Chris Byrd - illustration by Trevor Von Eeden
Boxiana: Volume 1 is available NOW through Troubador Publishing, Amazon in the UK, Amazon in the USA and all good traditional and online booksellers.
Over the past couple of months, this blog has been featuring a series of exclusive previews of content from Boxiana: Volume 1, which will hopefully whet your appetite and persuade you to buy the full volume, which is available NOW as a paperback book (RRP £9.99) or ebook (RRP £3.99).
Today I'm presenting an extract from my in-depth interview with Chris Byrd.
Boxiana: Volume 1 preview
INVISIBLE WHILE STANDING STILL
American Chris Byrd was one of the most accomplished and avoided heavyweights of his generation. Now he’s forging a successful post-ring career as a faith-based motivational speaker. Luke G. Williams caught up with him for a wide-ranging conversation encompassing faith, family and his formidable fistic accomplishments ...
It takes a special talent - or a foolhardiness bordering on insanity - to stand in front of a heavyweight boxer bigger and stronger than yourself, let them swing their monster fists at you and rely on a mixture of guile, speed, reflexes and eyesight to make them miss, before coming roaring back with rapid flurries of punches of your own. Muhammad Ali famously did it against George Foreman in Zaire in 1974, but Chris Byrd employed such tactics for the majority of his career. Jim Lampley, the long-time HBO fight announcer, once likened Byrd’s tactical approach to being “invisible while standing still”. It’s an apt metaphor for the criminally under-rated Byrd’s pugilistic career - for so long the invisible man of the heavyweight division, Byrd haunted the boxing scene of the 1990s and 2000s like Banquo’s ghost at Macbeth’s feast, while an array of top heavyweights did their level best to pretend he didn’t exist. Coupled with his ‘defensive’ style was Byrd’s reputation for clean living, which meant that, more often than not, the media gave him a wide berth. “If I’d smacked my wife around, everybody would have known me,” Byrd once reflected. “The media love it when you do crazy stuff like that, it would have made me bigger, but I wasn’t like that.”
Now that Byrd has been retired for five years it seems an apt time to re-assess his extraordinary talent. Boxing fans love a bar stool debate, so how about this for a hypothesis: Byrd has a good case to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Whether this statement caused you to laugh in derision or sagely nod in agreement, consider the supporting evidence: if any heavyweight deserves the sobriquet of ‘fearless’, then Byrd does - not only was he willing to fight anyone, anytime, any place and anywhere but, in the process, he twice annexed portions of the World Heavyweight Championship. Byrd’s list of opponents reads like a ‘who’s who’ of the heavyweight division of the mid-1990s to mid-‘00s; among his victims, he vanquished the legendary Evander Holyfield and was one of only two men to ever defeat Vitali Klitschko. By my count, Byrd fought and defeated 11 men who held or challenged for world titles - Holyfield, Klitschko, DaVarryl Williamson, Jameel McCline, Fres Oquendo, David Tua, Bert Cooper, Uriah Grant, Lionel Butler, Phil Jackson and Arthur Williams - while four of his five defeats were against top or very high quality opposition: Wladimir Klitschko (twice), Ike Ibeabuchi and Alexander Povetkin.
Oh yes, and Lennox Lewis ducked Byrd, giving up the IBF belt rather than fighting him. Sure, you can argue all day about whether Lewis’s motive was purely financial (Don King paid him a million pounds and a Range Rover to vacate the strap) or whether Lewis simply didn’t fancy trying to solve the riddle of Byrd’s slick, southpaw style, but you can’t argue with the fact: Lennox Lewis ducked Chris Byrd.
The clincher for me though regarding Byrd’s ‘Case for Canastota’ is that he wasn’t even a heavyweight. Well, not a natural one, not even close in fact; in the amateurs Byrd fought from light-welter up to middleweight and he started his pro career as a super-middleweight. Yet in an outwardly insane quest for fistic glory, he cajoled and forced his body into the heavyweight division, squaring off against gigantic heavyweights, ceding massive advantages in both size and power in the process. Byrd had no right to be campaigning at heavyweight, let alone regularly beating viable contenders or winning world titles in the division. When he fought McCline, for example, Byrd was outweighed by a jaw-dropping 56lbs and throughout his career as a heavyweight he rarely weighed above 215. In the heavyweight boxing landscape, he was David in a land of Goliaths.
Whether you agree that Byrd’s Hall of Fame worthy or not, his achievements are certainly deserving of a substantial re-evaluation. During his career he shipped much criticism for his ‘defensive’ style, Larry Merchant even going so far as it to imply it was ‘unmanly’, but re-watch his contests with the Klitschkos, Holyfield, McCline, Tua et al and Byrd’s bravery, determination, hand speed and ability to slip punches are simply breathtaking. No wonder that analyst Max Kellerman once called him “one of the greatest pure boxers in the history of the [heavyweight] division.”
THE FULL ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE PRINT AND EBOOK EDITION OF BOXIANA: VOLUME 1
An anthology of new boxing writing Boxiana: Volume 1 is available in both paperback book and eBook formats. Boxiana editor Luke G. Williams said: “In a world dominated by 140 character limits and the 24-hour news cycle, brevity and superficiality have become de rigueur. Boxiana takes a different approach; by using long-form journalism to take an in-depth look at boxing’s past, present and future, we are hoping that Boxiana will become a vital new voice in sports writing.”
In Volume 1:
Trevor Von Eeden, author of graphic novel The Original Johnson, analyses the significance of Jack Johnson; Mario Mungia tries his hand at amateur boxing; Ben Williams uncovers his grandfather’s bare-knuckle career; James Hernandez catches up with Jon Thaxton; Matthew Ogborn ponders boxers and retirement; rising light heavyweight Chris Hobbs recounts his life in the military and the ring; Rowland Stone recalls a heady night in 1992; Corey Quincy attempts to solve the Wladimir Klitschko conundrum and Luke G. Williams examines the meteoric rise of Deontay Wilder and the under-rated career of Chris Byrd.
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