They are the bravest of the brave, the boxers who can not punch, and they are personified by Chris Byrd.
Each time Byrd enters a ring he knows the chances of not being able to hurt a much larger opponent. Most boxing fans are perverts, waiting to see the money shot, the big knockout, the concussion of some poor sap’s skull.
We dilettantes prefer to admire the skills and courage of those defying such danger. But would we wager on them? You betcha.
Take Byrd, a +250 underdog the last time I looked online against Wladimir Klitschko (-325) this Saturday in Mannheim, Germany. It is almost imperative that the light-hitting Byrd — a defensive whiz whose agility seems to have slowed by being 35 — knock out the big Baby Brother, all 6-foot-5, 240 or so pounds of him.
Mannheim is near U.S. military bases and where the Byrd flock is nesting for his IBF heavyweight defense. However, he German city might as well be Kiev — Klitschko’s Ukrainian home. The Klitschko brothers were German and promoted into becoming heroes. It seems unlikely, given politics and everything, that Byrd can win a decision against a guy, who beat him more than five years ago by winning just about every round.
The odds are massed against the American southpaw. If this is Byrd’s dethroning, let’s take a moment and hail the chief for all his good works. Chris, one of the nicest men from Flint used to drive through the poorer sections of the Michigan town Sunday mornings to get youngsters off the street and into church. He does the same now in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas. He is polite, thoughtful and a hell of a boxer.
It is not just size that makes this 1992 Olympic middleweight so special, having to swim against all the big fish. Buster Mathis and later son Buster Jr. were large men. Neither could register hurt on major league opponents. That must be a frightening thought when you are about to step into the ring with a Joe Frazier or Mike Tyson.
Byrd, however, has thrived against all the biggest, best and hardest hitting of his long generation. He has fought both Klitschkos (owning a TKO against Vitali), David Tua, Evander Holyfield, Ike Ibeabuchi, "Foul Pole" Golota and Jameel McCline. His only other loss was to Ibeabuchi. Joe Byrd, father and trainer, says every time he runs into referee Ron Rall, he gets an apology for stopping the bout at 2:59 of the fifth round with his son on his feet.
According to Papa Joe, Chris zigged when he should have zagged. He moved squarely into a big right hand thrown by the massive and talented if whacky Ibeabuchi. Byrd went down face first in the fifth.
"That’s when I knew Chris had a chin," said Joe Byrd. "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 10 seconds to go sounded. Chris thought it was the end of the round and dropped his hands. The ref thought he was defenseless and stopped the fight. He apologizes to me every time he sees me now."
Papa Joe had already learned that Chris, the youngest of his eight boxing kids, was special. "He had a rubber waist," said proud Papa.
He also had mercurial hand speed, terrific balance and agility. The feet may not move as quickly these days, but that adds a bit to his 215-pound power. That’s what he’ll need against Wladimir.
Before everyone laughs that I’m picking Byrd by knockout, remember what Evander Holyfield said before fighting Mike Tyson (don’t embarrass me by asking which time). Holyfield believes it doesn’t matter who hits harder, that it all comes down to this simple equation: "Can I take his and can he take mine?"
We know Byrd can take Wladimir’s. That was the Baby Brother many thought was the best of the Klitschkos. Chris always said it was Vitali, who hits harder and is tougher to reach. Byrd, without wishing to say there was some hanky-panky last time in Germany when he met Wladimir, had both eyes swelling by the third round. It has never happened, before or after. Unable to defend himself at maximum ability, he still was able to go 12.
Now the question is whether Wladimir can take Chris’s light love taps. The reasonable answer, watching Baby Brother get spanked by both Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, is maybe not. Chin is not the entire problem. Wladimir fights scared. Raise a hand to hit him and he backs off, as he did against the novice Samuel Peter.
Joe Byrd noticed that Klitschko is so afraid of the chin that his guard is unusually high, meaning Chris should have ample opportunity to soften the giant with body shots. Chris wonders what will happen when he takes Wladimir’s shots and keeps going forward, but there is a worthwhile chance Klitschko’s stamina may not win any medals.
Bottom line: It’s worthwhile betting on Byrd. If you’re lucky, you’ll get even longer odds to win by stoppage.