Bird takes Oquendo

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2003

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) Chris Byrd won an unanimous decision over Fres Oquendo to retain his IBF heavyweight title Saturday night.

Byrd (37-2) controlled the pace, leading Oquendo across the ring, but Oquendo's counterpunches dominated the middle rounds and appeared to take Byrd off his game plan.

''I give Fres a lot of credit,'' Byrd said. ''He never really hurt me, but there were a couple of times where I reminded myself that I had to hold my hands up high.''

Oquendo (24-2) was stunned by the decision, as was the crowd at Mohegan Sun casino.

John Lawson scored it 117-111, Donald Ackerman favored Byrd 115-113, and Stephen Epstein had it 116-112.

''The judges once again shafted another great fighter,'' Oquendo said.

A southpaw, Byrd led Oquendo with an extended right hand for the first two rounds, but Oquendo's hard counters forced Byrd to draw back and protect his head as the fight progressed.

That left Oquendo free to stun Byrd with several strong jabs, even while backing away from the speedy champion.

''He was strong and crafty, and there was no doubt that he was ready and wanted it,'' Byrd said.

Byrd appeared to have more energy than the challenger in the later rounds and threw more punches, but Oquendo managed to keep slipping strong counters.

The champion fell to the mat in the 12th round after an effective combination from Oquendo, but the referee ruled it was not a knockdown. The replay showed Byrd might have tripped over Oquendo's feet.

That fall aside, Oquendo said he felt he won the fight by successfully fending off Byrd's rapid-fire attack.

''He hardly hit me,'' Oquendo said. ''I was the aggressor.''

It was Byrd's first title defense since beating Evander Holyfield for the vacant belt last year.

Byrd had hoped the title would draw the sport's big names into the ring. Instead, he got Oquendo, the No. 2 IBF contender.

''I was talking about Roy Jones and Lennox Lewis, but this guy showed me a lot,'' Byrd said.

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