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Chris Byrd: Is He Finished?

Chris ByrdBy Jim Dower: After watching former WBO/IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd (40-5-1, 21 KOs) easily get dismantled in the 9th round by the weak-punching light heavyweight Shaun George in their recent May 16th bout, I wondered whether Byrd, now 37, should consider retiring from boxing. This was for him his second consecutive loss, and more importantly, his 3rd loss in his last four bouts. Before that, Byrd has lost his IBF heavyweight title, taking a severe beating at the hands of 6’7″ heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko in a 7th round TKO loss to the Ukrainian in April 2006.

That fight, and perhaps a couple of other bouts in Byrd’s career, like his first fight with Wladimir, a 12-round unanimous decision loss, and Byrd’s 5th round TKO loss to Ike Ibeabuchi in March 1999, were fights in which he took a lot of punishing head shots. Though Byrd was able to fight on after that, it may have finally caught up to him in his fights with both George and Alexander Povetkin.

So far, Byrd, who sustained an injury to his left shoulder in his fight with George, hasn’t come out and said that his future plans are in terms of whether he’ll be retiring or not. However, his wife, Tracy, has said that she’d be happy if he retires from the sport rather than continue on. Byrd, though, has remained quiet on the subject. But, if he does continue fighting it will be interesting to see what weight class he’ll choose to continue fighting at. Clearly, his decision to drop nearly 40 lbs to fight as a light heavyweight wasn’t the brightest move that he could have made.

A logical thing for him to do would be to abandon that weight class, and slowly build himself back up to the heavyweight class. I don’t recommend him fighting as a cruiserweight, either, for that matter. They’re faster than heavyweights and likely to be too busy for Byrd, whom has become economical with his punches in the last eight years of his career. I do think that Byrd would have found huge success in this division if he’d have chosen to fight there earlier in his career, preferably 8-10 years ago when he was still young, but for him to make the move now would be an almost suicidal move on his part.

I’m not sure what his thinking process is like, however, because it was an insane move to drop down to the light heavyweight division in the first place. Knowing that, I could see Byrd making another foolish mistake, thinking that he could make it as a cruiserweight and then end up taking another royal beating from one of the mediocre cruiserweights in the division. That brings up another point I wanted to make, namely Byrd’s choice of opponents for his experimental bouts.

Next time out, if there is one, Byrd needs to take a much less competitive fighter than Shaun George. That’s not to say that he’s a top level fighter, because I don’t see him personally as a top 15 fighter, but in the case of Byrd, he needs to think about going even lower than that because of his age, and inexperience in the new weight class.

Ideally, Byrd needs to gain weight and move back up to the heavyweight division, where he gave a good account of himself in his last bout with Alexander Povetkin, before losing a 11th round TKO in October 2007. Byrd fought him very closely for the entire fight, and has nothing to be ashamed of. I thought Byrd looked impressive, certainly good enough to beat Samuel Peter and Ruslan Chagaev, which is why I was so surprised when Byrd made the sudden inexplicable decision to move down to the light heavyweight division to fight, even though he still hadn’t exhausted all his chances in the heavyweight division. If it was me, I would have made my move on those two fighters, knocking off the other top 10 fighters along the way, like Chris Arreola and Alexander Dimitrenko, until I got to Peter or Chagaev. Hopefully, Byrd understands that his place is still in the heavyweight division and moves back up before it’s too late.

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