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Byrd Fends off Oquendo's
Challenge for Heavyweight Title

Sep 22, 2003  By Alex Pierpaoli
The Connecticut woods isn't the most likely setting for a heavyweight title fight and prior to Saturday night, challenger, Fres Oquendo seemed an unlikely prospect to take the IBF title from champion, Chris Byrd. The bout, to be held on the Don King promoted card from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was expected to be less than spectacular due to the strategic and safety-minded boxing techniques of southpaw, Chris Byrd. But after twelve rough, difficult and occasionally exciting rounds, it appeared that Oquendo had given Byrd his toughest fight and first defeat in three years. The judges, however, saw things differently, and scored the fight, unanimously, in favor of the champion, Byrd, who admitted later the fight was very close and he had taken the challenge posed by Oquendo too lightly. Chris Byrd, a tactical craftsman and defensive wizard inside the ring, fought the last few rounds by stalking Oquendo in an aggressive role seldom seen from the champion who feared he might be behind on the scorecards.

For the second time in seven days an important title bout ended in a close and controversial decision. Chris Byrd, who likened himself to Sugar Shane Mosley after retaining the title he had won from Evander Holyfield in December of last year, felt he pressed the action and came on strong in the championship rounds as Mosley did a week ago. But this Saturday night's unanimous decision that went in favor of Chris Byrd was far more unpopular to the assembled crowd at the Mohegan Sun than Sugar Shane Mosley's victory over Oscar De La Hoya was in Las Vegas last week.

Unlike in the Mosley victory, Judges Donald Ackerman, John Lawson and Steven Epstein, gave the win to the lighter punching Byrd while Fres Oquendo, like Sugar Shane Mosley, was the one landing the harder more damaging blows. Perhaps it was the tactics of Oquendo and his rough, mugging style that didn't win any points with the officials. Byrd was tackled on one occasion and dropped to the canvas twice after being shouldered, tripped and banged around by his slightly larger opponent. The roughhouse tactics, though eliciting numerous boos from the crowd, were actually quite effective in making Byrd lose focus and disrupting his rhythm enough to prevent him from unloading the rapid fire, two-fisted combinations boxing fans are accustomed to seeing from him.

Oquendo-whose sole loss prior to Saturday night was the 9th round knockout to David Tua, a fight he was winning easily until he got caught with one of the Samoan's devastating blows-showed he should certainly be considered in the handful of top heavyweights active today. Oquendo, who had hoped to be the first Puerto Rican born heavyweight titlist had he won, obviously studied hard in how to frustrate, counter and beat Chris Byrd. Jabbing to the body, letting Byrd press the fight and timing his own jab over the southpaw Byrd's right hand, were all of the legal and effective boxing means "Fast" Fres Oquendo used to sting and stymie the champion.

Whenever Oquendo stepped forward and fired his own punches, he would clutch and grapple with the champion which confounded and frustrated Byrd. On numerous occasions Byrd shook his head disgustedly and looked to referee Eddie Cotton for a warning or point deduction for Oquendo but it never came. For the most part Cotton allowed the rough-house tactics with little in the area of warnings, even when Oquendo encircled his arms round Byrd's neck in headlocks and moves resembling wrestling holds. As the rounds wore on it was surprising Oquendo was able to land his clubbing shots on the quicker champion and perhaps ring rust along with the physicality of the bout were responsible for Byrd's dulled reflexes. Oquendo, with his quick jab and right hand lead pot-shots to

Byrd's head and body, consistently beat the champion to the punch and when he was not grappling it made this reporter wonder if we were seeing the future of the heavyweight division in "Fast" Fres.

When the decision was announced there were numerous boos, and soon the crowd took up a chant of "Bullshit, Bullshit!" The official judges, Ackerman, Lawson and Epstein had seen the fight 115-113, 117-111, and 116-112, respectively, all in favor of the champion Chris Byrd.

Doghouse Boxing scored the bout 117-111 for Fres Oquendo from ringside. When the fight was viewed on HBO later, many of the hard chopping blows by Oquendo seemed far less effective and Byrd's brief flurries, especially in the later rounds, resulted in a closer scorecard, 115-114, still in favor of the challenger, Fres Oquendo.

