NEW YORK -- Chris Byrd and Jameel McCline are good friends
who both happen to make a living hitting people in the ring.
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
Byrd will give away 56 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
35-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
"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
Byrd (37-2-1, 20 knockouts) is a 2-1 favorite against the
hard-hitting McCline, who was stopped by Wladimir Klitschko in the
10th round two years ago in his biggest fight to date. Byrd returns
to the Garden where he engaged in a very un-Byrd-like 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 42 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.