Povetkin ‘least bad’ among heavyweights

October 23, 2007 2:01 AM
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Boxing would have taken a backseat in my heart this coming weekend even if it had a fight or two worth considering. For upcoming is my favorite day of the sports calendar — the Breeders Cup race.

I shall not bore you with stories of how I landed on Miesque or wrote about Pebbles and her taste for Guinness Stout, or cashing in on Ferdinand vs. Alysheba at Hollywood Park and rushing to make a plane to Vegas to see Julio Cesar Chavez, in perhaps the finest performance of his career, tear apart Edwin Rosario.

I certainly shall not try to pass on any advice on the upcoming races, even though I was lucky enough to hit the exactas this year in all three Triple Crown events and, except for Rags to Riches, all the participants will meet again in the Classic.

All the Breeders Cup does this year is breed more contempt for boxing’s heavyweight division. The only fight that means a darn next Saturday is in Erfurt, Germany, between Chris Byrd, the aged former heavyweight champion, and virtual novice Alexander Povetkin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist who is 13-0 with 10 knockouts as a pro.

Sight unseen, I like Povetkin in this, though I naturally will be rooting for Byrd, who was one of my favorite fighters. Povetkin has been brought along quickly for a prospect, perhaps in deference to his comparatively advanced age of 28. He has faced increasingly more difficult opposition, and in his last appearance he shut out Larry Donald over ten rounds. Before that, he stopped in reverse order, Patrice L’Heureux, David Bostice, Imamu Mayfield and Ed Mahone.

Chris Byrd, even at the age of 37, is a huge step up. But at the age of 37, he is far from what he used to be. Very far.

Even in his declining abilities, he was able to bounce up off the canvas and beat Jameel McCline and get a draw from Foul Pole Golota, who fought well when he realized Byrd could not hurt him. That was the essence of the slick southpaw. He went in the ring knowing he could not hurt his opponent, but by his wits and agility was able to outbox and virtually embarrass the bigger, stronger guys he was facing.

Povetkin is not that much bigger — two inches in height, maybe 15-20 pounds - than the 6-foot-2 Byrd. But Byrd was hardly the master boxer who so easily handled Evander Holyfield and David Tua, the one who was coming on so strongly that Vitali Klitschko felt it prudent to quit on his stool with a shoulder injury rather than to continue throwing wide punches at a man who was never where you thought he was.

Byrd has made only one start this year, in April, defeating journeyman Paul Marinaccio in seven ugly rounds. He’d like to explain away his poor performance by ring rust. He hadn’t fought in a year since Wladimir Klitschko clobbered him again. But I believe, under the rust, there was a marked loss of dexterity, agility, reflexes, all the things that made Byrd special.

The winner of this fight is to meet the winner of the followoing week’s Calvin Brock-Eddie Chambers match for the right to face Wladimir Klitschko for the WBC title. It is not something I am anxiously awaiting, unless Povetkin - sight unseen, remember - turns out to be a real talent.

I could find no line on Byrd-Povetkin. Thankfully. I’ll save my money for Street Sense or Curlin. But the fight is unfortunately representative of what’s going on in what used to be boxing’s glamour division. We just had Samuel Peter virtually exposed as another over-hyped, undertrained prospect when Jameel McCline knocked him down three times by the third round (and had nothing left thereafter). Peter now will face Oleg Maskaev to ring in the new year, Jan. 2 at Madison Square Garden. That winner is to face Vitali Klitschko at a hospital to be named later.

Evander Holyfield looked his age (45 by the time you read this) and made Sultan Ibragimov look less than ordinary in another recent "title" bout. We could go on and on, but there’s no point in beating a dead horse, not in the week we’ll be looking to beat some very live horses at very nice odds. The Breeders Cup, as usual, offers great value to bettors. Monmouth Park, not Erfurt, is where it’s at.