Tonight, in Mannheim Germany, IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd will fight his mandatory challenger, Wladimir Klitschko. In their first bout, Klitschko dominated, and nearly stopped Byrd and now has earned the right to fight Byrd again, by beating Samuel Peter last September. In spite of the fact that Klitschko holds a dominating victory over the smaller Byrd, many people, including both Byrd and Klitschko, completely disregard that fight as having any real significance when it comes to analyzing their rematch this week. Those who follow the heavyweights don't need to be reminded that since their 2000 bout, both fighters have encountered the highs and lows of boxing. Klitschko was knocked out in devastating fashion by Corrie Sanders, in addition to being stopped in very awkward fashion by Lamon Brewster shortly afterwards. Byrd, who at his peak was able to dance around contenders like David Tua, has recently struggled to escape with his belt more often than not. Consequently, Klitschko is viewed as the favorite in this bout, with Byrd seen by some as a very live underdog.
For the light punching Byrd, who hasn't knocked anybody out in four years, and has never knocked out a top thirty heavyweight, one would think that his best opportunity to win is via decision. However, Byrd attempted to box Klitschko the last time they fought, and it didn't work out well for him. Due to the tremendous size difference between Byrd and Klitschko, Byrd truly has only once choice, which he hopes can end in one of two ways.
First and foremost, Byrd must try to get inside Klitschko's long powerful jab, and fight at close range. If Byrd fails to do this on a consistent basis, then his chances of winning will drop from slim to none Saturday. Provided Byrd is successful, and can move into close quarters against Klitschko, he must either hope to score enough points by outboxing him at this range, or much less likely, knock Klitschko out.
In recognition of the ned to get inside, Byrd has requested that the ring in Germany be 18 feet wide, smaller than a defensive minded fighter usually prefers. To date, Klitschko has never been outboxed in a professional fight, with all of his three losses by stoppages.
Also, Byrd has never knocked down or knocked out a top tier heavyweight and is a counter puncher by nature. He is out of his natural element when he attempts to be aggressive and carry the fight to an opponent, the way Brewster and Sanders were able to do with the aid of their heavy hands. And unlike Ross Puritty, the first Klitschko conqueror, whose chin is undoubtedly world class, Byrd has been hurt, dropped and stopped once (by Ike Ibeabuchi) before in his career.
Klitschko, on the other hand, seems to be perfectly suited for Byrd, in spite of the ups and downs he has endured since their first fight. He can legitimately box for a man his size, as well as punch. He is different from Byrd opponents Jameel McCline and Andrew Golota because he is not merely a big man fighting at heavyweight; he's a good big man, who perhaps possesses more skill than any other true heavyweight fighting today, arguably only rivaled by James Toney and Byrd himself.
Looking back at Klitschko's last fight, where he out boxed the amateurish Samuel Peter, between surviving some shaky moments courtesy of the Nigerian's punching power, it is clear that Klitschko doesn't like to fight in close. Fighting on the outside allows Klitschko the room to implement his size and leverage advantages, as well as give him the luxury to practically forget about being hit, by his often outsized opponents. From a distance, Klitschko can rely on a diverse offensive arsenal to attack opponents, all of which begins with his jab, which is possibly the best jab in the heavyweight division.
Looking at the brief moments when Peter, who is bigger, and stronger than Byrd, did get inside of Klitschko's jab, he was immediately tied up, and pushed off, where he would once again find himself on the receiving end of punches.
Consequently, this fight is going to be determined by the distance it occurs at. If it's inside, then Byrd has his best chance. If it's outside, Byrd will receive more of the same type of punishment he endured during their first encounter. Klitschko has the luxury here of being able to fight his typical fight, behind a long jab and big right hand. Byrd on the other hand, will have to be uncharacteristically aggressive, against a fighter far more skilled than post opponents he's struggled to beat, in order to simply be able to hit the bigger Klitschko.
But for Byrd, who has to walk through some heavy fire just to earn the chance to return anything himself, he may find that his efforts to get in close are inconsequential, simply because he lacks the pop to do anything when or if he does get inside. Don't be fooled by the recent quotes about Byrd miraculously developing punching power, or about having always possessed it, and simply never displaying it. This is a case of good big man fighting a good small man. Klitschko possesses the tools to dominate Byrd, as he has already shown once before, whereas Byrd possesses none of the tools that have ever been effective against Klitschko. All of Byrd's talk about going for a knockout makes sense, because aside from a knockout, Byrd wil have a tough time winning a decision against Klitschko in Germany. Byrd's request for a small ring, as well as his vows to test Klitschko's heart (something Klitschko showed was a big commodity in his win over Peter) all go to show that Byrd himself recognizes that none of his usual commodities as a boxers are going to be enough to cut it this Saturday night.
The few people who seem to be picking Byrd are doing so based on the chance that Klitschko will tire himself out. Klitschko's chin was able to survive Peter's best punches during their fight, and when he did get legitimately clocked in the tenth round, he showed he was able to survive and clear his head against a big puncher who was a bigger man than Byrd. Subsequently, if Byrd intends on following through with testing Klitschko's heart?, then he'll likely be biting off more than he can chew. The call here is Klitschko by knockout in 8 rounds or less, becoming the first heavyweight to turn in a dominating performance in a title match this 2006 year.
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