NEW YORK -- Chris Byrd felt the power and found the canvas.
Then Jameel McCline found out what made Byrd a heavyweight champion
in the first place.
Giving away 56 pounds and several inches, Byrd survived a
second-round knockdown and a bigger man's punch to retain his IBF
heavyweight title Saturday night on a split decision by the
narrowest of margins.
The fight was the best of two title bouts at Madison Square
Garden. In the other, WBA champion John Ruiz retained his title
despite being knocked down twice and penalized once in an ugly
fight with Andrew Golota.
Ruiz also lost his trainer, Norman Stone, who ran across the
ring after the first round and threw a punch at Golota's trainer
and then was ejected in the eighth round after repeatedly arguing
with referee Randy Neumann.
Ruiz, though, came on strong late in the fight to win 114-111 on
two cards and 113-112 on the third. The Associated Press had Golota
As crafty a fighter as the heavyweight division has seen in
recent times, Byrd needed every bit of his skills to come on strong
in the later rounds to win a split 12-round decision that was in
doubt until the final judge's tally was added up.
The good friends hugged as the highly entertaining fight ended
and the crowd of 12,777 stood and cheered. Byrd won by 115-112 and
114-113, while McCline was favored 114-112 on the third scorecard.
The AP card favored Byrd, 115-113.
"The way I fought back showed I am a true champion. I had to
dig down. He weighed 270 pounds," Byrd said. "I definitely did
enough to win the fight. I am a champion."
Byrd, who weighed 214 pounds to McCline's 270, was in trouble
early, going down in the second round from a right hand and taking
punishment from an aggressive McCline. He was trailing badly after
five rounds, before beginning to find his mark and score with quick
It was the third title defense for the southpaw Byrd, and the
third fight that was close until the end. In his last fight, he
retained the title with a draw over Golota.
"He has fast hands and he took me out of my game plan,"
McCline said. "That was the difference."
In other fights:
-- Evander Holyfield was dominated once again, this time by
journeyman Larry Donald, but refused to call it a career. At the
age of 42, Holyfield lost almost every round to Donald and has now
won only two of his last nine fights.
-- Former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman put himself in
contention for one of the major titles by stopping an outclassed
Kali Meehan after four rounds. Rahman never knocked Meehan down but
was giving him such punishment at the end of the fourth round that
Meehan's corner threw in the towel after the round ended.
Byrd (38-2-1) didn't have the power to knock McCline down, but
stood and traded punches in the later rounds, getting the better of
the bigger man in almost every exchange and giving a boxing clinic
to both McCline (31-4-3) and the Garden crowd.
McCline was staggering toward the end when a flurry by Byrd
seemed to hurt him with 45 seconds left in the 11th round and Byrd
"It was not everything I imagined it would be because I
expected to go home with the title," McCline said. "It looked
like I fell apart a little toward the end and that may have cost
McCline appeared on his way to a quick end when he floored Byrd
late in the second round. But Byrd got up, weathered the storm and
began landing with quick combinations.
"I can't believe it happened," Byrd said of the knockdown.
"He hit me right behind the ear. It was a perfect shot."
Like Byrd, Ruiz was in danger of losing his title early. He was
dropped by a counter right late in the second round by Golota, then
went down a few seconds later with a right to the top of the head.
The fight disintegrated from there into a brawling, mauling
affair that pleased nobody except Ruiz, who has a history of
fighting ugly and winning unpopular decisions.
"I thought I won the fight. I am confused," Golota said. "I
don't agree that he beat me, that's the thing about boxing."
Neumann made the highly unusual move of throwing Stone, who
trains Ruiz, out of the arena, after Stone argued with him when he
brought Ruiz to the corner to have tape repaired on his gloves.
"He was abusive," Neumann said. "I told him to put the tape
on and he gave it to me. That's not my job."
Ruiz (41-5-1) won most of the late rounds to pull out a hard
fought win over Golota (38-5-1), who was fighting for a title for
the second straight time.
"I knew I was behind and I had to work really hard to get this
win," Ruiz said. "I had to motivate myself in the second half of
Holyfield's sad decline, meanwhile, continued when he was beaten
soundly by Donald, a fighter that likely wouldn't have lasted six
rounds during Holyfield's prime.
The 42-year-old boxer refused to call it a career, but hinted
that he might not fight much longer.
"In my mind, I can't realistically think that it is over,"
Holyfield said. "But I have to look at the possibility that this
is a permanent problem. If this is going to happen every fight I
can't continue to do it."