|Shaun George: “It’s Been a Long Time Coming”
The Light Heavyweight Lowdown by Gabriel Montoya (Jun 1, 2008) Doghouse Boxing
In the build-up to the May 16 light heavyweight bout between former two-time heavyweight champion Chris Byrd and light heavyweight contender Shaun George, the majority of the storylines centered on Byrd. His dramatic loss of 40 pounds. How he would do in the light heavy division. What his entrance into those ranks meant to the division. And what the possible match-ups with Roy Jones Jr and Joe Calzaghe might look like. It was an interesting, somewhat tantalizing script that was being written. Unfortunately for Byrd, someone forgot to mail it to Shaun George.
“I was so comfortable in my position and comfortable in my abilities,” George says with a straightforward sincerity devoid of brash ego or bravado. He speaks in a straightforward manner. Never mincing words and never sugar coating his situation or motivation. “I was so confident. I started to feel like the whole boxing world was looking totally past me. And I knew. I had this real belief in myself. It’s not something made up. It’s not for show. I believe when it comes to the light heavyweight division, that I’m the best. And so I was very comfortable in my position. At first it bothered me. Then I was like ‘Chris Byrd paid his dues’. And I’ve paid mine now. I had to get the respect of the boxing world. And it started May 16.”
George, 17-2-2 (8), is a 29 year-old Brooklyn native trained by Tommy Brooks. An amateur stand out, George made his pro debut as a cruiserweight. After 17 fights at that weight, George moved down to the light heavyweight division last year and debuted with a defeat of Richard Hall. Two wins later and still under the radar as a dangerous opponent, he would land the Byrd fight. In what was supposed to a be a rejuvenating performance for Byrd in his new division, instead turned into a one-sided beatdown as George took control from the opening bell and never looked back. It was the kind of performance that has surely put George on the radar of everyone in the light heavyweight division.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says George.
With an opportunity such as this, against a name opponent like Byrd, George and his team left nothing to chance. They thoroughly game-planned and executed that plan down to the last step.
“My gameplan was to use my jab and establish my right hand,” he explains. “My trainer said I can’t miss with the right hand because [Byrd] squares himself up. He’s always had limited movement. And his best weapon was his left hand. So we wanted to take that away from him through the use of the right and that’s what we did.”
One of George’s major weapons in the fight was a straight right to the body. It landed effectively all night and kept Byrd at bay and off balance.
“I have a full arsenal of punches. I just had to feel out what I could throw. The right hand to the body... like I said, he was squared up and I was able to land that shot. If that shot wasn’t landing, I would have figured out what I could throw. But that shot was working all night, so that was the shot I kept throwing. Chris is a crafty fighter. He is a veteran of the game. So I did things to take away his game and I was able to do that and that is why I was able to prevail.”
Part of “taking away his game” included punching in spots here and there and then moving away. This forced Byrd to become the aggressor in the fight. Something the defensive minded counter-puncher was not comfortable doing.
“We wanted him to use his footwork,” says George. “He is used to having bigger guys go at him so he didn’t have to move around a lot. He didn’t have to look for bigger guys. So I wanted to make him look for me to make him reach in.”
And reach in Byrd did. With about 20 seconds left in the first round, Byrd leaned in with a shot to the body and instead ate a lead right from George that stunned and dropped him on the seat of his pants. George wasn’t surprised that his game plan paid off so early and to such stunning effect.
“Honestly, no. I have good punching power. It hasn’t really showed because my problem is, I’m not a good finisher. I’ve been working on that in the gym, staying on guys. Tommy told me that if I got him hurt, don’t get too excited, don’t get too crazy. Just keep doing what I been doing. Put your punches together and everything is going to work out for itself. He’d been telling me that from day one in training camp. And I listened to that and it worked out better for me. My power’s always been there.”
Despite the emphasis on finishing opponents early, George wasn’t able to capitalize on his first round success. However, he remained patient and worked his plan. Too patient, it seemed for Brooks, who urged his man to take the fight to Byrd and finish the job.
“I agree with Tommy,” says George. “Sometimes, I get too laid back in the ring. And it’s something I am working on because you never know. You can get hurt in there, stringing it out, going the distance. I think I can outbox anybody. I believe in my abilities and my talent. But sometimes I’ve got to get a guy out of there early because you might get hurt. You might get caught with a shot you never expected. You might get headbutt. You might get a body shot down to your ribs. You got the guy hurt early so why leave it to the judges? We were fighting the guy in his hometown so we didn’t know how a decision would go. He’s a hometown guy, with his promotions, and he had the bigger name. So Tommy kept saying we couldn’t let it go to decision. After the sixth round, Tommy said to me he wanted the knockout; that I had to pick up the pace again. So that’s what I did.”
