Commentary

George forces Byrd to face reality, retirement

Chris Byrd was supposed to take the light heavyweight division by storm. If most heavyweights couldn't put a dent in him, how would a 175-pound fighter fare? Better than most boxing pundits figured, as Shaun George proved.

Originally Published: May 17, 2008
By Tim Smith | Special to ESPN.com

LAS VEGAS -- Shaun George did not feel bad for Chris Byrd while they were in the ring at the Cox Pavilion on Friday night. Not even after he had stopped the former two-time heavyweight champion in the ninth round did George feel any pangs of regret.

"No," he said. "I'm being honest. If he could have, he would have done it to me."

But when George saw Byrd in the dressing room later, it struck him. He had closed the book on Byrd's remarkable career in a concussive fashion.

"When I saw him in the locker room I kind of felt sad for him," George said. "I was talking to Antonio Tarver one day after we had sparred and he said that this is a sport that you love. You're going to have good days and you're going to have bad days. And there's going to come a point where you have to give it up. That's the hard part because you love the sport. It's sad for anybody, but especially someone like Byrd who is a two-time heavyweight champion."

Tracy Byrd, Byrd's wife and manager said, that was it for her husband, he won't be fighting anymore. He is going to have to give up the sport he loves.

I'm not letting him fight anymore. It's almost a relief to know that he's not going to do it anymore. It probably isn't a relief to him because he's so competitive. But for those around him, it's a relief.

-- Tracey Byrd

"I'm not letting him fight anymore," said Tracy Byrd, choking back tears in a telephone conversation from Valley Hospital in Las Vegas late Friday night. "It's almost a relief to know that he's not going to do it anymore. It probably isn't a relief to him because he's so competitive. But for those around him, it's a relief."

And what if Byrd refuses to give it up?

"He would have to try to do it without my support," she said. "And I don't think he wants to do that."

Byrd suffered a dislocated right shoulder and had to be taken to the hospital when he had a bad reaction to painkillers that were administered in the dressing room to try to put the shoulder back in place.

"They gave him Valium and morphine and we couldn't wake him up," Tracy Byrd said. "I was so scared. We had to rush him to the hospital."

Byrd was revived at the hospital, his shoulder was put back in place and he was dismissed late Friday night.

[+] EnlargeJameel McCline and Chris Byrd
AP Photo/Ed BetzChris Byrd, right, has been in his fair share of battles throughout the years.
Tracy Byrd said her husband dislocated his shoulder in the first round, but kept fighting. He made it worse after he was knocked down for the second time in the ninth round. Byrd fell in the corner, between the ropes and his shoulder slammed into the corner post. He scrambled to his feet. While referee Jay Nady was counting, Byrd appeared to tell him to stop the fight. Nady waved off the count and stopped it.

It was a good stoppage. Byrd had nothing from the very first round. No legs, no speed, no power and no chance against George, a lightly regarded light heavyweight from Brooklyn, whose two previous losses had come at cruiserweight.

Byrd had lost 36 pounds over seven months after deciding to drop down in weight and bypass cruiserweight. It was a dramatic, and as it turned out, drastic weight loss that sapped him of his strength, speed and power.

"I think he lost too much weight too fast," said light heavyweight titlist Chad Dawson, who watched the fight at ringside. "He was still fighting in heavyweight mode. He wasn't throwing that many punches and he was slow and he wasn't moving. You can fight like that as a heavyweight, but you can't do that at light heavyweight."

George found the stationary Byrd an easy mark for right hands. He staggered Byrd with the first solid right he landed in the first round and dropped him with another one later in the round.

"I should have put him away in that first round," George said. "I should have put my punches together better. But it was very difficult to hit him with that third shot."

When George did land that third shot in the ninth round he nearly took Byrd's head off. It was hard to watch Byrd, who had been such a valiant warrior as a heavyweight, getting smacked around the ring so easily at a lighter weight.

So Byrd's great light heavyweight experiment came to a crashing end at the hands of George, who had seven knockouts in his previous 20 fights. Every time George put together a combination it hurt Byrd. He had been softened up considerably in recent years in bruising heavyweight matches against Jameel McCline, who outweighed him by 56 pounds, and IBF/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko, who pummeled Byrd on the way to a brutal seventh round KO.

A victory by Byrd would have added some excitement to the light heavyweight division. Roy Jones had talked about fighting Byrd when Jones was finished with a proposed match against Joe Calzaghe.

A competitive Byrd would have fit nicely in the 175-pound division with Tarver, Glen Johnson and Bernard Hopkins. But the way that George blasted him, there really is no need to continue that conversation. Now you have to wonder how George will fare against someone like Dawson, a 24-year-old slugger.

Having already won two heavyweight championships and having been stopped in recent fights against Klitschko and Alexander Povetkin, Byrd can't go back up. He can only go out.

On a night when the book was closed on Byrd's remarkable career, George, 29, opened up his horizon in the light heavyweight division.

"We've already been in touch with the German promoters for [WBO champion Zsolt] Erdei," said Donna Brooks, George's promoter. "We could do something with that or we could go in another direction. I think we have some choices now. It was a very good fight for Shaun. This is really a fight where everything came together. He has a lot of talent. He just never put it all together before."

Tim Smith is the boxing columnist for the New York Daily News.