Chris Byrd’s move to 175 Chris Byrd is about to try something not commonly seen in boxing. The 37 year old former heavyweight champion is moving down two classes in order to compete in the 175 pound division. How rare is this? Aside from the recent example of Roy Jones Junior, who fought just once as a heavyweight when he soundly defeated alphabet titlist John Ruiz, no former heavyweight champion had made the move down to light heavy since Bob Fitzsimmons did so in the early 1900s. That makes this a rather bold move for Byrd, especially considering his advanced age.
In many ways, it is an absolute marvel that Byrd was able to compete at such a high level during his heavyweight tenure. After all, the 1992 silver medalist campaigned as a middleweight in the Olympics and when he made his professional debut he weighed a mere 169 pounds. That he would ultimately go on to win a portion of the heavyweight title and successfully defend it four times is a testament to his prowess as a prize fighter. Some would even argue he would have best served his own interests had he campaigned at 175 throughout his entire career.
Alas, Byrd did not spend his prime years competing at 175 pounds, but instead, did battle as a heavyweight against foes that were naturally bigger and stronger. Taking everything into account, Byrd did exceptionally well. Although he was knocked out by Ike Ibeabucchi, and despite being the beneficiary of controversial decisions with Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota, Byrd was competitive in all of his matches with the sole exception of the two times he was pitted against Wladimir Klitschko, who represented a stylistic nightmare for him. Given his success at heavyweight, it is perfectly reasonable to believe he may have fared even better at light heavy, especially when one considers his toughest challenge would likely have been in the form of the aforementioned Jones Junior, whom Byrd would have matched up very well against.
In the aftermath of his loss against rising prospect Alexander Povetkin, Byrd has finally decided it is time to venture down in weight. He could not have picked a better time to do so, either. There is currently an abundance of talent in the 175 pound weight class, which is wide open, providing Byrd with a slew of potential opportunities in the near future. Currently, Chad Dawson holds the WBC strap, Antonio Tarver the IBF, and Zsolt Erdei reigns as the WBO titlist, while the WBA is vacant. Ironically, Joe Calzaghe is widely recognized as the top dog following his sensational victory over Bernard Hopkins, and Glen Johnson, Adrian Diaconu, and Yuri Barashian also provide interesting prospects.
Saturday night, Byrd is slated to face Shaun George. This should be a good measuring stick to give us an idea of just how much he is capable of in his new division. If he is successful, as I suspect he will be, this can open up the door for a marquee match-up against one of the aforementioned light heavy contenders. It remains to be seen whether or not he can continue to perform at a high level in this advanced stage of his career, but if his reflexes are still there, I see no reason why he cannot be successful. It will be interesting to see how things unfold.