Chambers vows to let hands go against Peter
Eddie Chambers has all of the skill and physical tools necessary to be a force in the heavyweight division except for one thing — size.
However, the small stature of the young fringe contender, whose average fighting weight is 215 pounds, is not the reason he lost the most important bout of his career to date.
That loss, a unanimous decision to Alexander Povetkin last January, had more to do with his mind than his body. Chambers lost because he simply stopped punching.
Chambers did well for five or six rounds of his HBO-televised IBF title-elimination match with Povetkin, often beating the ballyhooed Russian to the punch, but then he inexplicably took his foot off the proverbial gas pedal and allowed the 2004 Olympic champ to out-hustle him over the second half of the bout.
Chambers wasn't knocked down or cut during the 12-round bout. He was never hurt or under serious duress, and yet he stopped throwing punches down the stretch.
Chambers' actions — or inaction — baffled promoter Dan Goossen, who signed the then-undefeated Pittsburgh native 2 1/2 years ago with high hopes.
Goossen still has faith in Chambers, who faces former WBC titleholder Samuel Peter in an ESPN2-televised main event from the Nokia Theatre in L.A. this Friday, provided the 26-year-old boxer learned his lesson from his only pro failure.
“My belief in Eddie has never wavered,” Goossen said. “He's got all the talent and promise a young fighter could ask for. The loss to Povetkin all boiled down to the mental aspect of the fight. Going into that fight, I think Eddie's mental game was his only weakness.”
Goossen isn't saying that Chambers (33-1, 18 knockouts) is mentally weak. Any fighter who isn't gifted with tremendous punching power and regularly takes on opponents who outweigh him by 30 pounds must possess mental strength that few non-fighters can understand.
“When I say that the mental aspect of his game needed to be shored up, I'm saying that Eddie needed to grow up in the ring,” explained Goossen. “He lacked the maturity to let his hands go when he needed to in important fights, and this was a problem going back to the Calvin Brock fight (which Chambers won by a split decision).
“He wasn't getting beat up against Brock and Povetkin, in fact, it looked like he was having a good time in there, blocking their punches and smiling at them. Although I don't know why he was smiling while he was letting those fights get away from him.”
Chambers admits his focus hasn't always been 100 percent during some of his past bouts, but he says he gets it now. Play time is officially over when he fights.
“I didn't get it then, but I realize now that I allowed myself to fall behind against Brock and I allowed myself to get outworked by Povetkin,” Chambers said. “In both fights I did very well in the beginning and then I got comfortable. I got content with catching punches on my gloves.
“I didn't do enough. Blocking punches is not activity in the ring. I realize that. I realize that it's not even enough to win. Against Povetkin, even if I did enough to get a draw or if I won by a point, that wouldn't have been enough to get anyone excited.”
Chambers says the loss to Povetkin opened his eyes.
He sees a fellow small heavyweight in the 29-year-old contender, who is rated No. 4 in the world by THE RING. Povetkin's average fighting weight is about 225 pounds. But Chambers doesn't see the athletic or defensive ability in the Russian that he possesses. The only difference is activity. Povetkin takes the fight to his opponents and he lets his hands flow from start to finish.
Chambers figured if a higher work-rate can elevate a fighter with less talent than he has to the top of the rankings, the door is open for him to join the elite fighters of the division.
That's the mindset Chambers is bringing to Friday's showdown with Peter (30-2, 23 KOs), a hard-punching slugger whose average fighting weight is around 250 pounds.
“This fight is the not only the most important fight of my career,” Chambers said, “it's an important fight for the heavyweight division. The division is in need of new blood. Fans want to see new faces at heavyweight, but only if they are entertaining.”
Fight fans in the U.S. haven't seen the new version of Chambers, who was once described as a right-handed Chris Byrd, since his loss to Povetkin.
He's won three in a row, and he's been letting those fast hands of his go enough to score two knockouts — a sixth-round stoppage of Raphael Butler, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound former prospect, and a fifth-round TKO of journeyman Livin Castillo.
However, his last fight, an eight-round bout against giant trial horse Cisse Salif last December, went the distance.
Chambers isn't happy about that. Never mind the fact that Salif is a 6-foot-5 giant who weighed a solid 268 pounds when they fought. Or that the Las Vegas-based veteran has only been stopped once, 10 years ago, in a 38-bout pro career that includes a distance bout with David Tua. Or that Salif, a sought-after sparring partner for top heavyweights, knows all the ticks of survival in the ring.
Chambers wanted a knockout.
“I was better than I was against Povetkin when I fought Salif, but not quite where I wanted to be,” he said. “I wasn't active enough. I could have worked my jab more and put punches together. If I would have done that maybe I could have put the big man on the defensive. Maybe I could have stopped him.
“The bottom line is that I could have been more impressive.”
One veteran observer who believes that Chambers will be impressive this Friday is trainer Joe Goossen.
Chambers has trained at Goossen's Van Nuys, Calif. gym for the past four weeks, working with a group of big, heavy handed sparring partners led by local brawler Javier Mora.
“Eddie's put in quality sparring sessions lately,” said Goossen, who does not train Chambers. “They go 10 rounds or however long the sparring partners can hold up under his counter punching. Only Mora can last rounds with Eddie, who has quick hands and very quick feet. His left-to-right movement, the way he pivots, is special. He turns and moves well. I think his quick feet are his greatest strength. He's not easy for bigger heavyweights to trap.”
Of course, everyone assumes that Chambers will be able to out-maneuver Peter. The question is whether the smaller man will be able to get the powerful Nigerian's respect with his punches.
Goossen thinks he will.
“Eddie's punch output is a lot higher than I remember seeing from him the last time I saw him fight,” the veteran trainer said. “He's throwing three and four at a time and he's doing it under a lot of pressure. It's hard to get Mora off you in the ring, he keeps coming forward and I think he's more adventurous coming forward than Peter is.
“I'm seeing Eddie fend that pressure off well, round after round. He gets off and gets out of the pocket. And Javier tells me that he feels Eddie's punches. He tells me he feels Eddie's jab. Eddie throws a nice, short, eight- to 12-inch jab, that Javier says hurts.”
Although Peter has only been hurt or dropped by giants like the Klitschko brothers and Jameel McCline, Goossen says he won't be shocked if Chambers does the same to the former titleholder on Friday.
“Peter has digressed, in my opinion,” he said. “He might be the right fighter at the right time for Chambers.
“It all depends on what Eddie does once he's in the ring. It depends on what he learned from the Povetkin fight. This fight with Peter will tell us how far he can go in the heavyweight division.”
Nobody understands this more than Chambers.
“Friday's fight isn't a test to see if I'm ready to move on,” he said. “This is it. This is the real thing. This is my career on the line.”
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]