “most people don’t understand that of all the fighters in boxing, Oscar is the one I like the least – he’s a pretty boy.” No, Mayorga is in here for past accomplishments, like telling Cory Spinks he would soon be joining his mother in heaven….Incidentally, Mayorga indeed has a shot against De La Hoya in a 12-round fight since we have no idea how much the pretty boy has left. Frankly, I’m not that interested in finding out, though I will be rooting for Oscar (again) so he can go on to make boxing’s real Pretty Boy more rich and famous.
DIS AND THAT: Someone please advise Mike Tyson that showing up to drop the ball before a lacrosse game is not a very bright public relations move in the light of the accusations of rape made against Duke lacrosse players.…Antonio Tarver didn’t like being put in the OUTHOUSE last week. He did use the word “race” in ascribing Bob Arum’s motives for going opposite Tarver-Bernard Hopkins on June 10 with a pay-per-view show featuring the Puerto Rican star, Miguel Cotto. Tarver was right, however, in saying that this was not a racist battle between African-American and Puerto Rican marketing campaigns. The Cotto fight, now against Paulie Malignaggi, was scheduled a year earlier by Arum to coincide with New York’s Puerto Rican Day parade the following day. It was up to Tarver and Hopkins to find another spot….By the way, Antonio, I’d advise you to concentrate more on beating Hopkins. This is not a walkover….Beating the lackluster Audley Harrison does not make Dominick Guinn a contender.