Winky: Stick Around; Byrd: Move Down
By Matthew Sanderson (July 18, 2004)  
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Junior middleweight king Winky Wright and IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd are two of the finest southpaws in the game. They’re so good - and their styles so tricky - that very few people want to fight them. Despite being two of the most avoided fighters around, however, they have demonstrated their outstanding skills against formidable opponents time and time again. But both men can be their own worst enemies, and at times have beaten themselves as much as their opponents.

The lengths to which champions and contenders will go to avoid these men have been well documented. Even since becoming world champions it has been difficult for Wright and Byrd to secure meaningful fights. Both of these crafty old pros represent the kind of high risk, low financial reward test that almost everyone wants to avoid.

When Byrd defeated Evander Holyfield in 2001, shutting him out with a tricky display of defensive prowess and smooth counter-punching, nobody wanted to fight him. After embarrassing the older man, and - in his previous bout - completely handcuffing Samoan slugger David Tua, Byrd fell back into exile. Lennox Lewis refused to unify, and was content to dismiss Byrd outside the ring instead of settling the argument within. Byrd was forced into inactivity and defended against meaningless (Oquendo) and undeserving (Golota) challengers.

Likewise for Wright. After capturing the vacant IBF junior middleweight belt against Robert Frazier, still nobody wanted to fight him. As in the past - when travelling the world to fight tough opponents in their backyards - Winky was unable to rise from obscurity. He was snubbed by Oscar de la Hoya and Shane Mosley, and only managed to land a fight with the latter after his bout with Riccardo Mayorga fell through.

Winky and Chris would like to blame many of their contemporary fighters - as well as the managers and promoters of these men - but the much maligned southpaws are not entirely without responsibility for their woes.

Although he seemed to have the beating of Fernando Vargas in his first crack at a major title, Wright didn't put his punches together enough, and was content to coast in the final round of a squeaker. Not a wise move, especially if you've been jobbed before. Despite being a formidable champion, Winky sometimes looks like he'd rather be somewhere else. After dominating Mosley - correcting his previous error by going the extra mile - he hinted at one or two big money fights before retirement.

In his last fight, against Andrew Golota, Byrd was a little disappointing. Although he fought well in an exciting fight to salvage a draw, Chris eschewed most of his best moves. Movement is the key to Byrd's success, but he didn't show any. He came in muscled, as if he wanting to engage in a physical contest, and seemed too eager to lay on the ropes and slug it out with a bigger, stronger man. Golota seemed to actively have something to do with this, however. He cut off the ring well, and offset Byrd's sharp combinations with heavy right hand counters.

Byrd is a small heavyweight, and puts himself at a disadvantage whenever he faces anybody over 6'3". Men that shouldn't be able to carry his jockstrap, such as the crude Vitali klitschko and his vulnerable brother Wladimir, are able to get the better of him (Byrd was losing before Vitali quit). He can box beautifully, but is most effective against people his own size. That's what weight divisions are for. Byrd simply isn't a natural heavyweight. Instead of using his marvellous skills to hang in there with big guys, it would be more advisable to dominate smaller ones.

There are also problems outside the ropes. Don King, in his quest to defer control over the heavyweight titles, is unwilling to risk his men against 'outsiders'. Just as WBO 'king' Lamon Brewster won't face mandatory James Toney, Chris Byrd is not allowed the fight he wants most: a rematch with Vitali Klitschko. Byrd's 'consolation' is to fight but once a year against moderate opposition, B-level rabbits pulled from Don King's hat. It is rumoured that Byrd is highly dissatisfied, and threatening to walk away from King.

Since beating Mosley, Winky has frankly been messing people about, signing with Lou DiBella and Don King, before letting the former down. It seemed for a while he didn't know what he was doing, and his actions might suggest that success has swollen his head. Winky isn't a big draw, but he's been hinting at big money. Let's hope he doesn't do a Bernard Hopkins and squander all the big fights with excessive financial demands. Things do look hopeful, however, with a Mosley rematch scheduled, as well as a Trinidad fight in the works, and not forgetting a projected dream fight with Bernard Hopkins.

Byrd and Wright are fantastically gifted fighters. To fulfil their excellent potentials they have to make the right choices.

If Winky sticks around and continues to go the extra mile he could become one of the best fighters just south of 160 pounds since Terry Norris, Simon Brown, Buddy McGirt and Meldrick Taylor.

If Byrd moves down to the cruiserweight division, he might become its finest champion since the legendary Holyfield, and it's not inconceivable that he'd have Wayne Braithwaite, O'Neill Bell, Kelvin Davis et al fumbling all over the place and punching air.
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