It’s too bad bettors made heavyweight Eddie Chambers the favorite in his Friday night ESPN2 bout against Samuel Peter, because I was eager to pick the non-top-10 ranked fighter to upset Ring magazine’s #6 man and reap credit if the underdog delivered. Instead, the smart money went to Chambers. And as of today, it’s looking even smarter: Peter weighed a career high 265 lbs., a truly bad sign in a fight involving two men coming off losses where their willpower was questioned.
Peter’s flab (Chambers was a less than ideal 223, but that’s not crazy for him) diminishes the fight somewhat, but it remains nonetheless that in this case, two wrongs do make a right. If Peter and Chambers weren’t rebounding from losses that brought withering criticism down upon their heads, we wouldn’t get this intriguing style match-up of wild knockout puncher vs. speedy technician. And it wouldn’t be on “Friday Night Fights.” Instead, FNF’s great early 2009 run continues. Throw in cameos from exciting and charismatic lightweight prospect John Molina — check out a story here for a dose of that charisma — and 2008 U.S. Olympian super middleweight Shawn Estrada, and it’s the best card of the week, topping a Showtime event and a pay-per-view.
Occasionally in life, someone will tell me I’m stubborn and won’t admit when I’m wrong. Here’s yet more proof to contradict that: I was not especially critical of Peter or Chambers in their marquee losses, both last year, with Peter quitting against Vitali Klitschko and Chambers allowing himself to be outworked by Alexander Povetkin in a fight he was winning. Since Peter and Chambers and their respective teams have all said rather bluntly that both men shit the bed, I acknowledge I was being too forgiving. Yes, I said, Chambers gave the fight away, but I like the way he tussles anyhow. With Peter, I thought quitting was justifiable — he was getting stomped badly — and I didn’t think he was as lifeless as everyone else did, blaming Klitschko’s vast superiority instead for his apparent poor showing and suggesting he’d be just fine against anyone who wasn’t 6’7″.
Peter, to that point in his career, had exhibited a kind of mostly upward arc followed by a strange regression. Early on, he was all punch, no polish. I cringed at the crazy haymakers, but I admired the raw power of it all. The loudmouthed Nigerian got himself a Knockout of the Year-worthy highlight when he blasted out Jeremy Williams in 2004. He followed up the next year with a huge step-up fight against Wladimir Klitschko, and while it was a sloppy affair, he knocked Klitschko around enough to keep some respect despite losing a unanimous decision. A year later, he was back in the big-time mix. In two wins over 2006 and 2007 against James Toney, he showed surprising discipline, a good jab (!) and by the second fight actually outboxed the boxing master. Suddenly, he looked like he was on his way to becoming a pretty good all-around package, not just a KO artist. But he inexplicably devolved against Jameel McCline and Oleg Maskaev, beating both but looking erratic throughout and in trouble at times against both. Then came the debacle with Vitali.
At 28, a tender age for a heavyweight, it’s already been a long, seesaw career for Peter. On one level, you can argue that hey, he’s only lost to the two best heavyweights of this generation, and was competitive against one of them. It’s just that the downs have often been accompanied by reports of him not training very hard. He has his own excuses — something about a hand injury against Vitali — but coming in at 265 in a must-win fight lends credence to his problematic lack of focus and raises serious questions about whether he’s even got it in him to have more ups. His own promoter insists that if Peter loses this fight, he’s probably not going to get another chance at a big one. And he comes in fat for this one? Really?
At 26, Chambers has had fewer ups and downs. Just the one down, actually. The question about him, though, is similar to the nature of the question about Peter — is there one fundamental flaw to his approach that made him lose that fight and will make him lose again? For long stretches, Chambers is perfectly content just standing in the middle of the ring and doing nothing. I mean, nothing. He’ll keep his gloves up, slightly tilt back at the hips, and launch the occasional counter-punch. That worked against Povetkin early on. But then Povetkin, behind in the fight, went full tilt. And for reasons that no one has ever fully explained, Chambers practically froze. There have been theories offered. A lack of killer instinct? Wilting in the HBO spotlight? But none have fully satisfied.
On the plus side, Chambers WAS beating Povetkin, now the #4 man in the division. He’s beaten a couple fringe contenders, like Calvin Brock and Dominick Guinn. He’s the fastest heavyweight not named David Haye. He’s a really savvy boxer, excelling at the intellectual arts of counter-punching and defense, and he’s shown he can take a punch if he needs to. His patience and even demeanor in the ring was a liability for him against Povetkin, but it’s been an asset in most every other fight. I personally like him because he’s unique. There’s really no big man like him today, and of course I root for good American heavyweights to succeed. He says he’s learned from his mistakes against Povetkin, and the loss haunts him. He’s scored knockouts against two of his three reasonable bounceback opponents, not bad for a guy who’s scored knockouts in slightly better than half of his wins, and reports are that he’s been more aggressive in those bouts.
In match-ups between skilled technicians and wild big hitters, I tend to favor the skilled technicians. It’s not a guarantee. It’s why I favored Cristian Mijares over Vic Darchinyan last year in a junior bantamweight bout only to be proven woefully wrong, but then, Darchinyan showed wrinkles in his game in that fight that nobody believed he had. Peter, somewhere within himself, has wrinkles he showed against Toney but hasn’t hardly since. The dynamic is that while all signs point to Chambers growing as a result of his recent loss, the only thing Peter has grown, for all his talk of really being ready this time, is his waistline. Chambers knows he, too, needs to win this fight, and he’s the one acting like he knows it. That makes me go to my default position of favoring the skilled technician. Peter’s a dangerous puncher probably even at his high weight, but Chambers should dodge or block almost all of it, then survive the worst of what gets through. And in between, Chambers is going to pick. Peter. To. Death.
Bad conditioning for Peter, plus a recent thrashing that may be hard to recover from, leads me to pick the would-be underdog Chambers not just to win, but to win by knockout. Let’s say the 11th. I still get credit for cleverness if Chambers pulls off the improbable-sounding KO, right?