NEW YORK -- Irrepressible promoter Don King once again invades Madison Square Garden on Saturday night as IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd and WBA titleholder John Ruiz defend their belts in separate bouts.
Last month, King nearly sold out "The World's Most Famous Arena" with a card headlined by the triumphant return of former three-division champion Felix Trinidad. This weekend, the flamboyant promoter brings a cavalcade of heavyweights to the
Garden with a card billed "Rendezvous with Destiny: Battle for Supremacy."
In the first heavyweight title bout, Byrd meets close friend and mandatory challenger Jameel McCline. Ruiz follows against enigmatic but dangerous Andrew Golota, whose first appearance in the Garden years ago resulted in a riot.
Also featured on the card are former heavyweight champions Evander Holyfield and Hasim Rahman, who need victories in crossroads fights to earn possible future title shots.
"This is truly a struggle for supremacy in the heavyweight division," the bombastic King said at the final news conference before the fight. "Many questions will be answered in the Garden on Nov. 13."
After two lackluster title defenses, the undersized and feather-fisted Byrd (37-2-1, 20 KOs) will be hard-pressed to retain the title he captured in December 2002, when he
outhustled an aging Holyfield for the vacant belt.
The 33-year-old Byrd will be giving up size and weight, although his slick, defensive southpaw style should give the 6-6 McCline fits.
On Thursday, McCline weighed in at 270 lbs., 10 above his normal weight. Byrd weighed in at 214.
Byrd is no stranger to fighting big men as he split two fights with the physically imposing Klitschko brothers.
"Look at me, I'm the smallest guy of the eight heavyweights on this card, but I don't care because I can beat all of them," Byrd said. "Bring 'em on. Jameel is a friend of mine but this is just sports to me ... it doesn't matter to me. I love the competition."
In his last title defense, Byrd was lucky to retain his strap as he fought to a 12-round draw with Golota at the Garden on April 17.
McCline (31-3-3, 19 KOs) is a New York native who resides in nearby Clifton, N.J., and comes from the school of hard knocks, turning pro with no amateur experience after spending five years in prison for running guns.
The 34-year-old owns impressive wins over former heavyweight contenders Michael Grant (TKO 1), Shannon Briggs (W 12) and Lance Whitaker (W 12). But in his biggest fight against Wladimir Klitschko in December 2002, McCline fought lethargically, and the bout was stopped after the 10th round.
McCline has won his last three fights against nondescript opposition, including a sloppy, three-knockdown first-round stoppage of Wayne Llewelyn in April.
"Chris and I are friends outside of the ring but that don't mean nothing to me," McCline said. "He has what I want and I'm coming to get it."
Ruiz and Golota bring a contrast in style and mental makeup.
The awkward but battled-tested Ruiz (40-5-1, 28 KOs) continues to win with his limited, clutching style. The 32-year-old will test the resolve of Golota, who has a well-documented history of mental breakdowns in the ring.
Ruiz, who lost his title to Roy Jones Jr. in March 2003, weighed in Thursday at 239. In his last fight, Ruiz posted a dull, premature 11th-round stoppage of Fres Oquendo in April.
"The heavyweight division is in limbo," Ruiz said. "This card will be like reviving the division and the next step for me is to unify the titles. I am looking forward to fighting in a magical place like the Garden, but I can't focus on that. I have to focus on Golota and what I'll do to him."
Golota (38-4-1, 31 KOs) has had a rebirth since his non-performance against Mike Tyson in November 2000. Reunited with trainer Sam Colonna, Golota has fought with the confidence that once made him a force in the heavyweight division.
"Ruiz will try to make the fight a wrestling match," said Golota, who weighed in at 238. "But I will try to keep him away with the jab (and) the uppercuts. For me, if I don't win this fight I retire."
In the other two bouts, the 42-year-old Holyfield (38-7-2, 25 KOs) faces underachieving 1992 Olympian Larry Donald (41-3-2, 24 KOs).
Holyfield has been a mere shell of the great fighter he was and has dropped his last two fights. He took a beating from blown-up heavyweight contender and two-division champion James Toney a year ago.
"This is a crossroads fight for me and I look forward to being undisputed champion again," said Holyfield, who weighed in at 215½. "If I win, I will fight again until I win a world heavyweight championship."
Donald will weigh in at 226½ pounds.
Rahman (39-5-1, 32 KOs) will battle upset-minded Kali Meehan of Australia, who gave fringe WBO titleholder Lamon Brewster a run for his money before losing a debatable split decision in September.
"This is not a pick-em fight," said Rahman, who weighed in at 232. "I will show everyone that. I am going to hit Meehan harder than he has ever been hit before. I am 100 percent ready and focused. There are fighters on this card that have what I had -- the heavyweight belt."
"I am going to knock Rahman out," said Meehan, who is 29-2 with 23 knockouts. "I am ready. I feel good. I felt I won and a lot of other people think I got robbed against Brewster, but that fight is in the past and I am only concentrating on moving and my next fight."
Meehan weighed in at 237.
The bouts will be televised on HBO pay-per-view at 9 p.m. ET.