Byrd draws, Ruiz gets win

Posted: Sunday, April 18, 2004

NEW YORK Andrew Golota kept his hands up and his wits about him. Chris Byrd did even better, keeping his heavyweight title in a draw that gave Golota another bad moment at Madison Square Garden.

Byrd, fighting at his crafty best, kept a determined Golota off of him enough Saturday night to keep his IBF title in a fight that was up for grabs until the very end.

Golota was the aggressor the entire way, but Byrd landed well with counter shots to the head, fighting off the ropes at times and using all his boxing skills against a bigger and stronger challenger.

Judge Steve Weisfeld had Byrd winning 115-113, while Tony Paolillo had Golota ahead by the same margin. Melvina Latham had it 114-114, the same as The Associated Press.

When the decision was announced, Golota bolted from the ring in disgust, only to come back and express his disappointment.

''I'm glad you feel it was a great fight, but I thought I won the fight,'' Golota said.

Byrd seemed to tire in the final two rounds, but had built up enough points to escape with the draw.

''That's what we need in this division, two guys willing to fight,'' Byrd said. ''I sat there and banged with a 230-pound guy.''

The fight was one of two heavyweight title fights on the card. In the other, John Ruiz stopped Fres Oquendo late in the 11th round to retain the WBA title.

Golota, in his first fight at Madison Square Garden since his disqualification for low blows eight years ago against Riddick Bowe set off a riot, was frustrated but didn't snap. He did hit Byrd in the back of the head after the bell sounded to end the sixth round, but that merely drew a warning from referee Randy Neumann.

At the end of the eighth round, Golota threw a right hand that landed in Byrd's midsection, and Neumann said something, prompting a wink and grin from Golota. Mostly, though, Golota kept his punches up and his wits about him in a performance that might have put him squarely in the heavyweight mix.

Unlike the ugly fight that preceded it between Ruiz and Oquendo, the Byrd-Golota fight was both entertaining and a classic matchup of slugger versus slick boxer.

Byrd was the smaller fighter, outweighed at 210 1/2 pounds by 27 pounds, but the slick southpaw slipped many of Golota's punches and answered back with his own. Golota was urged on by man in the crowd eager for redemption for the fighter often scorned as the ''Foul Pole.''

''Don't underestimate him because he's now in the heavyweight division,'' Byrd said.

Byrd spent long stretches of the fight with his back against the ropes, daring Golota to punch and then hitting him back when he missed.

Helping work Byrd's corner was his mother, Rose Byrd, who was afraid her son was giving away rounds.

''You're toying,'' Rose Byrd told him after the sixth round.

''I'm not toying,'' her son replied.

Byrd (36-2-1) was making the second defense of the title he won against Evander Holyfield, while Golota was getting an early title shot on the comeback trail.

Golota (38-4-1) had fought only twice since retiring after being beaten by Mike Tyson in October 2000. He wasn't ranked, but got the fight with Byrd and a payday of $150,000 after signing with Don King, who promotes both boxers.

The Byrd-Golota fight looked even better than it was because it followed a fight that was about as bad as heavyweight title fights get.

For most of 11 rounds, it seemed Ruiz and Oquendo would never hit each other. When Ruiz finally did manage to land a few serious blows, an ugly fight was suddenly over.

A fight booed loudly from the opening round for a lack of action came to a crashing close late in the 11th round when Ruiz landed a series of head punches that prompted referee Wayne Kelly to stop the fight.

Oquendo had taken about six punches to the head but was still on his feet and his corner protested the stoppage. But the fight went into the books as a TKO at 2:33 of the 11th round for the WBA heavyweight title.

''This is bad for boxing,'' Oquendo said. ''They stopped a great fighter in the last round.''

The end of the fight was stunning only because the previous 10-plus rounds were filled with more holding, clinching and posing than any real action.

''It's my job to protect the safety of the fighters. He took five or six shots and failed to defend himself,'' Kelly said. ''He said he was fine after the fight and he was. But if he had taken three more shots he wouldn't be.''

By the end of the 10th round, an unofficial count showed the referee had been forced to separate the fighters 62 different times, and the crowd of 15,195 booed almost from the opening bell until the end.

''I was taking it,'' Ruiz said. ''But I knew sooner or later he was going to give up.''

The fight between Ruiz and Oquendo was billed as the first between two Latinos for the heavyweight title. But it turned out they had more in common with the way they both fought than the fact both had Puerto Rican parents.

Both held and mauled and held and mauled some more. When they weren't holding, they were posing in the center of the ring, seemingly unable to pull the trigger on any punches.

''He was moving around a lot and I tried to run and chase him down,'' Ruiz said.

As the rounds wore on, and the booing got even louder, Kelly implored the two fighters to do something.

''You got to start boxing,'' Kelly told them midway through the fifth round.

Before the final series of punches, the only real action came at the end of the ninth round when Ruiz landed two or three punches to Oquendo's head.

Ruiz, who earned $450,000, said he was willing to face any of the top fighters in a division decimated by the retirement of Lennox Lewis. Next week, Vitali Klitschko fights Corrie Sanders for the title vacated by the retirement of Lewis.

''I want to unify the title,'' Ruiz said. ''I will fight anyone.''

Both Lewis and Mike Tyson were in attendance, though Lewis left after the seventh round of an increasingly bad fight.

Tyson drew cheers and standing ovations from some of the same fans who were booing the fighters in the ring.

''This is the worse fight I've ever seen,'' a fan yelled loudly during the sixth round. ''I want my money back.''

Ruiz, 240, improved to 39-4-1, while Oquendo, 222 1/2, fell to 24-3.

It was the second straight title loss for Oquendo, who was beaten by Byrd last September.



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