By Ryan Songalia
It was the biggest win of Chris Byrd's 16-year boxing career, yet to this day credit for the victory remains as elusive as his chin was for most of his fights.
In one of boxing's most shocking moments of the past 15 years, Vitali Klitschko elected to remain on his stool following the ninth round of his 2000 bout with Byrd, citing an injury to his right shoulder. The stunned crowd on hand in Berlin watched in disbelief as Klitschko, who entered with 27 knockouts in 27 fights, hung his head low in the corner as Byrd erupted in celebration.
"I don't care what anybody says, he quit because he knew I was gonna stop him," said the now 41-year-old Byrd, a native of Flint, Mich. who now lives in Las Vegas, Nev. Byrd, who stepped in on eight days notice for Donovan "Razor" Ruddock after the Canadian slugger came down with hepatitis, claims he was sick leading into the bout, suffering from diarrhea.
The scorecards at the time of the stoppage were unanimous for Klitschko: 88-83 on two cards, with one judge seeing the bout 89-82.
Normally a defense-first fighter, Byrd's shorter height (6-foot even to Klitschko's 6-foot-7) forced him to press the action. He landed occasionally with straight left crosses to the body and head whenever Klitschko missed, but ate a steady diet of right crosses for his trouble. Still Klitschko, who had looked indomitable to that point in his career, looked fatigued and off-balance as the fight progressed.
"He didn't hurt me. I started walking him down and getting to him," said Byrd. "The crowd knew it too, that's why they started to cheer for me."
Byrd, who annexed the WBO heavyweight title with the upset win, said a rematch with Vitali would have answered any remaining questions about the first fight, but none took place. Instead, Byrd faced Vitali's younger and more agile brother Wladimir Klitschko in his next bout, being dropped twice and losing a decision just six months later.
"If I lost to a guy and got criticized and thought I was winning easy, I would want a rematch," said Byrd of Vitali's predicament. "I asked for one but they wanted me to fight Wladimir instead, which is a harder style for me and he's very strong. I thank God that I had the opportunity to fight the both of them, nobody wants to go to Germany. But if you have to do it, you just do it."
The Vitali Klitschko win would redeem much of Byrd's tainted image after suffering a KO defeat to Ike Ibeabuchi the year prior. Following the loss to Wladimir Klitschko, Byrd won the vacant IBF heavyweight title with a dominant victory over Evander Holyfield and defended it four times before being stopped in a second bout with Wladimir.
Vitali Klitschko's reputation would remain in tatters due to the Byrd loss until three years later when, in a losing effort, Klitschko showed tremendous heart and ability in his life-and-death struggle with Lennox Lewis, which was stopped due to a garish cut over Klitschko's eye.
Byrd last fought in 2009, stopping Matthias Sandow in a cruiserweight bout before ending his career with a 41-5-1 (22 KO) record.
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News and the Filipino Reporter newspaper in New York City. He can be reached at [email protected] . An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com . Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.