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Must-See TV? Not Yet, Anyhow

BY Bernard Fernandez ON March 15, 2010
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There is a school of thought among American sports fans that if an event isn’t on television, it must not be very important.

Saturday’s matchup of IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (53-3, 47 KOs) and Philadelphia-based challenger “Fast” Eddie Chambers (35-1, 18 KOs) in Dusseldorf, Germany, will not be shown live in the U.S.

For members of Chambers’ inner circle, the decision by HBO Sports executives to not televise the fight is akin to a cold slap in the face. They figure the suits at the pay-cable giant will owe their guy an apology, at the very least, should he return to Philly with Klitschko’s title belts in his possession. A hefty, long-term contract would be a nice gesture toward making amends.

Rob Murray Sr., Chambers’ manager-trainer, believes the polite and well-spoken challenger -- a 9-1 underdog -- is being penalized for not adhering to a predetermined notion of what a black fighter is supposed to be.

“African-American athletes, I believe, have been stereotyped,” Murray groused. “They’re supposed to be controversial -- the more controversial the better. There was this circus-type atmosphere surrounding Mike Tyson. You got the same thing now with Floyd Mayweather. It’s like the controversy overshadows their ability. It’s the same thing in basketball with guys like Allen Iverson.

“Last I checked, Eddie hasn’t shot anybody. He hasn’t raped anybody. He has no domestic-violence cases pending. He doesn’t run with a bunch of gangsta rappers and drug dealers. He doesn’t have any tattoos.

“He’s an apple-pie nice guy. That’s not the kind of black athlete TV tries to sell.”

Kery Davis, senior vice president of HBO Sports, said Chambers’ ability is not an issue, nor are his squeaky-clean personal habits. HBO would be very interested in speaking to Chambers, Murray and promoter Dan Goossen if Chambers “goes to Dusseldorf and pulls a Buster Douglas,” a reference to Douglas’ shocking, 10th-round stoppage of Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo, which is generally regarded as the biggest upset in boxing history.

But it is not only Chambers who won’t get TV face time in America on Saturday. Klitschko, widely considered the best heavyweight in the world, even better than his older brother, WBC heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko, won’t be on, either -- and that is the result of circumstances Davis said are largely beyond HBO’s control.

“We’re not out of the heavyweight business by any means,” Davis said. “We’re just looking to be more opportunistic with the heavyweights, doing fights that fit for us.

“There are several factors that played into our decision not to televise (Klitschko-Chambers). We’d obviously prefer to do a show originating in the United States than one in Europe because we get to do them live and in prime time.

“The quality of the show also is a consideration, and we also must look at scheduling issues. Klitschko-Chambers is taking place during the middle of the NCAA Tournament. We did not think our best course of action was to go against March Madness.”

Some have theorized that HBO, if not abandoning the heavyweight division, at least has backed away because the Klitschkos, natives of Ukraine, are far superior to the level of possible challengers from the U.S. Wlad and Vitali are too robotic, too Ivan Drago-like, too unendearing to American audiences. The buzz is now generated on these shores by smaller fighters like Manny Pacquiao and Mayweather.

It is true that the Klitschkos, who a few years ago seemingly were determined to gain a foothold with U.S. fans, no longer come to these shores as regularly as they once did. But that, too, is probably an economic decision; boxing has become a niche sport in America, but it is mainstream stuff throughout Europe, and hotter than Hades in Germany. Klitschko-Chambers will be held in the 50,000-seat ESPRIT Arena, which might be described as Cowboys Stadium without that ultrahuge high-def video screen hovering over the ring.

“The Klitschkos (Vitali is defending his title against European champ Albert Sosnowski on May 29 in Gelsenkirchen, Germany) make so much more money fighting in Europe than they can in the United States,” Davis said. “It would be hard for them to leave that much money on the table to come here.”

And the complaint that the Klitschkos simply are too good for their own good?

“We put on dominant champions all the time,” Davis said. “If you’re the best fighter and better than everyone else, that doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore you until a more competitive opponent comes along.

