By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Boxing Writer
Chris Byrd is being paid much less than a heavyweight champion usually gets, and he's fighting a guy who didn't do much to deserve a title shot. When
you're desperate to fight, though, you'll do almost anything.
For Byrd, that means taking a chance Saturday night and defending his IBF title against Andrew Golota, trying to make a few bucks and hoping all the
while that the "Foul Pole" doesn't do something stupid this time around.
"If he hits me low or bites me, I'll be prepared for it," Byrd said. "I'm prepared mentally if he does something crazy."
That Byrd is forced to fight a disgraced fighter like Golota says something both about the sorry state of the heavyweight division as well as the
difficulty that the crafty boxer has in getting anyone to fight him.
He'll earn only $625,000 - chump change in a division that routinely pays its champions $10 million or more - and faces the further indignity of
sharing the card at Madison Square Garden with another title fight of questionable pedigree, WBA heavyweight champion John Ruiz against Fres
Still, Byrd has a piece of the heavyweight title, and he's philosophical about a career that most thought would never get this far.
"I can't complain," Byrd said. "If I make millions of dollars, great. If not, I achieved a goal of being a heavyweight champion."
Byrd (37-2, 20 knockouts) hopes to keep that piece of the heavyweight title when he meets Golota (38-4, 31 knockouts) in a scheduled 12-round fight
that tops the card, which will be televised on pay-per-view beginning at 9 p.m. Ruiz and Oquendo will further confuse boxing fans by fighting for
their title just before that.
Ruiz acknowledged that neither winner will have much to brag about in the fractured heavyweight division.
"People are losing their faith in the heavyweight division. Nobody knows who the champions are anymore," Ruiz said. "At one point being the
heavyweight champion was like being president of the world. It was that big. Now people have lost interest."
Golota's fight marks his return to Madison Square Garden for the first time since his repeated low blows in a fight against Riddick Bowe in July 1996
got him disqualified and touched off a chair-throwing riot.
Golota got his title shot mostly because he was available and had recently signed with promoter Don King. Golota has fought only twice since coming
out of retirement and was unranked, though that didn't seem to matter to the IBF, which sanctioned the title fight.
"I wish I had one or two more tuneup fights before this, but it's not possible," Golota said. "It's the heavyweight championship and you have to take
whatever it takes to get in this position."
Golota, a native of Poland who lives in Chicago, was also disqualified for hitting Bowe low in their rematch. He was winning both fights and seemingly
on his way to being recognized as one of the top heavyweights of the time.
Golota later was knocked out in the first round by Lennox Lewis and stopped by Mike Tyson before deciding to retire. He took up tennis but later
decided to come back, he said, because he couldn't make any money playing tennis "unless I whack someone over the head with the racket."
Byrd, whose only defense of the title he won in a fight with Evander Holyfield 16 months ago came last September against Oquendo, is happy just to
fight again. Byrd doesn't hit hard, but his slippery style confuses opponents and makes them look bad, so few want to fight him.
"I enjoy making someone miss. I want to slip the punch and actually look at you so I know I made you miss," said Byrd, who weighed in at 210 1/2
pounds to 237 1/2 for Golota.
While Byrd has never been embraced as a true heavyweight champion, neither has Ruiz, who defends a title given to him when Roy Jones Jr. decided to go
back down to light heavyweight.
Ruiz is a brawler and grabber, and his fights generally deteriorate into holding matches. He also won his title the first time by beating an aging
Holyfield, but that's about all he and the elusive Byrd have in common.
In his biggest bout, in March 2003 against Jones, Ruiz sleepwalked his way through the fight and lost a lopsided decision.
"The last good fight I had was with Holyfield and that was a while back ago," said Ruiz (39-5-1, 27 knockouts). "Right now I need to bring back the
old me, where I used to move and fight and have a style."
The match against Oquendo (24-2, 15 knockouts) is being billed as the first heavyweight title fight between two Latinos (Oquendo is from Puerto Rico,
while Ruiz' parents were born there).
Also on the card is a welterweight fight between Ricardo Mayorga and Jose Antonio Rivera, and a cruiserweight title fight between champion Wayne
Braithwaite and Louis Azille.
Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.