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Tuesday, October 8, 2002
Max: Byrd plays role well of Spiderman

By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com

In this new Spiderman movie there is a scene in which Peter Parker is told by his Aunt May not to bite off more than he can chew: "You're not Superman you know," she tells him. It is a funny moment, partly because the subtext of Peter Parker's silent response is, "no, I'm not Superman, I'm Spiderman."

The reason the reference works so well however, is not only that Aunt May is unaware of her nephew's crime fighting alter ego, nor that one superhero is referenced in another superhero's movie. It is not even that a D.C. Comics character is referenced by a Marvel Comics character (yeah, I am at least half a geek). Aunt May's reference works as well as it does because Superman can handle himself better than Spiderman can - The Man of Steel is more capable, more powerful than Spidey. We, the audience are aware that while Aunt May doesn't know just what her nephew is capable of, she nevertheless has a point - he is not Superman, maybe he has bitten off more than he can chew.

The whole exchange got me to thinking: what a tough existence it would be, were Spiderman forced to co-exist with Superman. The constant comparisons, the inability to live up to an impossible standard. No matter how well Spiderman performed, he would not be able to match Superman's exploits.

I was never heavily into comic books - I was always more of a baseball card guy - but I do remember that I enjoyed Spiderman comics more than Superman comics. Spiderman was never fully appreciated by many of the characters who populated his world - in fact, he was often vilified by the press. Superman was universally loved - the people and press idolized him.

And yet because Spiderman never seemed invincible, because he had to rely on his wits as much as his super powers, because he was misunderstood, he was more interesting than Superman. His vulnerability made him interesting. And it's not like Spidey didn't have some pretty cool powers. How great was Spider Sense? He could sense danger as it approached and thereby anticipate how to avoid it. I remember at least one example of Spiderman dodging a hail of machine gun bullets.

And I remember many examples of Chris Byrd dodging flurries of punches from men much larger than himself. It does not take X-Ray vision to see that Byrd is underappreciated - even vilified by some members of the boxing media. They underappreciate him because they do not take into account how he ended his amateur career essentially as a big middleweight, and yet as a professional has taken on the biggest and baddest heavyweights of his era. They underappreciate him because they compare him to another man who rose from a lighter weight division and had even more success than Byrd did against the biggest and baddest.

They vilify Byrd because in a sport where some fans prize physical prowess above all attributes, he overcomes impossible obstacles relying on his wits as much as on his super powers (though his spider sense is uncanny). They vilify him because bullets don't bounce off his chest, or his chin, or wherever the case may be. He is not able to leap tall heavyweights in a single bound. Chris Byrd cannot be Superman - that is Evander Holyfield's job.

Byrd is a brilliant, but mortal fighter who sets traps, who ensnares adversaries in his web. Holyfield is a once in a lifetime fighter who set an impossible standard. He is from Krypton and it is unfair to compare any mere web slinger to him. Yet it is an old Superman who will step into the ring with a prime Spidey when they square off in a few months, and at this point I'll take the web slinger on points. Especially when you take into account that Spidey's a southpaw.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.