By Mitch Abramson
Eddie Chambers looks more like a musician, with his neatly trimmed facial hair and dark dress attire, than he does a boxer. On Thursday for a press conference for his upcoming fight with Tomasz Adamek, the lead promoter of the show, Kathy Duva, referred to him as “charming” during introductions. Chambers, sitting a few feet away from Duva, smiled, appreciative of the remark.
In a division made famous by the antics of Tyson and bravado of Ali, the laid-back style of Chambers is a bit of a departure. But Chambers, 30, is not your typical boxer and certainly not your typical big man. He’s smallish by heavyweight standards, at 6 foot and “210 pounds soaking wet.” And unlike some big men, he speaks openly of the fears, setbacks and possibilities that exist in the sport. Chambers, 30, freely admits he had serious reservations about making a career of it when he first started out in 2000. He acknowledges that his attempt to unseat Wladimir Klitschko for his IBF/WBO heavyweight championship two years ago, which ended with Chambers getting clipped and stopped in the 12th round, left him mentally exhausted, at or near his wits end.
“Physically I was over it in a week,” Chambers said on Thursday during a press conference at a watering hole near the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J, where the fight will take place and broadcast as part of the “NBC Sports Network Fight Night” series, with the telecast starting at 9 p.m. “That’s just the sort of thing that happens,” he went on. “But mentally, the scarring lasts much longer and there’s still certain things- I wish I could go back and do this, I wish I could go back and do that- but it’s just not going to happen. You just have to turn the page.”
Chambers (36-2, 18 knockouts) has had trouble turning that page, taking nearly a year off following the fight with Klitschko to regroup and then sputtering to get his career running on all cylinders again. He’s fought just twice in the past two years because of the loss and injuries, a tough approach for a rhythm fighter like Chambers who relies on his smarts and impressive reflexes in the ring. Chamber’s opponent on Saturday, Adamek, didn’t take nearly as much time to recover after he was stopped by Vitali Klitschko, returning to the ring six months later to face Nagy Aguilera in March of this year, winning a ten-round decision.
“You just want to get back in there and keep going,” Adamek said. “Now we are here, and this is the focus.”
In a way, the fight on Saturday between Chambers and Adamek (45-2, 28 knockouts) could be construed as a referendum on which fighter came out the better of it after challenging a Klitschko brother; it might also be understood as a challenge between the two best heavyweights in the world not named Klitschko, a statement Chambers agreed with on Thursday.
“I think there are other guys out there who are great prospects and great contenders,” Chambers said. “But I guess you would have to say so. There’s a lot of talent, but I think the best talent is here.”
Duva has made it a goal of her “NBC Sports Network Fight Night” series to infuse a little life into the heavyweight division, to show heavyweights in a more positive light, not just getting bludgeoned by one of the Klitschko brothers (take your pick, either Wladimir or Vitali), which is how the division has been depicted in recent years.
The main event between Adamek and Chambers, who have both lost to the Klitschko brothers, is a good first step in bringing fans back. Both Chambers and Adamek are two of the most compelling fighters in the division because of their styles, Chambers a boxer who can punch and Adamek a bruiser with skills. It’s easy to imagine fireworks breaking out early if one of them takes the initiative, causing the other to fire back.
With WBC titlist Vitali Klitschko nearing retirement at age 40, Duva envisions a day when the heavyweight division will be a competitive free-for-all with Saturday’s fight serving as an introduction for fans to the division again. Duva also dropped a hint that her fight series is in the process of receiving a two-year extension into 2013 and 2014 with a seventh show added this year, though she declined to comment on this following the press conference. But if that’s the case, then Duva would have even more television time to showcase a forgotten division.
“They all want to fight each other, and they haven’t had a platform to do it in a very long time,” Duva said of the heavyweight division. “So we’re going to see a lot more of this. What we’ve done is put the word out to everybody and basically said, ‘If you’re willing to get in the ring and take a risk, we’re going to put you on,’” she went on. “We don’t care if you lost your last fight. We don’t care if you haven’t fought in a while. If you have the skills and you’re willing to take the chance, we’re going to work with you.”
It’s a formula that Duva said doesn’t necessarily include the Klitschkos.
“We’re working with this idea of: fight each other,” Duva said. “Let’s have a lively heavyweight boxing scene in the United States involving Americans and foreigners that want to be part of it.”
The undefeated heavyweight, Bryant “By-By” Jennings (13-0 six knockouts), who started boxing just two years ago but has quickly established himself as a heavyweight worth keeping an eye on, will face Steve “Freight Train” Collins (25-1, 18 knockouts) in the night’s co-feature on Saturday; Brooklyn’s Curtis “Showtime” Stevens is also in action against Marcus Upshaw in a middleweight bout. Chambers, whose slick boxing style could give the bigger Adamek fits, is in favor of making the most competitive match-ups to further interest in the division.
“You want to give the fans what they want,” he said with a smile. “I think it’s going to be a fun night for the fans and a fun night for me as well.”
He spent his training camp in Detroit at the famed Kronk Boxing Gym, dropping a little weight he thought he initially needed to face some of the bigger guys but now believes he needs to be more svelte to be at his best. Most of all, he wants to show the fans he’s back and a serious contender again after so much time off.
“I feel great,” he said. “There’s [some pressure] in trying to show that I haven’t lost anything or that I feel rusty in going in and fighting a guy like this. I have to go out there and really perform. But pressure is something that I’ve dealt with for the bulk of my career.”
He’s heard the sideline chatter that he’s too small, that he’s not capable of performing at a high level in the heavyweight division.
“I think I have to go out there and show that not only do I have plenty in the tank, but I’ve been preparing and working and there’s still a lot that I have to give,” he said.
He needed time off after the Klitschko fight to gather himself and collect his thoughts, he said.
“I really needed to take some time off,” he said. “It was a very tough fight, a very tough road to get there, and then to lose takes a lot out of you. It took some time, quite honestly, to get over it.”
He took a year off to deal with the mental affects of that loss. He then came back and fought Derric Rossy in February of last year, winning a decision in a fight that was supposed to be an IBF eliminator for the chance to fight Wladimir Klitschko again, a fight he says he “really wanted.”
“Then they put another fight in front of me,” he says. “Then I had to fight Tony Thompson.”
He didn’t like the idea, since the two are friends.
“But I’m not the kind of guy to buck at a challenge so I said, fine,” he said. “Tony was agreeing to it, so I was like, let’s go. Then I had a back injury. I worked real hard and was in great shape and figured I could deal with it [but couldn’t].”
He was next supposed to fight Serhei Liakhovich on the inaugural “NBC Sports Network Fight Night” series back in January, but was bitten by the injury bug again, suffering a rib injury in training during sparring.
“It was just over-doing it totally,” he said. “That kept me out for another two and a half months.”
Finally, this past March, Chambers was in attendance when Adamek fought Aguilera at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn. There, Duva discussed with him the possibility of facing Adamek. Chambers recalls initially balking at the opportunity, however, saying he needed a tune-up before he faced someone of Adamek’s caliber. Duva wasn’t having it and wanted him to fight on June 16, Chambers said.
“I said okay,” he says. “I’m the type of guy where I like a challenge, and this is a heck of a challenge. Thus, we are here today.”
He believes a win against Adamek will put him in the conversation again of being one of the best heavyweights in the world.
“Just to be thought of one of the top guys is important to me,” he said. “I want to fight the best and be mentioned as one of the best.”
Then he flashed a smile, and again, it was easy to forget that Chambers fights for a living.