Byrd not ready to call it a career

Kevin Iole

Nearly a week after the most shocking loss of his career, Chris Byrd still isn't ready to walk away from boxing.

The two-time former heavyweight belt holder may never step inside a ring again, but he's not ready to make any decisions in light of the unexpectedly one-sided loss he suffered Friday in his light heavyweight debut to unheralded Shaun George.

"My wife (Tracy) gave me some really good advice and told me I shouldn't make any decisions now," said the spiritual Byrd, who has lost three of his last four fights and seemingly has no hope of landing a big fight again.

"I'm going to pray on it and let the Lord tell me. He never talks to me audibly, but he has a way of letting me know what he wants me to do."

Byrd had expected Friday to be the rejuvenation of his career. Instead, the bout might have been its death knell.

Byrd won a silver medal as a middleweight in the 1992 Olympics, but competed as a professional as a heavyweight. Though he was frequently told he couldn't do it, Byrd racked up wins over Evander Holyfield and Vitali Klitschko and held a title on two separate occasions.

His charismatic and outgoing personality won him more fans than his defensively-oriented style ever could. But after getting pummeled by Wladimir Klitschko in an IBF title fight in April 2006 and then badly losing an eliminator fight to Alexander Povetkin a year later, Byrd began to rethink his future.

He shed nearly 40 pounds and announced he would campaign as a light heavyweight. His goal was to nab a big fight against one of the division's big names, like Joe Calzaghe, Roy Jones Jr. Bernard Hopkins or Antonio Tarver.

The fight with George was designed to let fans see him as a light heavyweight.

"Chris hardly made any money for that fight," Tracy Byrd said. "He wanted to do it for the fans. He wanted people to be able to watch him for free on TV and where they could afford tickets if they came to the fight. He had been on all these big shows for so long, where they were either on pay-per-view or where the ticket prices were so high, and he felt badly about pricing people out. That's the kind of a guy he is.

"We could have held out and gotten him more money, probably a lot more, for that fight. But he didn't want to worry about that. He wanted to do something for the fans and the sport."

Byrd's body was sculpted more than it had ever been when he walked to the ring at the Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus in Las Vegas on Friday. He shed the soft, fleshy-cheeked look that characterized him as a heavyweight for the hard, muscular look of a weight-lifter.

Byrd had routinely run seven to 10 miles a day in his training and had been on weight for more than a month. He was mulling the idea of running a marathon in the days before the fight.

"When I was a heavyweight, I never ran more than four miles a day," Byrd said. "A lot of times, I didn't do that. But then I got to this point where I was feeling so good and I was running so much, that doing a marathon started to have a lot of appeal to me. There were guys asking me why I was on weight so far out in advance of the fight and that I should take it slower, but I just kept on going."

In his sparring, Byrd was usually the smaller man, even when he battled with a middleweight. He sparred with middleweight Joey Gilbert, who weighed 180 to his 177.

It all caught him on the night of his fight with George. In the car on the way to the arena, Byrd mentioned to his family that his legs didn't feel right. In the locker room, he didn't warm up even though his father, Joe Sr., who serves as his trainer, urged him to hit the mitts.

"I felt dead the whole time," Byrd said.

And he fought that way. He was knocked down in the first and was battered round after round by a guy he'd been expected to handle easily.

He dislocated his left shoulder, probably on the first knockdown of the ninth round, then had a bad reaction to a combination of Valium and morphine that was given to him in the locker room.

Byrd passed out and was transported by ambulance to the emergency room.

Tracy Byrd said she wants to conduct an investigation into how much of each drug her husband was given.

"It was horrifying, because we were really worried for his safety," she said.

Despite the ordeal and what seems plainly obvious to outsiders, Byrd isn't ready to announce his retirement. His wife, who on Saturday had released a statement saying that if he fought again he would do so without her support, has moved off that position.

While she's not encouraging him to fight again, Tracy Byrd knows how passionately her husband loves the sport and the competition.

"You couldn't ask for a better husband and a better father and a better man to be around," she said. "He has given me and the kids a phenomenal life. We're OK. We have two mortgages, so we have a little issue with that, but we've saved our money. We're fine, no matter what. But I want the decision (whether to retire) to be Chris' decision. He deserves the right to make that himself."

And Byrd said he needs time. He seems to be leaning toward retirement, but that spark flickers.

He'd make a superb television analyst – HBO and Showtime, are you listening? – and he's talked to his friend, ex-boxer Paul Vaden, about working in the personal fitness area.

But none of that will be considered until he finalizes his plans as a fighter.

"I'm not going to be like (Sugar Ray) Leonard or (Thomas) Hearns or those guys and announce five or six times I'm retiring and then keep coming back," Byrd said. "I'm going to retire once and then that's it. After that, the rest of my life will be devoted 100 percent to what my family wants. They've sacrificed a lot for me to do this. I just have to keep praying and the Lord will let me know."