|NEW YORK-Chris Byrd and Jameel McCline are good friends who both happen to make a living hitting people in the ring. They go to dinner together and hang out at each other's houses. Their wives talk constantly on the phone. On Saturday night,|
they'll fight for the IBF heavyweight title. For a few rounds, at least, friendships will have to be put aside. “We tried to avoid this for a long time Byrd said. But McCline is the mandatory for me. I had no other choice.” Byrd defends his IBF title against McCline as part of a heavyweight extravaganza at Madison Square Garden that features a full ton of fighters. Among them are WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz, who defends against Andrew Golota, and former champions Evander Holyfield and Hasim Rahman.
Promoter Don King put them all on display at Thursday's weigh-in, where the eight fighters stood with King on a truck axle scale to weigh in at a combined 2,130 pounds. McCline was the biggest fighter at 270 pounds, while King was the biggest of all at 278 1/2 pounds. Byrd will give away fifty-six pounds to a man he would rather not fight. But Byrd says he will take a clinical approach to the third defense of the title he won two years ago against Holyfield. “In the ring it will be pure competition,” Byrd said. “I don't know you as a person in the ring. You're trying to knock me out and I'm trying to win a fight.”
Fighting someone he knows isn't exactly something new for the thirty-five-year-old Byrd, whose frustrating style is likely to cause problems for the lumbering McCline. Byrd often sparred with his brother, Patrick, in the amateurs, and in March sparred four rounds with McCline while both were getting ready for other fights. Still, he found it odd that at the news conference announcing the fight, the two boxer's wives were chatting away and he ended up holding McCline's baby. Since then, the families have avoided talking to each other while preparing for the fight. “It was kind of strange,'' Byrd said. I don't think it will hit me until I get in the ring.'”
McCline faces the same problem. Not only is Byrd his friend, but also one of his idols. Still, he's rather irritated with the whole concept of fighting a friend. “I deserve to be here. I worked real hard to get a title shot,” McCline said. “I dig Chris and his family, but I want what he's got, so I'm tired of this friendship stuff. This is business. Once you step in there, there are no friends.” To beat Byrd, McCline will have to put some hurt on his friend. He's not going to win a boxing match against the crafty left-hander who thrives on making other fighters look bad, so he'll have to use the power in his 6-foot-6 frame to take the fight to Byrd.
Byrd, who weighs in at a relatively paltry 214 pounds, doesn't think it's likely that will happen. “I don't get up for guys my size, but I do for guys who are 270 and can fight,” Byrd said. “My whole thing is to clown him, to make him look stupid. The crowd is going to think I'm going to get killed against this big guy, but after four rounds they'll see what is happening.” Byrd (37-2-1, 20 knockouts) is a 2-1 favorite against the hard-hitting McCline, who was stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in the tenth round two years ago in his biggest fight to date. Byrd returns to the Garden where he engaged in a very un-Byrdlike slugfest with Golota in an April fight that ended in a draw.
Byrd said he was preoccupied with a contract dispute with King before the Golota fight and trained only four weeks. He sued King after the fight to get him to live up to a contract that guaranteed Byrd $2.5 million for each title defense, his purse for this fight. “I had no game plan against Golota. I just fought him, he said. This time will be different. You offend me when you hit me with a clean punch.” The fight card could help clean up some of the confusion in the heavyweight division, though it lacks the fighter many consider the true heavyweight champion, WBC champion Vitali Klitschko. All the other heavyweights are promoted by King, who is careful about the pairings. So, instead of Ruiz and Byrd fighting to unify a title, Byrd will fight McCline and Ruiz will face Golota. Holyfield, who is forty-two and hasn't fought since being stopped a year ago by James Toney, takes on Larry Donald as he tries to get back in heavyweight contention again, and Rahman fights Kali Meehan with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger to Klitschko.