In the amateurs, I fought Russians 10 times and only won four.
—Chris Byrd, interviewed at ESPN.com
If Chris Byrd already has difficulty against Russian fighters, he'll have his hands full with Alex Povetkin for a number of other reasons.
One, Byrd is getting older. Can he still fight at 37 in the style he's used to? Will he be able to fluster the younger Povetkin, and impose his type of fight on him?
Additionally, Byrd hasn't fought much lately. Since losing to Wlad Klitschko in April of 2006, Byrd waited a whole year before his next fight, and it's been 6 months since that one. We haven't seen enough of him to know if he'll be sharp.
Povetkin faces a challenge as well. He hasn't fought a pro fighter either as good as Byrd or as unorthodox. Assuming Byrd is in top form, Povetkin will a lot on his hands for a fighter in his 14th pro bout.
I don't really make predictions about upcoming bouts, because there are so many variables relating to a fighter's current mental state, physical condition, and random luck that come into play after the six months or so between the times we see them. What I can speculate about is, what each result would mean for the fighters in terms of my rating system.
Povetkin, currently #39, has the most to gain from a victory, of course. He would move into the top ten, probably around #7, bringing his rating more in line with where many observers would put him skillwise. A loss would drop him out of the top 50, but it's unclear what it would do to his career. Depending on the type of loss, it may have little effect, as many other fighters have lost to Byrd under unusual circumstances and haven't been viewed as lesser fighters. Additionally, Byrd has been rated highly by many of the boxing organizations and has held two belts, so he wouldn't be losing to a 'bum.'
If Byrd wins, he'd remain at #3 in the ratings; more importantly, he'd advance in the tournament, which would give him a chance to continue moving toward a rematch with Wlad. A loss here would drop him out of the top ten.
Many people want to see Byrd lose because of the havoc he sometimes wreaks in the division, but moreso because he's already lost to Wlad twice, badly, and a third fight is one that few people other than Chris Byrd want to see. Also Povetkin is being projected as a potention "savior" of the division, and there's the added possibility of a Povetkin-Chambers contest between young undefeated fighters.
But Byrd is a good opponent here because now, Povetkin will have to earn the title shot. Beating a wiley, experienced fighter would show that Povetkin is for real more than any dozen lesser fighters he's faced so far.