June 6, 2018
June 6, 2018
Chris Byrd

Action Images/Reuters/Tim Shaffer

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You can always rely on Chris Byrd for a bit of perspective.

Throughout a stellar 16-year professional career, Byrd, a former Olympic silver medallist, stood toe-to-toe with the likes of Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, Ike Ibeabuchi, David Tua, Evander Holyfield, Andrew Golota and Alexander Povetkin. He also won the IBF and WBO world heavyweight titles.

Not only that, Byrd battled these men when dangerously undersized, having turned professional at 169 pounds, and relied on technical skills, defence and intelligence rarely found in the heavyweight division.

When he speaks, therefore, you’d do well to listen.

That means you, Anthony Joshua. It also means you, Deontay Wilder.

“I love Anthony Joshua,” Byrd, 47, told Boxing News. “He’s just a nice kid. He can fight and he’s getting better with each fight.

“I watched him in the Olympics. I heard all the hype. When he won that Olympic gold medal (in 2012), I didn’t see the ability or the potential. He was just okay. Nothing special whatsoever.

“But to see him now, and his growth, I’m like, ‘Wow.’ What came with it was confidence and power.

“Now, Anthony Joshua should be saying to himself, ‘Nobody under 220 pounds is going to beat me.’ That was my rule. If you’re under six-four and 220, you’re not going to beat me. I was only worried about the big guys. I had guys like Jameel McCline, for example, who was 270 pounds, and I couldn’t really hurt him. That’s what worried me.

“Anthony Joshua, though, is a beast. He’s selling out stadiums because he has an aura about him now. He walks and talks like a heavyweight champion. The upside of that guy is huge.

“He’s got the greatest following. Man, England does it right. I love what they’re doing for boxing.”

Anthony Joshua

But what about ‘The Bronze Bomber’?

“Deontay Wilder is a scary monster but he’s beatable just like anybody else,” says Byrd.

“In Wilder’s last fight, that old man (Luis Ortiz) was getting ready to stop him. Ortiz is at least 45 years of age. If he had thrown three or four more punches he would have stopped Wilder. So, if Anthony Joshua puts pressure on him, he might win. Wilder can’t take pressure. If you do it the right way and use solid defence to get close, he can’t take it.

“But if you give that man distance and find yourself in his range, at the end of his punches, he will knock your head clean off. He has power that is unbelievable.”

Stiverne-Wilder

For much of Byrd’s heavyweight career, he was a spoilsport, a problem solver, the snitch of the division. He used defence, smarts and southpaw skills to frustrate and defuse bigger men and bigger punchers and often danced his way to a unanimous decision. He did this to good fighters and he did it to a couple of great ones, too.

Joshua and Wilder, meanwhile, supreme athletes with fight-ending power, represent a new breed of heavyweight. They’re bigger, if not better, than their predecessors. Their records look fabulous on paper; they look the way you’d expect heavyweights to look.

Byrd, retired since 2009, has imagined himself in the ring with both and knows which of the suit would be better suited to his style.

“Oh, man, that’s easy – Anthony Joshua,” he says. “For my style, he would have been my choice. The rangy guys like Vitali and Wladimir are hard to fight. I know Joshua is big and rangy in his own sort of way – for a small guy like me – but his style is different. He doesn’t know how to use his size all that well.

“He’s six-six and a great athlete. He reminds me of Jameel (McCline) in a way. In a way.”

Chris Byrd

Just as you start getting used to Byrd’s movement, flow and rhythm, he spins you around and hits you with something. He did this to countless heavyweights and he did this to me, too, when offering the name of the man he believes is the best boxer in the division today.

“In this four-man tournament – Joshua, Wilder, the Cuban (Luis Ortiz) and (Joseph) Parker – the Cuban is still the scariest of the whole bunch,” Byrd says. “That’s who I worried about for Joshua and Wilder. He’s the guy I still worry about for Joshua and Wilder.

“He’s an old man but he’s big, he’s left-handed, he’s smart, he’s seasoned and he knows the Cuban style. He’s not the best Cuban, but he’s still good.

“That’s why he gave Deontay Wilder so many problems. He was like, ‘I’m six-four, I’m big, and I’m not worried about this guy because he doesn’t know how to fight.’

“Then he’ll look at Joshua and say, ‘I’m roughly the same size but he isn’t educated mentally. He might catch me, but if he doesn’t he’s going to get a boxing lesson.’

“That was what Deontay Wilder found out. He was losing that fight. The Joshua and Ortiz fight would be the same.

“It’s all about experience, technique and seasoning in this generation. If you’ve got that, you can make up a hell of a lot of ground on guys who only have size, athleticism and power.

“Ortiz is a damn 45-year-old man and still has what it takes to give these two top guys hell. That says a lot. Ortiz is an old man, but he knows boxing. He can break it down. He’s got an old face, a chubby body, and he moves slowly. But he knows things these two, Joshua and Wilder, will never know.

“For that reason, I could probably still be in the mix with these guys.”

With that, the bell rings. School’s out. Professor Byrd, 41-5-1 (22), picks up his briefcase and coat, and leaves.

*** An in-depth interview with former IBF and WBO world heavyweight champion Chris Byrd can be read in this week’s Boxing News ***