Boxer Chris Byrd flies high on faith and family
International Boxing Federation (IBF) Heavyweight Champion Chris Byrd knows every time he steps into the ring he’s laying his title on the line.
But the 34-year-old isn’t worried. Sure, he’s confident of his skills, but more importantly, he realizes that, ultimately, he’s not the one in control. God is.
A Christian, Byrd says after he gave his life to Jesus, his outlook on life in general changed dramatically.
“I still want to be the very best at boxing, but as far as what I have done and what I will accomplish, it’s all about whatever God has in store for me,” he explains. “I used to care about how I fought and who I fought, but God will work it out. There’s no need to worry.”
Byrd’s personal relationship with God began in 1993. He, his wife Tracy and their new baby were living next door to two young Christian women. Having a limited spiritual background, Tracy had questions about what happened to people when they died, and she shared her concerns with her neighbors. The women proceeded to show her what the Bible had to say on the matter.
That night Tracy asked Jesus to come into her life. Chris recalls, “As soon as I came in, I noticed something different about [her] … ”
From then on, Chris watched as his wife and daughter attended church each Sunday. At first they asked Chris to go with them, but he refused. “I knew something was missing in my life, but I didn’t want to be like one of those ‘holy roller’ types,” he admits. “It wasn’t long, though, before I began to think … I should accompany them.”
A couple of Sundays later, Chris remembers, “I felt like the pastor was talking directly to me. He described an individual, like myself, [who] … sought true happiness and peace in his life, but just couldn’t obtain it … On that day I recognized that I was a sinner, needing a Saviour. I bowed my head and asked Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins, and I placed my faith and trust in Him to be my Saviour.”
Chris is quick to add, “On that day I did not get a religion, but I got a relationship with my maker.” The date was Oct. 14, 1993.
That same year, Chris’s career as a professional boxer began to skyrocket. As an amateur he had won 275 fights, and in 1992, he won the middleweight silver medal at the Olympics in Barcelona. Then, in 1993, he finally moved up to the glamour position — the heavyweights.
Nevertheless, after becoming a Christian, his priorities changed.
“While my professional boxing ambitions are aimed high,” he says, “my ultimate goal in life is to be a Champion for the Lord. Boxing is my career, but Jesus is my life.”
Chris realized his purpose for boxing was not just to win fights, but to share the love of Christ with others and to glorify God through the sport.
Today Chris makes Jesus his No. 1 priority and his family second. He says he can love everybody around him a lot better when he loves Christ first. His wife is quick to agree.
She and Chris began dating at 17, married at 23 and have since experienced a happy marriage. “But when Chris [gave his life to Jesus], we began to rely on faith and to trust in Him more,” says Tracy. “When a husband loves the Lord, he becomes a better man, and, in turn, his wife becomes a better woman. He demonstrates his love for the Lord in the way he shows his love to his wife, and she can’t help but love him back. Their love for Christ becomes amplified in their love for each other.”
The Byrds are parents to nine-year-old son Justin, and daughters Jordan, 11, and Sydney, six. While boxing naturally plays an important role in their lives, the Byrds don’t allow it to overshadow the time they spend with each other as a family.
“Of course, we have to juggle Chris’s speaking engagements, interviews, boxing matches, and other aspects of the business world, but when the family is home together, we put aside all else and focus on one another,” says Tracy, who works as her husband’s manager. She describes Chris as an affectionate, playful father who is very much in love with his children.
Currently Chris has an impressive 37-2-1 record with 20 knockouts. He’s faced some of the most renowned names in the business: Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, Evander Holyfield, Fres Oquendo and Andrew Golota to name a few. The Golota match ended in a draw, but Chris retained his title. His only two losses have been to Wladimir Klitschko on Oct. 14, 2000, and Ike Ibeabuchi on March 20, 1999.
While the title of IBF Heavyweight Champion might seem to be the ultimate accomplishment for a typical professional boxer, Chris Byrd is anything but typical. In fact, he says, his most significant boxing highlights haven’t occurred within the ring. Unlike most boxers, Chris prays with each of his opponents before their match. He measures his victories by answered prayers rather than points scored or TKOs.
Chris also arranges for his former pastor Leonard Saunders to fly out from Flint, MI, to pray with him and read Scripture on the day of his fight. Currently Chris lives in Las Vegas and attends a church there, but prior to his move, he was a member of Saunders’ church for close to 10 years.
“Chris openly shares his faith and has led several boxers to Christ,” remarks Saunders. “Boxing, as you know, is a wicked sport, yet he is able to maintain his testimony and share his faith.” One of those boxers was his good friend Jameel McCline, who, ironically, became Chris’s next opponent shortly after accepting Christ as his Saviour. “Now that’s a highlight,” says Chris.
Another highlight occurred when he witnessed Pastor Saunders lead his father and mother, Joe and Rose Byrd, to salvation, praying with them to receive Jesus’ forgiveness.
Chris says he and his family have always been close, even though they weren’t brought up in a Christian home. The senior Byrd still serves as his son’s coach, and Chris still trains at the Joe Byrd Boxing Academy. He and his seven siblings, all athletes, still get together for a game of basketball. Chris says he’s thankful that seven out of the eight have now come to personally know the Lord.
Today, Chris continues to box and to testify about Christ. Fight fans can easily spot him in the ring. He wears his favourite Scripture verse, Acts 4:12 (“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved”), on his trunks, boldly proclaiming Christ as the only way to salvation.
And while Chris may not be your typical heavyweight champion, he’s definitely no phony.
“Chris is no part-time Christian,” his former pastor observes. “He lives out his faith because his faith lives in him.”