Fight of the Day: Vitali Klitschko vs Chris Byrd

I was inspired to watch this fight and write about it recently due to some debate over the scoring and how much credit to give Chris Byrd for Vitali Klitschko throwing in the towel. There appears to be some push-back forming online to the main narrative of Klitschko being in control of a fight he ultimately lost due to an injury. The debate has been morphed into the fight being closer on the scorecards, and Byrd was having enough success to force Klitschko to quit. I decided to watch this fight again and observe for myself.

After nine completed rounds I had the fight scored 87-83 and agreed with HBO unofficial judge Harold Lederman’s score of 78-73 after eight rounds. Incidentally I normally do not always agree so conclusively with his scorecards. That said, I agree with the narrative that Klitschko was firmly in control on the scorecards. However, the action was relatively close, and Byrd was quite effective defensively, meaning this was not a domination. The official judges had it 88-83 and 89-82 with Lederman agreeing with the two who had it 88-83. I scored the ninth round for Byrd where he out landed Klitschko and had arguably his best round of the fight. I found many of the rounds closely contested with Klitschko struggling to land with regularity on the defensive Byrd and for all his power and size advantage never appeared to hurt Byrd significantly. I find the 89-82 scorecard to be far too wide to be considered accurate. Klitschko was largely the aggressor and that is reflected in the statistics where he threw 502 punches to Byrd’s 284. Byrd however, was fearless in his approach and did walk down Klitschko at times and did fight on the inside when possible. Klitschko worked hard in the fight and had to constantly change the trajectory of his right hand to score it effectively. Due to Byrd’s head movement, Klitschko had to take a lot of power off of his punches so he had to sacrifice damage for accuracy.

How much credit can we attribute to Byrd for this victory? For years as a massive Klitschko fan I largely wrote off this win in debates of where the two men stand historically. I am reluctant to call this fight a fluke and take any and all credit from Byrd. Byrd entered the ring on short notice to face a significantly larger, taller, longer and harder hitting fighter than his original opponent and himself. Byrd fought a brave and persistent fight and overcame many disadvantages to impress with his style and boxing abilities. I don’t think Byrd’s body punching was wearing Vitali down, a point I have seen asserted by some observers. I will agree that Vitali was fatigued, his mouth was open, his punches were losing speed and power and Byrd was coming on. If Byrd had won the final three rounds I would have had the fight 115-113 a close but very admirable loss. Could Byrd stop a one armed and tired Klitschko with nine minutes to go, no one really knows. Others have asserted that Byrd could be credited to causing Vitali’s injury to the shoulder from the amount of missed punches. They point to the same type of injury suffered by Evander Holyfield in their contest (I have not seen documentation on this). I am weary to make this assertion though it is possible. I think you have to credit Byrd’s defense in keeping him in the fight and for the tiring of the larger Vitali. I also believe that Byrd was able to create an intense pace that Vitali was not used to. Up until that time Klitschko had KO’d all of his opponents and quickly. Despite Vitali having a reputation later in his career for volume punching, he was not normally under pressure or forced into the pace. I observe Byrd making him uncomfortable in this fight with defense and counter punching. All in all, I think we have to credit Vitali for being ahead and dealing with an injury against a determined and very different opponent from the one he was originally scheduled to face. I also agree it is unfair to Byrd to not give him the credit he deserves as well. It really is a shame that Vitali Klitschko’s two most notable fights and defining losses came in short notice fights. Often Vitali seems to have the advantage in many fans minds as the bigger man vs Byrd and the younger man against Lennox Lewis. I think both of these fights would have been much better if the two men had training camps dedicated to each other.

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