Friday, March 24, 2023  |


Will Chambers follow lead of fellow Philadelphian, Young?


When Eddie Chambers fights for the heavyweight title in Dusseldorf, Germany on Saturday, he will be the first fighter of his type to do so in 34 years.

Chambers is that rarest commodity: a Philadelphia heavyweight who relies on smarts and speed more than he does power and bulk. The last Philadelphia heavyweight to fit that description was Jimmy Young, who challenged Muhammad Ali for the title on April 30, 1976 in Landover, Md.

To be sure, there have been other Philadelphia heavyweights of note over the years. Tim Witherspoon was a two-time belt holder, and Bert Copper came as close against Evander Holyfield as anyone can to winning the heavyweight title without actually doing it.

But where Witherspoon and Cooper bore in, Chambers jabs. Where Witherspoon and Cooper pounded, Chambers dissects. Where they raged, he contemplates.

A look back at Young, who, like Chambers, almost always faced bigger, stronger guys, might be instructive, since Chambers’ opponent in Dusseldorf will be Wladimir Klitschko, who will make Chambers look like he’s auditioning for a part on the reality show “Little People Big World.”

Young, who died of heart failure in 2005 at age 57, started boxing at 14 years old as a way to drop extra pounds. He discovered he liked the sport and went 15-6 as an amateur. He turned pro in 1969 after learning the second of his four children with wife Barbara was on the way.

Early on, Young struggled under trainer Bob Brown and manager Frank Gelb. Small fights, small purses and a first-round KO loss to Earnie Shavers, one of the most feared punchers of the era, did little to advance his cause.

The loss to Shavers made him re-think his style.

“I realized that standing there and letting the other guy pound me wasn't the answer,” Young told writer Pat Putnam in 1977. “I had the brains; I decided to use them. I studied films of all the old stylists: Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Jersey Joe Walcott, Billy Conn. I idolized them all, mostly Sugar Ray. I still study the films every day; I'm still learning new tricks from the old masters of the sport.”

Young, who stood 6-foot-2 and at his best weighed about 210 pounds, became a master at defense and at making bigger, stronger fighters look foolish.

“He wasn’t made for Philadelphia, that’s for sure,” historian and Philadelphia-based Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz told me recently. “He had no power. But he was a very good technician and he could – and did – compete with any heavyweight of his time.”

In 1975 Young pitched a near shutout against hard-slugging Ron Lyle in Honolulu. It should have gotten him some big fights. It didn’t. He kept his job at the loading docks in Philly.

“After I beat Lyle I had a couple of small fights, and the purses were so small I'm too embarrassed to say how much they were,” Young told Sports Illustrated. “But think of quitting? Never. Not when the only alternative was to spend the rest of my life breaking my back for $4.30 an hour on the docks. Every time I picked up one of those sacks of cocoa beans I knew I was going to make it.”

Fate, or something just as sinister, intervened to help.

The official story is Gelb, the manager, sold his interests in Young to Jack Levin, a Philadelphia electrical supplier, and Ray Kelly, who was in the auto-leasing business.

Others believe Levin and Kelly were fronts for the infamous Blinky Palermo, who had been released from prison in 1971 following an 11-year stint for conspiracy and extortion related to the career of one-time welterweight champion Don Jordan.

Palermo and the late Frankie Carbo were believed to have run boxing in “The City of Brotherly Love” throughout the 1950s and early ’60s. After his release, Palermo returned to Philadelphia.

In October ’76, Young signed with Levin and Kelly. Six months later, he found himself in the ring with Ali.

“When Jack and Ray took over as my managers, I didn’t know anything about them,” Young told columnist Dave Anderson in 1977. “I didn’t know if they were crooked or what, but I had to do something. Up until then, I’d never made more than $2500 and all I can tell you now is that I’m not sorry.”

