You know, it was worth a try. Chris Byrd was an overachieving heavyweight who got by on character, smarts and speed, where he had a great career, so why not give a go at fighting men his own size? It just didn’t work. Byrd at light heavyweight (175 lbs.), at 37, had to deal with a weight loss of 40 lbs. that has felled Roy Jones, Jr. and Antonio Tarver before; years of heavyweight punishment and already-declining performances; the fact that he wasn’t faster than his opponent anymore; his lifelong pro habit of fighting at a heavyweight’s slower pace; a guy in Shaun George who probably had above average speed for the division anyhow; and the reality that character and smarts aren’t enough when everything else is going against you.
The ESPN2 commentating team was overly impressed with George. Nah. He’s got some tools, but he’s got galaxies to go before he’s in the class of the light heavyweight division. This was just a mad scientist idea for Byrd that was wacky enough to indulge but not feasible enough to succeed. Result: TKO-9 George.
I do think the choice of George was a factor, don’t get me wrong. His speed and countering ability gave Byrd fits. I don’t know quite how guys like him get away with essentially turning their backs on their opponents; I never understand why those opponents just don’t whack away at their kidneys to get them to stop. But it amounted to good defense.
It’s just that Byrd isn’t a light heavyweight, at least not at this point in his career. And he was a fading heavyweight, getting beaten up pretty badly in his last two fights. What do you want? It had to catch up to him sooner or later. Maybe he should’ve made the jump down earlier in his career, when massive weight loss or gain doesn’t affect fighters as severely. But then, there was money at heavyweight, and he did plenty good for himself up there. This was probably the only time to even see if it would fly.
His diet routine didn’t sound exactly like something a serious nutritionist would recommend, so that probably didn’t help. He ate off a small paper plate and nothing more. Huh. How ’bout that. He looked sculpted and cut, of course. Once the fight started, though, he looked sluggish. To be fair, he looked sluggish as a heavyweight in his last couple outings, the product of age and wear fighting bigger men. He also never threw punches in combination at George, partly because I think the weight was an issue, partly because he was used to the lumbering speed of heavyweight fights and partly because George was countering him every time he tried to get serious. In fact, he was hurt twice in the 1st round, going down the second time. He was hurt again in the 2nd round, too. He showed a little life in the 3rd, and you can make the case that he won as many as three rounds in the fight. I gave him two. But never for a second did I think he was in it, even when George was clearly just coasting. George was significantly speedier, and he caught Byrd with some quick combos in the 9th that put him down twice and forced the ref to call it off.
If the recent past is any indicator — i.e., Tarver, Jones — it’s going to take a year or more for Byrd to acclimate to the weight. Even that is implausible, because under the circumstances, Byrd’s more used up than Tarver and Jones and hasn’t spent significant time at the weight the way those two did. I’d prefer to see Byrd hang it up and maybe get himself a commentating gig. I said before this fight, Byrd’s “opponent for the night on ESPN2 will only establish whether Byrd is going to totally suck at this weight.” That was established. He told the ESPN crew during the fight, “I look like crap tonight.” Here’s hoping he realizes that he’s looked like crap (by his previous standard) in his last several fights, has only the remotest chance of not looking like crap in his next fight and calls it a day. But it’s been a fantastic career, and although I rarely was interested in seeing Byrd in the ring, I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.
As for George, after some mouthy calling out of Tarver in the hazy joy of securing a career-best win, he came back to Earth and called out some non-titlists like Glen Johnson and lesser titlists like Zsolt Erdei. Those are reasonable enough next steps, even if I think he’d lose both fights. But he proved at least that he’s entitled to cash in while challenging himself. At least one person was thinking realistically about his career after the fight; George said, “I’ve got to crawl before I can walk.”