If you lined up all of the opponents that Vitali Klitschko and Chris Byrd have fought, you'd hardly find a top ten fighter among them. The only legitimate contender on their combined resumes was Ike Ibeabuchi, and he knows a little too much about lineups. So, there was some sort of cosmic irony in play when a late cancellation brought these two heavyweight suspects together. At least if they fought each other, it was felt, one of them would be exposed. Who knew that they both would end up leaving the ring with their reputation in tatters?
Before the fight began, Chris Byrd looked worried, really really worried. Byrd had lost several pounds in the week before the fight, unable to find any German food that suited him. And now blown-up middleweight was facing a 6'8", 244 lb. giant. As he climbed into the ring in front of an eerily silent European crowd, he took note of the ring's smaller-than-usual dimensions. For a guy who got knocked out for laying on the ropes, it couldn't have filled him with confidence to see that two steps in any direction, and there were ropes waiting for him. In contrast, Klitschko was calm, cool, and as robotically collected as ever. He showed little concern about taking on the crafty Byrd with 10 days notice.
As soon as the fight began, Chris Byrd found himself with his back to the ropes. Pow. Klitschko smacked Byrd with a serious right hand in the first minute of the fight, and Byrd wisely hid behind raised gloves. Spinning out to center ring, Byrd was able to stay alive when there was some free space around him. As Klitschko pumped a half jab into Byrd's open glove, Byrd bobbed and weaved under Klitschko's scud missiles. But in typical Byrd fashion, there was little offense.
In the second and third rounds, Byrd continued trying to keep the fight in center ring. When he succeeded, he was able to absorb Klitschko's pawing jab in his open glove. It looked like the world's shortest game of catch, with Vitali's fist the baseball and Byrd fighting with an outfielder's glove on his right hand. But occasionally, Byrd would get stuck in a corner or on the ropes. When he did, Klitschko was able to at least make contact. Still Byrd was not firing back any meaningful punches, and Klitschko was pacing himself for a long fight.
In the fourth round, Byrd landed his first clean punch to the head by shooting a nice counter left when Klitschko missed a sweeping right cross. Byrd attempted a few more charging lefts, which Klitschko avoided a la Naseem Hamed...by leaning straight back and retreating. Byrd was beginning to do a couple of things right in this stanza, but with 45 seconds to go, Klitschko landed the biggest punches of the night. The first big right hand caught Byrd's attention, and he made a face as if to say "Wooo, a little heat on that fastball." Soon, Klitschko was following up with two more right hands, each of which snapped Byrd's head. BoxingChronicle.com predicted that Byrd would fold if Klitschko could touch him clean, and we were wrong. If for nothing else, Byrd gets major props for taking Klitschko's best shot without wobbling.
The fifth round was the only round that Byrd definitely won. Klitschko simply could not land a punch on him for most of the round. And as a rare treat, Byrd actually threw punches back at Klitschko when he missed, popping the WBO titlist a few times as he leaned back with his hands low. Klitschko didn't seem particularly impressed with Byrd's power, but he was clearly getting frustrated with his elusiveness. As Klitschko's mouth began draping open to suck wind, Byrd's gameplan showed some signs of working, even though it was a boring, listless affair.
Klitschko regained the momentum in the sixth round by landing a number of solid right hand leads in the round. Taking a bit off of his homerun swings, Klitschko was able to push his glove through Byrd's defense a few times. It was unspectacular, but effective, aggression, and Klitschko banked another round. While Klitschko reset himself in the sixth, and into the seventh round as well, Byrd offered no resistance. Byrd moved his head plenty, and had Klitschko catching air more often than not, but really never committed to a serious counter attack. The quiet capacity German crowd finally made some noise in the form of "Boooo"s. I guess Chris Byrd is boring in any language.
Byrd tried throwing punches again in the eighth round, and got a little pop out of the crowd when Klitschko would eat them leaning back and retreating. But Klitschko focused on the body and found tremendous success hammering Byrd's sides. Had Klitschko began hitting Byrd's sides, arms, and shoulders earlier, he might have gotten the kayo. But he didn't, nor did he continue his body assault past the eighth.
In the ninth, Byrd was a bit flatfooted, and Klitschko again caught him with right hands down the pike. Klitschko took a few in return by again pulling his Hamed impression, but Byrd was still getting the worst of it. On BoxingChronicle's card, he was losing 89-83 after nine rounds (winning only the fifth and getting a 10-10 seventh when both men did nothing). He was in a similar hole on the official scorecards. And then he won the fight.
Between rounds, Vitali Klitschko could be heard complaining to his corner about pain in his left shoulder. He was insisting that he could not continue. His trainer couldn't believe his ears and assured Klitschko that he was fine, but when it came time to stand up and fight, Klitschko stayed on his stool and quit. In doing so, he gave away his unblemished 27-0/27 record, his WBO heavyweight title, his reputation, and probably his HBO contract. It was the type of performance that kills careers.
Chris Byrd (31-1/19) was beside himself. When the referee waved the fight over, Byrd leaped around in joy. He had just won a fight that few picked him to win and that he was losing badly. But what did he really gain? If there are fans of his style, they see something that I don't. Defensive mastery is one thing, but with little or no offense to back it up, it's hardly worth watching. Now he holds a title from a fight he was about to lose. If it means something to Byrd, then great...but it means nothing to the heavyweight division. Because of the gawdy belt he now holds, Byrd might find it easier to line up opponents, but it doesn't improve his standing one bit.
As for Klitschko, he claimed he injured his left shoulder in the third round, but seemed to be using his left effectively beyond that. Even if he was beset with pain, he needed only survive three more rounds to hear the decision come down in his favor. Fight fans like their fighters to work past adversity. If Klitschko can't work through a sore shoulder, then how is he going to beat guys like Holyfield, who even closing in on 40 years old will walk through fire to get a win? This loss has hurt him more than just a single TKO loss on his record. Now there will always be questions about his will to win.
And so went one of the most baffling heavyweight "title" fights in recent memory. Both fighters would be better off if they had landed simultaneous bombs and both been knocked cold for the count of 10. Instead, they both left the ring on their feet, but still came out losers.
ROUND 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 TOTAL KLITSCHKO 10 10 10 10 9 10 10 10 10 QUITS
BYRD 9 9 9 9 10 9 10 9 9 TKO WINNER