Byrd to make light heavyweight debut May 16

Updated: April 10, 2008, 3:23 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Free-agent former two-time heavyweight titleholder Chris Byrd, who is moving down to light heavyweight, has signed with promoter Artie Pelullo's Banner Promotions.

"I've been a fan and friend of Chris' for a long time, and I'm looking forward very much to working with him," Pelullo said. "I think it's going to surprise a lot of people, but Chris -- the former two-time heavyweight champ -- is going to be fighting at 175 pounds. I think he's going to make some great fights in the division, and I think he's going to win the world championship."

Byrd will make his light heavyweight debut against an opponent to be named on Pelullo's May 16 card at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. It will be the main event on "Friday Night Fights" (ESPN2).

The arena ought to bring back fond memories for Byrd. It is where he dominated David Tua in a 2001 elimination fight to earn a heavyweight title shot.

If Byrd can win a title at light heavyweight he would become only the second former heavyweight titleholder to drop down to 175 pounds and also claim a belt. The others were Roy Jones Jr. in 2003 and Bob Fitzsimmons in 1902.

"I'm excited to work with Artie Pelullo and Banner Promotions and look forward to becoming the light heavyweight champion of the world as soon as possible," Byrd said. "I know Roy Jones Jr. and Robert Fitzsimmons won titles at heavyweight and then light heavyweight, but I'll be the first two-time heavyweight champion to move down to light heavy to win the title."

In his last fight, Byrd (40-4-1, 21 KOs) was stopped in the 11th round of a heavyweight eliminator by Alexander Povetkin in October. Following that fight, Byrd, 37, said he planned go down to the 200-pound cruiserweight division. But he said he had such an easy time losing weight he decided to keep going down to the 175-pound light heavyweight division.

"It's been eight years since I won my first heavyweight title against Vitali Klitschko, and I had a great run as heavyweight champion after beating Evander Holyfield," Byrd said. "Now, it's time for new challenges. All along I thought they would be at cruiserweight, but the pounds just kept coming off, and here I am."

Byrd was always a long shot for success at heavyweight. He was almost always outgunned by bigger, stronger opponents. He won his 1992 Olympic silver medal at 165 pounds before packing on the pounds to fight all but his first three professional fights as a heavyweight.

"I'm looking forward to being on ESPN so that the people can see me at 175," Byrd said. "I was a regular on cable back when I started, and the fans always let me know that they saw those fights and appreciated my style. I expect to show everyone that I'll be dominant at this weight, but I know that every guy I face will be coming to knock off the former heavyweight champion. So, I'll train extra hard to make sure they don't get any ideas."

Ultimately, Byrd would like to land a fight with one of the big names in the division.

"The best at 175 are guys my age with a lot of experience -- Antonio Tarver, Jones, Clinton Woods, Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe -- and with one or two fights, I expect to be in that mix, making great fights between great fighters at light heavyweight," he said.

Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.