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 25.5kg and several inches, Byrd survived a second round knockdown and a bigger man's punch to retain his IBF heavyweight title Saturday on a split decision by the narrowest of margins.
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 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, while McCline was favored 114-112 on the third scorecard.
The Associated Press had Byrd ahead, 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 97kg to McCline's 122.5kg, 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 Andrew Golota.
"He has fast hands and he took me out of my game plan," McCline said. "That was the difference."
The fight preceded the WBA heavyweight title fight between champion John Ruiz and Golota, part of a card filled with heavyweights promoted by Don King.
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.
Holyfield's sad decline, meanwhile, continued when he was beaten soundly by Donald, a fighter that likely wouldn't have lasted six rounds during his prime.
Holyfield stood watching, unable to throw punches even when he saw openings, as Larry Donald jabbed his way to a lopsided 12-round decision that made the 42-year-old Holyfield's quest for the undisputed heavyweight title seem even more ridiculous than it already was.
He refused to call it a career, but hinted that he may 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."
Fighting for the first time since taking a beating last year from James Toney, Holyfield once resembled the fighter who won the heavyweight title four times only in physique. He fell down while throwing a left hook 49 seconds into the fight, setting the tone for what would be a long night.
Holyfield won only one round from each ringside judge, and in the final round Donald added insult to injury by dancing in front of him and slamming left jabs and rights off of his head.