After the fight Oquendo looked forlorn at the press conference, though many present were impressed with his dominance of arguably the best heavyweight in the world. "The whole world took me lightly," he said. Oquendo referred to De La Hoya-Mosley 2, a fight he felt should have gone contrary to the judges' decision. "You saw what happened last week," Oquendo shrugged. "It happened again."

When Chris Byrd spoke he admitted what seemed obvious to many at ringside. "This was a tough fight.I kinda underestimated Fres Oquendo." Byrd went on to reference De La Hoya-Mosley 2 in his own way. "I tried to bring the fight (to Oquendo)." Byrd said he felt Sugar Shane had won points on effective aggressiveness and Byrd tried to emulate that in his own performance against Oquendo. "He (Mosley) came forward and really won." Later, when asked about the rough house tactics of the challenger, Byrd admitted he was disappointed in the referee. "I thought Eddie Cotton would at least take a point. I'm not used to that type of stuff."

In a preliminary bout the WBA super welterweight champion Alex Garcia turned back game challenger Roshii Wells in an exciting back and forth contest. Both fighters' hand speed seemed almost equal and it was the choice in punches that made the difference. In exchanges, Wells consistently tried to land looping hooks while Garcia fired straight rights and lefts at Wells' head which consistently got to their target first. With seconds to go in the 10th round Garcia connected with a hard combination which sent Wells to the canvas and rolling under the ropes. Wells managed to regain his feet to beat the count and the bell sounded before Garcia could do anymore damage. Wells staggered forward towards the wrong corner and was retrieved by one of his cornermen. During the rest period the doctor examined him and recommended to Ref. Frank Cappuccino the bout should be stopped. Garcia's record improved to 22-0, 21 KOs and Roshii Wells dropped to 17-1-2.

Former IBF Junior Welterweight Champion Rafael Pineda showed moments of past glory in his unanimous decision victory over Tybius Flowers. Pineda outworked and outgunned Flowers who seemed very close to being stopped on two occasions and even had the ringside physician concerned and visiting the corner between the 6th and 7th round as well as between the 9th and 10th. Although the physician whispered to Referee Richard Flaherty on both visits the bout was allowed to continue. Scorecards were as follows: Donald Trella had it 98-92, Glenn Feldman saw the bout 97-91 and Arthur Mercante Sr.'s card was 100-89, while Doghouse scored the fight 97-93, all in favor of Pineda.

In more undercard action, Don King's other slick-boxing heavyweight prospect Owen "what-the-heck" Beck remained unbeaten by decisioning tough Brazilian George Arias (31-7). Arias was frustrated and confounded by Beck's movement, angles and quick-handed combinations and lost a unanimous decision. Beck who garnered boos from the crowd for his unwillingness to mix it up with his opponent scored what could be referred to as a prototypical Chris Byrd-style victory.

The judges saw the fight 117-111, 118-110, and 119-109. Doghouse saw the bout 117-111 for Owen Beck.

In an action-fight, cruiserweights Terry McGroom and Steve Cunningham rumbled to the 8 round limit. Cunningham continued his undefeated rise by handling McGroom with superior boxing skills and sheer volume of hard punches. McGroom who never relented in pressing the attack got the worst of almost every exchange, lost a unanimous decision and fell to a record of 19-6-2(10kos). Cunningham improved to 14-0(8kos).

In a light heavyweight contest, Manny Siaca stopped Demetrius Jenkins after four rounds when Jenkins was unable to answer the bell to start the fifth. Siaca's record improves to 17-4(16kos) while Jenkins falls to 21-12(16kos).

In the night's first fight, middleweight Quentin Smith (18-0) dropped Floyd Williams (30-14-1) for a ten count to win by knockout in three rounds.

Alex Pierpaoli has followed the Sweet Science for the past 17 years and is an avid boxing fan/writer. He has a degree in English from the University of Maine. Send comments or questions to:

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