Young lost a decision to Ali in one of the awful fights of the era. Ali was under-trained and lethargic. Young was timid and though many believed he outscored Ali, his strategy of leaning his head outside the ropes on the few occasions when Ali threatened to land won him little sympathy.

“I don’t think he beat Ali because I don’t think you can win a title by ducking your head under the ropes whenever things get rough,” Peltz said. “On that alone I think he didn’t deserve to win the fight.”

Nevertheless, after a couple of small wins and another victory over Lyle, Young was matched with former champion George Foreman, whom Don King was trying to get a rematch with Ali.

Young was a prohibitive underdog to the larger, more powerful, more experienced Foreman – just as Chambers is to the larger, more powerful, more experienced Klitschko.

And on March 17, 1977, Young boxed rings around Foreman and retired him – for 10 years, anyway.

“The key to any victory is to out-think the other man,” Young had said before the fight. “Whether it's in combat, shooting craps or playing chess. And there's no heavyweight alive I can't out-think. No matter how strong a man is – and a lot are stronger than me – well, I always say there isn't a horse that can't be broken or a man who can't be thrown.”

Can Chambers throw Klitschko the way Young threw Foreman?

“The main difference is Young fought during the greatest era of heavyweights, and Chambers is fighting during one of the most pathetic eras of heavyweights,” Peltz said. “I don’t care how big they are, which is why I give (Chambers) a chance in the fight.

“Chambers is the first guy that (Klitschko) has fought in a long time that really knows how to fight. He actually thinks he can win, and I think he has the tools to win. The question is if he can get inside without getting hurt, if he can do to Klitschko what Young did to Foreman,” Peltz said.

“And Klitschko is no Foreman.”

A full 34 years ago, Young gloated after pulling off the upset against Foreman.

“For weeks I would be sleeping and dreaming and scheming how to beat George Foreman,” Young said. “Combinations. Combinations. Combinations. That's all I kept saying in my sleep. And then I'd wake up cold and sweating. Dreams do become alive. It ain't no dream anymore, is it? It's a fact.”

We’ll see if Chambers’ dream can become fact, too.

Some random observations from last week:

Hey, shouldn’t Joshua Clottey’s greater size have overcome Manny Pacquiao’s greater everything else? ÔǪ

It wasn’t original, but sending Max Kellerman to Clottey’s corner to see why
Clottey wasn’t punching was a nice touch. Sean O’Grady must have been furious. ÔǪ

Everyone keeps talking about all the great fighters from Ghana. Um, Azumah Nelson. The others are who, again, exactly? 

John Duddy was so dull in his split-decision win over Michael Medina it was hard to believe he’s Irish. Either way, relative to the hype he received early on, Duddy is a bigger embarrassment to The Emerald Isle than Angela’s Ashes. ÔǪ

Is it just me or does Humberto Soto seem to not carry the same zing he did at junior lightweight? 

I’m no Bill Sapphire, but Emanuel Steward’s observation, “That’s something I’ve never saw did,” might rank as the most grammatically flawed spoken sentence in the history of language. ÔǪ

Anyone else care that the opulent new stadium notwithstanding, Texas has the fifth highest poverty rate in the United States, ranks close to last in access to and quality of healthcare, and is first in state-sponsored executions? I didn’t think so. ÔǪ

Shane Mosley must be livid over all this talk about a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. It’s both insulting and reckless. ÔǪ

So: If Pacquiao-Clottey did 50,000, just think how much business Pacquiao-Mayweather will do after Mayweather beats Mosley, and Pacquiao gets over his mysterious aversion to blood testing.

Seriously, those expecting the Mosley they saw against Antonio Margarito will be disappointed. Mayweather will remind us more of the Mosley we saw against Miguel Cotto. 

While we’re at it, chew on this: Yuri Foreman beats Miguel Cotto. That’s right. Place your bets early. ÔǪ

Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders: Is there anything they can’t do?

Bill Dettloff can be reached at [email protected] You can read his articles every month in THE RING magazine.