NEW YORK — Giving away 56 pounds and several inches, Chris Byrd survived a second-round knockdown and a bigger man's punch to retain his International Boxing Federation heavyweight title Saturday night on a split decision by the narrowest of margins.
As crafty a fighter as the heavyweight division has seen recently, Byrd needed all of his skills to come on strong in the later rounds to win a split 12-round decision over Jameel McCline.
The two good friends hugged as the highly entertaining fight ended and the crowd at Madison Square Garden stood and cheered. Byrd won by 115-112 and 114-113. McCline was favored 114-112 on the third scorecard.
"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 Byrd, and the third fight that was close until the end. In his last fight, he retained the title with a draw over Andrew Golota.
The fight preceded the World Boxing Assn. heavyweight title match between champion John Ruiz and Golota. Ruiz retained his title despite being knocked down twice and penalized once in an ugly fight.
Ruiz 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 came on strong late in the fight to win 114-111 on two cards and 113-112 on the third.
Evander Holyfield was dominated once again, this time by journeyman Larry Donald, but refused to call it a career. At 42, Holyfield lost almost every round and has now won only two of his last nine fights.
Former 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 (31-4-3) down but stood and traded punches in the later rounds, getting the better of almost every exchange.