20-20 Hindsight: End of the Road for Byrd, Boxing Creeping Back Into the Mainstream and More

One of the first title fights I ever had a chance to attend in person took place six years ago when Chris Byrd met Evander Holyfield for the IBF heavyweight belt at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. As I was just becoming a serious boxing fan at the time, I wasn't that familiar with Byrd, though I knew his reputation as a crafty defensive wizard.

I knew Holyfield was nearing the end of the road, but I was still impressed with Byrd's skills on that December night. He was more than just elusive, he actually had Holyfield swinging at thin air on more than one occasion. And though he didn't have much power, he could throw some crowd-pleasing combinations when he let his hands go. That performance and the fact that Byrd hailed from my mom's birthplace of Flint, Michigan were enough to win me over.

So it was with a little bit of sadness that I watched Byrd get knocked out by Shaun George this past Saturday. Already a strange sight slimmed down to 175 pounds, it was even stranger still to see him without any kind of movement in his upper or lower body. George had him lined up with right hands whenever he chose, and Byrd had nothing in the way of his own offense in most rounds.

My hope now is that Byrd hangs up the gloves. He had a successful and courageous career, campaigning against bigger foes at heavyweight more often than not and capturing two championships. You also can't argue against the competition he faced: both Klitschko brothers (Wladmir twice), Ike Ibeabuchi, David Tua, Holyfield, Fres Oquendo, Andrew Golota, Jameel McCline and Alexander Povetkin. This certainly isn't the greatest era in the heavyweight division, but Byrd fought nearly everyone it had to offer.

As for George, he looked good, but not good enough to think he'll be scaring the bigger names at 175. You got the feeling that he was there to be hit by someone with more weapons in the arsenal than Byrd had. We may get to find out down the road, as beating Byrd may open up some doors for him.

Switching gears for a minute, there was an interesting piece by Eric Raskin over on ESPN.com today. The central argument is that boxing is creeping back into the mainstream consciousness, thanks to fighters like Floyd Mayweather seeking out crossover opportunities and Ricky Hatton appearing on regular cable TV.

I agree that boxing is enjoying a mini-renaissance of sorts, but to continue to move forward, a few more things need to happen:

  1. More boxing on free TV and less B.S. pay-per-views - The Hatton fight on Versus is a good start. My brother Spartan117 made a good point this weekend when he asked the bartender to put on Friday Night Fights at a bar in Florida and saw a bunch of people take interest. Casual fans will watch more boxing if they are exposed to it more often. On the PPV front, in a perfect world, only top match-ups between the biggest names would qualify for that treatment. Anything else makes hardcore fans have to decide how to spend their money - unquestionably a bad thing. It also weakens the sport in the eyes of less dedicated viewers when they see crappy fights on pay TV.
  2. The heavyweight division needs to get its act together - For whatever reason, the big guys have always been able to capture the imagination of the general public. It's tough to see boxing ever making permanent strides without some real drama and compelling championship fights at heavyweight.
  3. More personalities need to emerge - Love him or hate him, Floyd has been able to make a name for himself over the past few years because his flashy, cocky persona makes for good entertainment. It's something he didn't always understand, and he's now reaping the benefits. The next generation of champions will have to learn from his example and start to sell themselves as personalities early on. Hardcore fans will always appreciate the sport on its own merits, but the mainstream needs a little sizzle with its steak.
Some would argue that it doesn't matter if the mainstream latches on to boxing again as long as great fights are put on for those of us who care. But that's a whole different question, one that probably deserves its own column to explore.

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