Sleeker Byrd reveling in bully persona
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Forget shrinking waistlines and protruding ribcages.
The tastiest nugget emerging out of Chris Byrd's improbable jump from heavyweight champion to light heavyweight contender is actually less about nutrition and more about attitude.
For the first time in his career, the 37-year-old acknowledges gleefully, he gets to be the bully.
"That's my plan," Byrd said Wednesday, in a FitzHitz phone interview. "I'm staying in the pocket a lot longer, unlike when I was fighting all those big heavyweights.
"With them, I had to throw my punches and then get out quick before they could hit me with their big shots. But now I can push guys backward and stay in the trenches. I'm really looking forward to doing to other guys what the heavyweights were doing to me all these years."
Chris Byrd expects to add long-lost aggression to his Friday night game plan.
Opportunity No. 1 comes Friday night in Las Vegas, where the 18-year pro will meet career light heavyweight -- and comparative shrimp -- Shaun George in the main event of ESPN's "Friday Night Fights" card from the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I've gotten used to taking it easy when I've been in there with smaller guys, but I'll have to adjust to it now in a different way," Byrd said. "I want to come out like a terror even though he's smaller. That's exactly what I'm now able to take advantage of.
"It was the ultimate challenge to fight as a small heavyweight and I can't say I wish I'd never done it. But if I'd stayed at 168 or 175, I really think I could've been one of the greatest fighters of all time."
Byrd was a bloated 211 pounds in his most recent outing -- an 11th-round TKO loss to unbeaten Russian prospect Alexander Povetkin in round one of the IBF's heavyweight elimination tournaments in October.
It was the 42nd fight at 200-plus pounds for the Michigan native -- who began his career at 169 and pit-stopped at 171 and 193 before stubbornly taking the heavyweight plunge -- and afterward, he admitted it was finally time to stop adding and start subtracting.
"I can't really describe how hard those guys would hit me and how much it would hurt," he said. "Even when it wasn't on the chin. To the body or even on the arms, I would be in so much pain after a fight, but only my wife would see it.
"I was successful, but it's really not a lot of fun to go through that. It gets old, and the older you get the more broken up you get and the more injuries you get."
The memory of that in-ring pain made the pain of weight loss a little easier.
Byrd, who had long stocked up on protein shakes and supplements to maintain poundage, found that the excess weight came off quickly when he replaced extra hours at the dinner table with extra miles of roadwork.
He upped his daily runs from three or four miles to seven or eight, and occasionally even nine or 10, enough of a bump to have him considering running marathons one day alongside his brother, Patrick, already an accomplished distance runner.
"I was around 195 pounds and I told my wife, 'You know, I'm only 20 pounds from light heavyweight,'" he said. "She looked at me like I was crazy, but next thing you know I was down to 189, and later, when I got to the 70s, I just about went crazy myself.
"When I was a lot smaller I could beat Patrick in a race, but when I was fighting bigger it wasn't much of a competition. Now I can hang with him again for seven or eight or nine miles, where before I was fading out. It's great."
In the ring, Byrd expects to add long-lost aggression to his Friday night game plan, though he confesses it's a strategy that'll take a round or two for him to actually feel comfortable employing.
He's sparred frequently with IBF cruiserweight title-holder Steve Cunningham to prepare for George, but has consciously pulled back from an outright attack mode because he and Cunningham are good friends.
Against George, though, he plans to let the monster loose.
Well, sort of, anyway.
Truth told, the 6-foot-1 George has followed a path similar to Byrd's in terms of fitting in with the sport's biggest men. The majority of his 20 pro fights have seen him as a cruiserweight, including a career-high 197-pound weigh-in for a two-round stoppage of Robert Sulgan in 2000.
He weighed as much as 195 as recently as February 2007, when he suffered his last defeat -- via 12-round decision to Alexander Gurov in Ekaterinburg, Russia. His own subsequent slim-down to the 170s has resulted in three straight wins, including a 10-round scorecard shutout of journeyman Thomas Reid in December.
"He's a good boxer and he's got a good amateur background, which is really important," Byrd said. "And the one thing about my career is that everyone trains for me. I used to see 250-pound guys and think, 'OK, I can fight him, because he's just a big lazy fighter.' And then he'd come in against me and be a solid 225.
"Fight after fight, that's what I saw. And you know he's coming with the mindset that he's going to upset a two-time heavyweight champion and put himself on the map. But knowing that makes me come in more mentally tough and determined not take him lightly."
Assuming success on Friday, Byrd has sights set generally on the upper echelon at 175 pounds and particularly on another former heavyweight champion again campaigning in his neighborhood -- one Roy Jones Jr.
Jones won titles at 160, 168 and 175 pounds and enjoyed a one-fight reign at heavyweight following his unanimous decision win over then-WBA champion John Ruiz in March 2003 in Las Vegas.
He's just 4-3 in seven fights since, but has won three in a row -- including an impressive scorecard defeat of Felix Trinidad in January at Madison Square Garden.
"Roy's always been a guy who I've looked up to and admired and patterned myself after," Byrd said. "He's like my Muhammad Ali in terms of guys I wanted to be like and respected. I want to beat a guy with a name, and if I fought Jones and had a great performance, I'd be satisfied."
But if not Jones, then any old title-holder will do.
"Personally, it'd be Jones, but in terms of history, you've got to get a belt," Byrd said.
"It all depends on the matches that are out there. This division is hot and if I look good Friday then things will start to happen. I'm at least convinced that I can keep going for another year. So hopefully within that time, I can get it done."
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A super flyweight unification bout tops the week's title-fight schedule.
Mexican southpaw Cristian Mijares risks both a 24-fight unbeaten streak and his WBC 115-pound title on Saturday, when he faces Venezuelan veteran and WBA champion Alexander Munoz at Auditorio Centenario in Durango, Mexico.
A 26-year-old Durango native, Mijares is 23-0-1 since dropping a 10-round decision to Jose Alfredo Tirado in 2002. He captured his title five years later, stopping incumbent Katsushige Kawashima in 10 rounds at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.
Four defenses have followed, including a 12-round split decision over Jose Navarro on the Pavlik-Taylor II undercard in February in Las Vegas.
Munoz is seeking to extend his second reign at 115, which began when he toppled previously unbeaten Nobuo Nashiro via unanimous decision in May 2007.
His second and most recent defense came in January, when he outpointed the aforementioned Kawashima in Yokohama, Japan.
Munoz's initial reign lasted two years before he lost to Martin Castillo by decision in December 2004. He dropped another verdict to Castillo 13 months later, two fights before he took Nashiro's belt.
On Monday in Tokyo, Nicaraguan-born WBA lightweight champion Jose Alfaro defends for the first time against Japanese host Yusuke Kobori at Ariake Colosseum.
Alfaro won the then-vacant WBA title in his last fight, taking a split decision over Prawet Singwancha in December in Germany.
Kobori, a six-defense holder of the Japanese super featherweight crown, is unbeaten since a majority decision loss to Takanori Kariya in Tokyo on March 5, 2003.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He provides 'In The Ring' boxing commentary for Speeding Bullet Network (speedingbulletnetwork.com) and can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.