It's not often that a 37-year old former heavyweight champ who hasn't scored a notable victory in years gets attention for main eventing a Friday Night Fights card against a journeyman.
Then again, it's not often that that 37-year old former heavyweight champ is dropping nearly 40 pounds to fight again, either.
Chris Byrd's journey from heavyweight down to the 175-pound limit light heavyweight division is a pretty special thing. The man who first won a version of the heavyweight crown in 2000 over Vitali Klitschko is back in action in Las Vegas on May 16th, trying to extend a career that had hit the wall at heavyweight.
In today's game, the 210-215 pound heavyweight is at an extreme disadvantage. Byrd has boxing skill for days. He's savvy, he's always seemed a step ahead in the mental game, and he knows his limitations, save for his second loss to Wladimir Klitschko, which was a bizarre error in judgment that found the light-hitting Byrd attempting to go toe-to-toe with a much bigger, stronger man. The end result was predictable.
Today's light heavyweight division, however, might be just the thing for the Flint, Michigan, native. Byrd (40-4-1, 21 KO) will test his new physique against 29-year old Shaun George (16-2-2, 7 KO) in the main event on ESPN this coming Friday night. George is not going to show us exactly what Byrd might have left in the tank, or what he'll really look like at 175, but it's a tune-up, and it's a little test for Byrd to see how he feels competitively. George hasn't actually made 175 pounds for a fight since 2004, as he's campaigned mostly at cruiserweight over that time.
Byrd, who is said by all who have seen him lately to look fit and ready to rumble, will win the fight, even if he isn't sharp. We could come away thinking that Byrd should just hang 'em up and move on with life, but he'll win the fight. He's too accomplished for someone like George.
What if he looks great though? Then all of a sudden, a new old man is ready to jump into the mix in boxing's version of the Senior Tour. It's a competitive and somewhat thriving division, to be sure, and calling it the "Senior Tour" is not really me taking a swipe at the fighters. But let's face it -- Joe Calzaghe (36), Bernard Hopkins (43), Glen Johnson (39), Antonio Tarver (39) and Roy Jones, Jr., (39) are still among the division's top names. Clinton Woods is 36, and even Zsolt Erdei is 33. The only real young lion the light heavyweight ranks have is 25-year old WBC titleholder Chad Dawson.
What it will all come down to, really, is Byrd's conditioning, stamina, and what happens to his punch with age and the weight drop. Whether he ever had a heavyweight punch or not (and he did not), that's been his division. Most said for years he'd have been better off at cruiserweight, but he's decided to take it even a step further. Since all accounts are that he's quite comfortable at 175 pounds, that makes you wonder how good he could've been as a light heavy all these years. After all, his career started with him weighing in at 169 pounds to fight Gary Smith back in 1993.
How will his reflexes be? George isn't going to overwhelm Byrd with speed, but Byrd's been seeing guys like Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin and Paul Marinaccio in recent fights. He's been sparring with cruiserweight titleholder Steve "USS" Cunningham, but sparring and fighting are two vastly different things, as everyone is aware.
Could he handle the hand speed of Joe Calzaghe, Chad Dawson or even a faded Roy Jones at this point in his career? Does he have the stamina to go 12 rounds with someone like that? Does he have the legs? Does he have the wind?
We won't find out on Friday, but should he win impressively, we will before too long. Byrd will not only never cause anyone to quake with fear, but the chance to beat a former heavyweight champion (and not a one-off like Jones) will be too much for a lot of the division's top guys to pass up.
It's a risky, bold, and admirable move by Byrd, and I salute his efforts. Clearly, the end of the line had come for Byrd as a heavyweight. Not only does this move get people talking about Chris Byrd again, but it could legitimately add five years to his career.