Byrd Eager to Face Big-Man Klitschko

By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer Wed Feb 8, 6:06 PM ET

NEW YORK - Forget about picking on somebody his own size. Undersized IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd said he's "addicted to fighting big guys."
This weekend, Chad Hedrick & Apolo Anton Ohno skate for gold.

So his predilection should be well served in a rematch with huge Ukrainian Wladimir Klitschko to defend his title on April 22 in Mannheim, Germany. The two will also be competing for the vacant IBO championship.

Byrd thinks that beating Klitschko, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound former WBO champion, would serve as validation.

"It would mean I'm the man, I truly belong," the 6-1, 210-pound Byrd said Wednesday. "I'm a small guy for the heavyweight division, but I feel like I can whup all the big guys. I only want to fight guys that weigh 240 and above."

The fight will be televised live on HBO at 5 p.m. EST, which will mark the first time the network will air a championship bout in the afternoon since 1997.

Klitschko won the first meeting with Byrd to defend his WBO title in a 12-round unanimous decision in October of 2000 in Germany. He lost the title when he was knocked out by South Africa's Corrie Sanders.

He became the mandatory challenger to Byrd when he won an unanimous decision over formerly undefeated Samuel Peter in an IBF elimination bout.

The 29-year-old said his losses proved great incentive to return to the top.

"It's great motivation and I have the qualities to be champion," Klitschko said. "And I know it and I just have to show my qualities in the ring in my next fight."

In a packed party room at a historic midtown Manhattan steakhouse, the two were exceedingly polite to one another. And both confidently predicted their own victory.

Byrd gained the IBF title in December 2002 with a win over Evander Holyfield and has since defended it four times. In his most recent fight in October, he beat DaVarryl Williamson in an unanimous decision.

The 35-year-old said much has changed about him since his first fight with Klitschko.

"I'm mentally a lot tougher and I've got this inner cockiness about me now," Byrd said. "I feel that over 12 rounds I'm the best conditioned heavyweight in the world. Who's going to go 12 rounds with me strong?"

Klitschko downplayed any upper hand he may have by fighting in Germany, where he has spent the majority of his career. Byrd acknowledge it would be another challenge for him.

"It's always tough going in somewhere where nobody likes you," Byrd said. "It's an advantage come on that's crazy, it's like if he were fighting in my city. Of course it helps."

Klitschko has a record of 45-3 with 40 knockouts., while Byrd is 39-2-1 with 20 knockouts.

This will be Byrd's third bout with a Klitschko, after beating Wladimir Klitschko's older brother Vitali Klitschko in 2000. Vitali Klitschko retired recently because of knee problems and is pursuing a career in politics.

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