Deep in the ninth round, George would let loose with a brutal combination consisting of a left uppercut followed by a right hand that would take Byrd’s legs right out from under him, sending him crashing to the canvas.
“I set that uppercut up,” George explains. “I was thinking about that uppercut from the sixth round on. Because of the way he was holding his guard. The way he was standing straight up, he was wide open but I couldn’t catch him with a clean left hook. But what I did was I switched into a left uppercut. It was a great shot because I caught him hard and it put him down. And that was the beginning of the end right there. I put all my weight and leverage down and boom. If you notice, I was dipping, dipping, putting leverage on the shot. Those last two shots, that’s how I caught him. That’s why that was possible.”
The knockdown would cause Byrd to injure his shoulder but it was the punches from George, after Byrd rose on very shaky legs, that would finish the bout off in style.
“I know I am not under the radar anymore,” George says of the career-defining win.
Now that he can’t rely on being overlooked anymore, George must rely on the lessons he learned in the ring and in his preparation to step into it against Byrd.
“I know that I can do anything I want in there that I put my mind to. The thing is, I was always physically ready for these guys. But now I am more mentally ready for a dogfight. This is about preparation. [The Byrd fight] is the first time I have been away for training camp. And that’s another part of my confidence where I knew I was going to win. I was away at training camp for two months sparring the best in the world. And I was on my own doing what I had to do to win. These guys were overlooking it. I went away to training camp not able to see my wife for two months. I’m all about dedication, no sex, no fun, nothing. Just boxing.”
The dedication paid off and was rewarded not only in the ring but also upon his return home to his family. The joy in voice is palpable as he describes his homecoming.
“It’s great. A lot of people saw the fight. The whole boxing world probably saw the fight to see what Chris could do. It’s a good feeling. You come back from beating a two-time world champion. Beating a guy no one thought you could beat, no one gave you a chance to beat. Seeing my wife. On Friday we are set to do our ultrasound so I get to see our baby. I got to see my mom, my dad, my brothers and sisters. It’s good. Going back home, getting to sleep in my own bed. I was super excited to see my family.”
Now with a future as bright as any in the division, George hopes to take on the best available. When asked how he matches up with the best 175 lbs. has to offer, George touches on his high hopes and the realities of being a contender.
“It’s hard to answer that question because there is only one way I can answer that question,” he says with a laugh. “Seriously. Of course I am a competitive guy and I feel I can beat any of those guys. I do think that while a lot of people think they are on top of their game, they’re not. They’re slipping. And I would like the opportunity to prove that. I would like to fight any one of those guys. It doesn’t matter.
“I would love to fight Joe Calzaghe,” he continues. “I’ll fight him here. I’ll fight him in Wales. I’m not intimidated by anybody. I’m not intimidated by him. I’m just so ready for anybody. Roy Jones, if he wanted to fight me... he is one of my idols. But if he wanted to fight, he could get it. It doesn’t matter who it is. I am trying to crawl before I walk. Meaning, I just beat Chris Byrd. I’m looking for the next step. If it’s Glen Johnson, he’s not a world champion. He ain’t got nothing coming up. I think he was planning on fighting Chris Byrd if he won the fight anyway. Chris Byrd is out of the picture. Joe Calzaghe, Antonio Tarver, Chad Dawson, Roy Jones Jr is all out of the picture because they are trying to fight each other. They aren’t looking at Glen Johnson. So it makes sense for me to fight Glen Johnson or any other contender out there. I am willing to fight anybody in the top ten out there. I’m not afraid. I want to show the world that I am ready. For example, today I was in the gym training. I’m not burnt out. I’m not tired. I started working out again. And I am focused. I’m ready. I’m looking out for my next fight already.”
Whether that fight is next week, next month, or next year, George will be ready. With new knowledge of self and a confidence forged in completing a task most everyone believed he could not accomplish, Shaun George is poised to make a lasting mark in the light heavyweight division. All he needs is another chance to prove the doubters wrong.
“I’ll fight anybody. It doesn’t matter. I’m still hungry. I’m still not in a position where I feel I made it. I’m still a contender trying to take it to the next level. And like I said, I’m not in a position where I can choose who I am fighting. I’m still hungry, I’m still determined, and I still want to prove myself to the world.”
Gabriel at: Coyotefeather@gmail.com .
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