Holyfield to fight Byrd

Dec. 13, 2002 at 4:03 PM
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Evander Holyfield tries to become the first five-time heavyweight champion Saturday night when he faces Chris Byrd.

The bout takes place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., and is for the vacant IBF heavyweight title.

Holyfield (38-5-2, 25 KO), one of the sport's most popular and durable figures in recent history, posted an eighth-round technical decision over Hasim Rahman in his last fight here on June 1. The fight went to the judges' cards after the ringside physician determined that an accidental head butt caused a "severe hematoma" on Rahman's forehead.

Holyfield, 40, has been called both a warrior and a dirty fighter, and has been accused of intentionally head-butting by some opponents, including former champion Mike Tyson. Prior to downing Rahman, Holyfield had three consecutive meetings with WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz, recording a win, a loss, and a draw.

While Ruiz's unorthodox style presented difficulty for Holyfield, he could have a challenge facing the southpaw Byrd (35-2, 20 KOs).

Holyfield split a pair of matches with southpaw Michael Moorer in 1994 and 1997.

"I don't think so much that anyone can make you look bad, other than you get frustrated because you don't hit him with the big shot," Holyfield said about Byrd. "He plays a psychology role. They take the big shots at him and never get a chance to hit him. Byrd is more loosey-goosey type. He's more into, 'I made you miss, I made you miss, I made you miss.' And Moorer's more, 'I want to knock you out."

The IBF title was vacated by WBC champion Lennox Lewis, who elected to fight Ukrainian Vitali Klitshcko rather than meet Byrd, the mandatory challenger. At 6-1, 210 pounds, the Byrd does not possess great power for a heavyweight, but makes up for it with hand speed and lateral movement.

"It's fight time. I am going to win the title Saturday night," Byrd said. "I have the opportunity to fight the greatest in Evander Holyfield, and I will beat the greatest. I have been waiting for this for a long time and now I finally have the chance to show the world that I am the best heavyweight out there."

Holyfield will earn $5 million and Byrd $2 million.

Both fighters began their careers at lighter weights. Holyfield went undefeated as a cruiserweight before he became heavyweight champ in 1990. Between his third-round knockout of Buster Douglass on Oct. 25, 1990, and his decision in the first of three matches with Ruiz on Aug. 12, 2000, Holyfield captured, regained or unified some form of the heavyweight title five times.

Many have compared Byrd to Pernell Whitaker, Holyfield's Olympic teammate who made a career out of making opponents look bad. Byrd doesn't mind the comparison.

"I pride myself on that, on making them look foolish, particularly heavyweights," said Byrd, who fought at 168 pounds in winning a silver medal at the 1992 Olympics. "I looked a lot at Pernell Whitaker."

Byrd also was an Olympian, winning the silver medal at 165 pounds in the 1992 Games. His only professional losses have come to Ike Ibeabuchi and Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali's younger brother.

The winner of Saturday's bout may face the winner of the March 1 fight between Ruiz and Roy Jones Jr., who is attempting to become the second light heavyweight champion to win a heavyweight strap.

On the undercard Saturday, Fres Oquendo (22-1, 13 KOs) of Puerto Rico faces Brazilian George Arias (31-4, 20 KOs).

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