NEW YORK Chris Byrd felt the power and found the canvas. Then Jameel McCline found out what made Byrd a heavyweight champion in the first place.
Giving away 56 pounds and several inches, Byrd survived a second-round knockdown and a bigger man's punch to retain his IBF heavyweight title Saturday night on a split decision by the narrowest of margins.
The fight was the best of two title bouts at Madison Square Garden. In the other, WBA champion John Ruiz retained his title despite being knocked down twice and penalized once in an ugly fight with Andrew Golota.
Ruiz also lost his trainer, Norman Stone, who ran across the ring after the first round and threw a punch at Golota's trainer and then was ejected in the eighth round after repeatedly arguing with referee Randy Neumann.
Ruiz, though, came on strong late in the fight to win 114-111 on two cards and 113-112 on the third. The Associated Press had Golota ahead, 113-112.
As crafty a fighter as the heavyweight division has seen in recent times, Byrd needed every bit of his skills to come on strong in the later rounds to win a split 12-round decision that was in doubt until the final judge's tally was added up.
The good friends hugged as the highly entertaining fight ended and the crowd of 12,777 stood and cheered. Byrd won by 115-112 and 114-113, while McCline was favored 114-112 on the third scorecard.
The AP card favored Byrd, 115-113.
''The way I fought back showed I am a true champion. I had to dig down. He weighed 270 pounds,'' Byrd said. ''I definitely did enough to win the fight. I am a champion.''
Byrd, who weighed 214 pounds to McCline's 270, was in trouble early, going down in the second round from a right hand and taking punishment from an aggressive McCline. He was trailing badly after five rounds, before beginning to find his mark and score with quick inside combinations.
It was the third title defense for the southpaw Byrd, and the third fight that was close until the end. In his last fight, he retained the title with a draw over Golota.
''He has fast hands and he took me out of my game plan,'' McCline said. ''That was the difference.''
In other fights:
Evander Holyfield was dominated once again, this time by journeyman Larry Donald, but refused to call it a career. At the age of 42, Holyfield lost almost every round to Donald and has now won only two of his last nine fights.
Former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman put himself in contention for one of the major titles by stopping an outclassed Kali Meehan after four rounds. Rahman never knocked Meehan down but was giving him such punishment at the end of the fourth round that Meehan's corner threw in the towel after the round ended.
Byrd (38-2-1) didn't have the power to knock McCline down, but stood and traded punches in the later rounds, getting the better of the bigger man in almost every exchange and giving a boxing clinic to both McCline (31-4-3) and the Garden crowd.
McCline was staggering toward the end when a flurry by Byrd seemed to hurt him with 45 seconds left in the 11th round and Byrd in command.
''It was not everything I imagined it would be because I expected to go home with the title,'' McCline said. ''It looked like I fell apart a little toward the end and that may have cost me.''
McCline appeared on his way to a quick end when he floored Byrd late in the second round. But Byrd got up, weathered the storm and began landing with quick combinations.
''I can't believe it happened,'' Byrd said of the knockdown. ''He hit me right behind the ear. It was a perfect shot.''
Like Byrd, Ruiz was in danger of losing his title early. He was dropped by a counter right late in the second round by Golota, then went down a few seconds later with a right to the top of the head.
The fight disintegrated from there into a brawling, mauling affair that pleased nobody except Ruiz, who has a history of fighting ugly and winning unpopular decisions.
''I thought I won the fight. I am confused,'' Golota said. ''I don't agree that he beat me, that's the thing about boxing.''
Neumann made the highly unusual move of throwing Stone, who trains Ruiz, out of the arena, after Stone argued with him when he brought Ruiz to the corner to have tape repaired on his gloves.
''He was abusive,'' Neumann said. ''I told him to put the tape on and he gave it to me. That's not my job.''
Ruiz (41-5-1) won most of the late rounds to pull out a hard fought win over Golota (38-5-1), who was fighting for a title for the second straight time.
''I knew I was behind and I had to work really hard to get this win,'' Ruiz said. ''I had to motivate myself in the second half of the fight.''
Holyfield's sad decline, meanwhile, continued when he was beaten soundly by Donald, a fighter that likely wouldn't have lasted six rounds during Holyfield's prime.
The 42-year-old boxer refused to call it a career, but hinted that he might not fight much longer.
''In my mind, I can't realistically think that it is over,'' Holyfield said. ''But I have to look at the possibility that this is a permanent problem. If this is going to happen every fight I can't continue to do it.''
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