This Saturday night, boxing fans will witness a heavyweight title fight between two of the sport’s more remarkable survivors, IBF belt holder Chris Byrd, and mandatory challenger Wladimir Klitschko. Byrd and Klitschko are not survivors in the typical boxing sense: neither overcame destitution or extreme hardships growing up, as is the case with so many other fighters today. Rather, in the case of Byrd and Klitschko are survivors in that they have shown time-tested resolve not to go away or disappear.
In that sense, Byrd and Klitschko have survived something that can be as deadly to a boxer’s career as the gang infested streets many pugilists come from: criticim from the media. Even the sport’s best fighter, Floyd Mayweather has realized that for all his wondrous talents, he cannot, even on his best night, beat the media. Which is exactly why he’s done an abrupt about face from the often turbulent earlier years of his youth, and now makes a point to do everything his power to align himself with the same media types who spent more ink discussing his out of the ring exploits than his in the ring beat downs.
Byrd was never supposed to be an effective heavyweight. He was a natural cruiserweight, at best, and possibly could have been a light heavyweight. Regardless, Byrd has successfully competed in a heavyweight division without size, strength or power, instead scraping by with quick fists, slick defense, and superior ring generalship. Byrd has now twice held major world heavyweight titles, and is currently the longest reigning heavyweight belt holder of the four title claimants. Yet in spite of his success, Byrd has failed to become a box office draw, mainly because in this post-Tyson era, the assets he brings to the ring aren’t the qualities fans look for in a heavyweight.
Since outpointing an aging Evander Holyfield roughly three years ago to win the vacant IBF title, Byrd has struggled to defend that strap, clearly winning only his last title defense, against Davarryl Williamson, and that fight was so boring, it was voted as the worst fight of 2005. Before the sleeper with Williamson, Byrd had made three title defenses, earning a disputed decision against Fres Oquendo, a draw against Andrew Golota, and a split-decision win over Jameel McCline, who had Byrd down and nearly out in the second round. Though Byrd’s most recent bouts have been anything but dominating, the fact that he’s still the owner of a major world title with few natural advantages, is a testimony to his perseverance in a division swarming with bigger, stronger giants.
Klitschko, is one of those giants, who has also survived the wrath of the media. Many American writers have been particularly quick to pull their trigger of fury on the Ukrainian, and as a result, much of the criticism Klitschko has endured has been unjust. After amassing an impressive professional resume that reaffirmed his stellar amateur career, in which he won gold in the super heavyweight division at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, Klitschko twice stumbled in back-to-back major fights.
The 6’6” and 244 pound Klitschko was brutally stopped by Corrie Sanders, and two fights later, by Lamon Brewster, prompting nearly all of the press to renounce their own created hype of him, and relegate him to “never was” status, a heavyweight underachiever.
Deemed a permanently flawed, glass chinned and to be lacking both confidence and strong will, Klitschko was given little chance to resurface as a dominant force in the heavyweight division again. However, under the tutelage of Hall of Fame trainer Emmanuel Steward, Klitschko has fought his way back. The road wasn’t always pretty, as Klitschko tweaked his craft under the watchful eye of a trainer renowned for getting big men to fight to their size, just as Steward last did with Lennox Lewis. But in the end, Klitschko actually went old school and earned his shot at the title in the ring, yet found himself waiting behind DaVarryl Williamson, a man he narrowly beat, in the seemingly corrupt IBF rankings. The IBF’s shameful ranking system has made many in the sport wonder if the organization is an associated affiliate of Don King Productions (who promotes Williamson).
Klitschko challenged the sanctioning body with a lawsuit, but some writers came down hard on the big man. Many used Klitschko’s attempt to seek justice in court as an excuse to belittle the educated doctor for doing his fighting outside the ring, instead of in it, the old fashioned way. The judge refused to overrule the IBF’s ranking of Williamson over Klitschko, and Klitschko waited his turn, even beating a fighter nearly all experts thought would knock him out (Sam Peter).
But now, with his long awaited world title match less than a week away, Klitschko, a considerable favorite to repeat his 2000 victory over Byrd, has an opportunity to culminate a journey that has perhaps been one of the longest, hardest roads back that any heavyweight in recent memory has endured. If he beats Byrd fior the title, many will look back and remember his win over then-undefeated Sam Peter, as the turning point for Klitschko. In the bout, Klitschko displayed many of the attributes that those in the American press have been so adamant to claim he supposedly lacks.
Last September, after getting up off the deck from three knockdowns, of which, only one was truly the result of a legal blow, Klitschko proved he had the will power and resolve to match a chin that ultimately proved adequate enough to see him through twelve rounds with perhaps the hardest puncher in the heavyweight division.
Chris Byrd and Wladimir Klitschko have both found the wherewithal to continue on their own respective march towards recognition as the best fighter in the division. Both men are walking examples that sticks and stones do break bones, but words, particularly those of many boxing scribes, don’t apparently hurt, as both men prepare to face off on a world stage platform this weekend (for Simon Youssef).
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