|Wednesday, November 20
Max: Good big fighters always top little ones
By Max Kellerman
Special to ESPN.com
The good big man beats the good little man. That is the time-tested adage. Going into the Marco Antonio Barrera-Johnny Tapia fight the Saturday before last, and then the Erik Morales-Paulie Ayala bout this last Saturday, boxing people felt that the good big man (Barrera, Morales) would beat the good little man (Tapia, Ayala). They were mostly right.
In both fights, the good little man was beaten by a better big man. In the case of Barrera-Tapia, size did not seem to play a factor. Barrera is simply younger and better than Tapia. And even Barrera's nearer proximity to his prime was not a determining factor in their fight. Let's be honest - Barrera at his best is a better fighter, pound-for-pound, than Tapia ever was. And Tapia was very good. Still is.
Same goes for Morales and Ayala, though unlike Tapia against Barrera, Ayala's smaller size was a factor in his loss against Morales. Ayala engaged Morales in exchanges where they would both land punches and Morales' shots would simply land with better effect. But, again, the fact that Morales was landing the harder shots was only partly due to his naturally larger size. Pound-for-pound, Morales has always been a better puncher than Ayala.
Morales was also able to keep the fight at his preferred distance and outbox Paulie. This was due partly to Morales' height and reach advantages, but also the result of his superior boxing skills. As skilled a fighter as Ayala is, the current Ring Magazine junior featherweight champ is not the equal skillswise of Erik Morales.
Tapia and Ayala have never been considered upper echelon pound-for-pound entrants. Barrera and Morales have. If the good big man beats the good little man, then what Barrera-Tapia and Morales-Ayala demonstrate is that the very good big man beats the good little man -- handily.
Finally, both Tapia and Ayala showed why everyone in boxing loves them so much. Both were in situations where they were outboxed and outgunned by bigger, better fighters. But there was no quit in Tapia or Ayala. Despite absorbing repeated pinpoint bombs to the head and body over 12 rounds, Tapia and Ayala actually remained the aggressors in their futile attempts against the two best featherweights in the world.
I continue to get questions about the Roy Jones-John Ruiz heavyweight fight ostensibly scheduled for March 1 in Las Vegas. I have often said and written that Ruiz is too big for Roy. I will surely write at least one future column about that fight as the date approaches. What I have not heard nearly enough conversation about is the upcoming Evander Holyfield-Chris Byrd fight.
The lack of respect accorded Byrd has always bothered me. He is often written and talked about as if he is a boring fighter. But boring fighters typically run, clinch and don't throw many punches. Byrd rarely clinches, does not run, and generally keeps his hands moving. He boxes top heavyweights who sometimes outweigh him by 30 or more pounds. He does this by staying in punching range, making his opponent miss, and then countering with shots to the head and body.
Byrd is a masterful boxer, a blast to watch and has been dissed for far too long. Should he easily outbox Holyfield, he will join Lennox Lewis as one of only two men to easily beat Evander (Lewis did it in the first fight - despite being given a draw).
Before you start jumping up and down about how old Evander is, realize we all know, he is clearly no longer in his prime. However, he is still good enough to outbox and outpunch Hassim Rahman, who was recently heavyweight champion of the world. Holyfield is not what he once was, but he is still very good. If Byrd proves himself much better than very good - well, what does that make him?
Thus far Byrd has only had one chance to fight a good fighter who only had a big (as opposed to a gargantuan) size advantage over him. That fighter was David Tua, and Byrd joined heavyweight champ Lennox Lewis and would-be heavyweight champ Ike Ibeabuchi as one of only three men to ever have defeated Tua. I expect Byrd to beat Evander Holyfield too.
Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights and the host of the new show Around The Horn.