Chris Byrd weighed in for his fight with Shaun George at 174, 37.5 pounds less than he did for his previous fight with Alexander Povetkin. The result was a listless performance and 9th round stoppage at the hands of unheralded Shaun George in Byrd's light heavyweight debut.
Byrd had a great career as a heavy, and had been in the top 25 since 1995, in the top ten until late last year, and #2 for over three years. He was even interim champion for a while after Lennox Lewis' retirement, though he was never #1 in the ratings. His strategy was to be elusive and confusing, and he had a speed advantage against almost all of his heavyweight opponents, though he gave up a power advantage in return.
This is how he fought for a full decade: use quickness to overcome lack of power.
But when Byrd dropped to light heavyweight, the equation had to be reversed. If he'd dropped only to cruiserweight, Byrd would probably have equal power, but only equal speed, to many of the fighters in the division. Go all the way down to light heavy, and he should have more power, but actually less speed, than the faster fighters in the division. Which was Byrd's problem last night.
The roles had been reversed. Instead of the elusive, fast fighter, Byrd was the slower fighter, looking to rock his opponent with a few shots if he got a good opening. Essentially, this is the exact opposite of how he's fought for the last ten years. No longer was his speed an advantage. And after losing that much weight so fast, his strength and stamina had to be called into question.
Whatever the reason, Byrd didn't look good from the start, especially after being dropped in the 2nd round. From there, Byrd didn't show the activity and work rate typical of a light heavyweight. But neither did he show ability to take shots...and he's taken some big shots from some of the best heavyweights of the 90's and 00's. Perhaps too many over the years.
Some of the credit, of course, should go to Shaun George, who trained with Antonio Tarver for the bout. But Byrd's rapid weight loss and inability to modify his style to the reality of his new division, as well as his age (37), are going to get the blame in this one, at least until George can prove that he's taken his game to a higher level.
Byrd stands at 11th in the latest SportsRatings Heavyweight Top 100. Fighters don't fall out of the ratings for switching to a lower division; fights they win, however, don't improve their rating, while losses still count against them. For this loss, Byrd will likely fall out of the top 25 for the first time since 1995. Most observers think it's time that he hang up the gloves, and if that's the case, Chris Byrd can be proud of his career where he spent a decade on top, won a few alphabet titles and came very close to being considered the heavyweight champion.