Let’s instead consider the fight itself. I’m not going to oversell this point, and I’ll elaborate on it all as we go along: The best version of Chambers, despite looking like Hayden Panettiere next to Klitschko in the picture above (credit: Jan Sanders, Goossen Tutor), is in my view the most dangerous opponent for Klitschko that Klitschko has faced since he really became Klitschko. Five years ago after struggling to beat Samuel Peter, Klitschko completed his transformation into the methodical strategic conundrum that he is today. Since then, Tony Thompson, with his comparable size, gave Klitschko his toughest bout in 2008, but he wasn’t all that accomplished and Klitschko knocked him out. Ruslan Chagaev in 2009 was probably Klitschko’s best all-around opponent, but stylistically never really stood a chance. Chambers is both accomplished — the #3 Ring-ranked heavyweight — and has some stylistic elements that theoretically present Klitschko some problems he hasn’t encountered post-2005.
This is not the same as saying Chambers will beat Klitschko. But it is food for our thoughts.
In my thoughts, the fighter who beats this Klitschko — if anyone — is first and foremost fast and nimble. Chambers is both, especially the slimmed-down version who came in at 208 pounds against Alexander Dimitrenko and who’s said to have taken up residency in the gym for this fight, too. Why does this matter? It’s really only theoretical, because this Klitschko’s never fought a heavyweight who was anything other than above average in quickness, but I think speed is key to getting into the kind of range one needs to get into to overcome his size. Size is the foundational building block (although not the only aspect) of what makes Klitschko so difficult, especially because he uses that size to keep the proper distance to control the bout with his jab and straight right without getting much return fire. If you’re not going to be as big as Klitschko — and even Thompson showed that’s not enough — then you better be able to get to him some other way, and that way, as I see it, is speed.
Top-notch speed is the most important thing Chambers brings that Klitschko hasn’t faced, but it isn’t the only. Chambers is the best defensive fighter this real Klitschko has faced. Chris Byrd (that name is going to come up again later) was pretty run down by the time he fought Klitchko in a 2006 rematch, and Byrd consciously decided to abandon his defense in that fight. Chambers isn’t good at just one kind of defense, either. He used to just stand there with his high guard, but against Dimitrenko he ducked, stepped aside, all of it. That’s one of the reasons Chambers amounts to the best pure boxer Klitschko has faced in five years. Chagaev had some Olympic cred, but he doesn’t give angles like Chambers and isn’t as versatile. Chambers is a better body puncher than any heavyweight of Klitschko’s last five years, which theoretically could be helpful to breaking down his stellar defenses. Lastly, Dimitrenko isn’t in Klitschko’s league when it comes to effectively using his height (or anywhere else, for that matter), but Chambers’ dominant win over Dimitrenko showed that beating a 6’7″ opponent isn’t in and of itself an impossibility for him.
The second major component I’d give a boxer trying to beat Klitschko, after speed, is real power. That chin of his hasn’t been tested in a long time because of how well he’s protected it, but Klitschko’s ability to take a punch remains in constant question. That brings us back to Byrd, the Klitschko opponent most like Chambers. In the first fight, Byrd never had the firepower to dissuade an earlier, more aggressive 2000 version of Klitschko. In the second fight, Byrd got the occasional shot in against a more backward-moving Klitschko (Chambers’ people think Klitschko’s tendency to fight moving back will work to their advantage) but didn’t have the sting to do anything with it. Chambers has roughly the same KO percentage as Byrd, but I think he hits harder. He had Dimitrenko down twice and stung Peter, plus knocked out better journeymen than the journeymen Byrd iced. If Chambers can hurt Klitschko — and if Klitschko, who’s coming off a long recovery from a shoulder injury, is rusty or the shoulder isn’t all better — then we’re in the ballpark of an upset.
As vulnerable as Klitschko’s chin is, I don’t see Chambers having the power to do more than maybe score a flash knockdown, though. The three men who knocked out Klitschko — Lamon Brewster, Corrie Sanders and even the lesser Ross Puritty — all were significantly bigger punchers than Chambers. That means Chambers would probably have to beat Klitschko by decision, when Klitschko hardly ever loses a round. Ouch. It also means Chambers would consistently have to get inside on Klitschko — already a problem, since he’s so good at stepping back out of range — and do good work without getting tied up, which nobody’s been able to do in the last several years. Oof. Counterpunching Klitschko? I suppose it’s an option, but Klitschko only throws one punch at a time and then immediately goes back on D so as to minimize the risk of that. Plus he’s fast himself. And smart. And has fantastic concentration. And never runs out of gas anymore with his current style. And punches really hard — and as good as Chambers’ chin has shown itself to be, he’s never fought anybody who hits with the kind of power Klitschko does. That’s a lot to get through for 12 rounds.
I can understand someone picking Chambers for the upset, I can. And if he won, he’d really become a big deal: an American heavyweight champion. But it takes a leap of faith about Chambers’ power, and/or about Klitschko’s shoulder and rust, and/or about Chambers’ ability to consistently outbox a man who poses so many obstacles that most people look beaten in their corners after just a few rounds of flailing. I say Chambers has enough to make it to the final bell of an ugly fight where maybe he has more moments of success than most, but that’s all they’ll be. Moments than don’t add up to a win.
[The TQBR Prediction Game is in effect. Remember the rules.]