“People said for years that Roy Jones Jr. was unbeatable, but they watched his fights anyway because how often do you get a chance to see a great artist perform? Being too dominant isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

But Davis will concede that the recent Eastern European stranglehold on the heavyweight division has made the selling of boxing’s big men for domestic consumption a bit more difficult.

“If an American heavyweight were to emerge as a true threat, either by beating a Klitschko or having a sensational fight with one of them, that would to a lot to energize the division,” he said. “I don’t know if Chambers is that guy, but we’ll see.”

Chambers is 1-1 in previous trips to Germany. He said he was too tentative when he squared off against Alexander Povetkin on Jan. 26, 2008, in Berlin, the result being a 12-round, unanimous-decision loss. After that fight, he replaced his dad, Eddie Chambers Sr., as his lead trainer with Murray, who already had been serving as his manager. On July 4, 2009, the 6-1 Chambers came in at 208¼ pounds, the second-lightest of his career, and outmaneuvered and out-quicked 6-7, 253½-pound Ukrainian giant Alexander Dimitrenko in winning a unanimous decision in Hamburg.

It is that Chambers – fast as a middleweight, and a more damaging puncher than some imagine -- who Murray insists will restore the U.S. to the forefront of heavyweight glory.

“Klitschko cannot fight on the inside, and he won’t fight on the inside,” Murray said, so confident in Saturday’s outcome that he doesn’t mind revealing Chambers’ fight plan. “When you get close to him, he grabs and clinches.

“He only wants to fight you at arm’s length. He’s able to get away with that because he really doesn’t jab; he paws at you, paws at you with that long left hand, trying to set you up for the overhand right.

“Opponents buy into that whole `Dr. Steelhammer’ bull, that his right hand is so devastating that they have to stay away from it. That allows Klitschko to stand back and have his way with most guys.”

Most guys, maybe. But not everyone.

“When Lamon Brewster beat Klitschko, he bum-rushed him, got inside and hurt him,” Murray said. “Klitschko gets hurt very easily. That’s no secret; he got stopped in all three of the fights he lost.

“Another thing: he keeps his foot in the bucket all the time. That’s how the old Philly trainers like Yank Durham and Sam Solomon described it. In other words, he’s punching and retreating at the same time. He had (Ruslan) Chagaev leaning and wobbly, but he still didn’t fully commit. He stayed in his preferred range. He’s like the basketball team that won’t drive the lane and only shoots perimeter jumpers.

“It’s great if it works, and it usually has for him, but by fighting that way all the time he limits himself. We’re not limiting ourselves. Joe Louis fought bigger guys like (Primo) Carnera and (Max) Baer. He used his jab, got in, got out. He circled, showed them angles, kept them guessing. And when Louis got inside, he threw uppercuts. Klitschko can’t throw uppercuts and he doesn’t handle it well when the other guy is throwing them. He doesn’t like it when someone punches up on him.

“If you get inside those long arms, Klitschko will turn his back on you. He automatically goes to the ropes. It’s almost like he’s trying to get out of the ring.”

To hear Murray tell it, Chambers almost can’t help becoming champion against a clumsy, one-dimensional goof like Klitschko. But the much-smaller challenger has more going for him than the reigning king’s supposed deficiencies.

“America should embrace Eddie Chambers,” Murray continued. “This is somebody who fought his way out of poverty. He delivered newspapers as a kid, before the sun came up, in the rain and the snow. Is that a great story or what? He came to Philly (from Pittsburgh) in 2002 with nothing but a dream. He’s undersized. They say he can’t punch. But look at who he’s beat. He retired Calvin Brock. Brock afterward that Eddie is the best fighter he ever fought. He destroyed Dimitrenko. Derric Rossy got so brutalized by Eddie, both of his eardrums were busted. He hasn’t been the same since.”

Sounds like a potential HBO kind of guy, if he can do all that Murray claims he can. The again …

“They’re numbers-crunchers at HBO, not really boxing people,” Murray said. “They’re guys who cut their doughnuts and French fries with a knife and fork. It’s a disgrace this fight isn’t on TV in the United States, but you can bet it’s a big deal in Germany. They understand and appreciate boxing in Germany.

“Who knows? When Eddie’s the champion, maybe we’ll just fight over in Europe.”

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