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Young Guns

The heavyweight division has long been overdue for an injection of exciting new blood. Eddie Chambers and Alexander Povetkin are two of the most highly-regarded young contenders out there. The question each will have to answer when they square off in the ring is who's got what it takes to move up and rattle the big boys' cages.

Rising stars in boxing more often than not become shooting stars. That is the nature of a business where the hopes and dreams of an undefeated young contender can be ended with one crushing blow or a couple of losses. Fickle fans and dollar-conscious promoters quickly lose interest in the boxer, who slip-slides slowly back down the mountain he has climbed, forever to wonder what coulda woulda shoulda been.

There is much to suggest, however, that the fates of Povetkin and Chambers could be different. They will each walk into the ring on Jan. 26 as undefeated contenders, one victory away from a championship fight mandated by a sanctioning body. It is the final step on the ladder, and there is only room for one.

If amateur pedigrees mean anything in the pro ranks, there is ample reason to believe that the 28-year-old Povetkin might be something special.

A Russian who fights out of Germany, Povetkin was a legendary amateur, winning 16 of 17 international tournaments -- twice as many as Olympic gold medal winner Lennox Lewis did in nine years before turning pro, and more than both Klitschko brothers combined.

Povetkin's dominance culminated in his winning of the gold super heavyweight medal at the 2004 Olympics. He ended his career with a gaudy 125-3 record, and is widely regarded as the third greatest amateur heavyweight in history behind Cubans Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon, each of whom won three Olympic gold medals.

Yet for every great amateur like a Sugar Ray Leonard or an Oscar De La Hoya, who successfully carried their talent into the professional ranks, there are infinitely more who crashed and burned and have only a gold medal in a showcase at home as evidence they once were somebody special.

One clear signal that Povetkin will not soon join the ranks of fallen contenders is the ambitious manner in which he has been rushed up the ladder by the powerful German promoter, Sauerland Events.

Povetkin turned pro a scant two and a half years ago, and yet with only 14 fights and 61 rounds of professional boxing under his belt, the Russian is one step away from challenging for a world title. Rapid ascents like that are very rare in boxing.

What is most impressive about the fast track Povetkin has been on is that while most new pros are fed a steady diet of risk-free opponents for a few years while they learn the game, Povetkin has faced only one boxer with a losing record. Povetkin's last fight in particular was impressive, as he pounded out an 11th round TKO of former world champion Chris Byrd.

Not one of the four current reigning heavyweight champions got from there to here so quickly. Wladimir Klitschko, who was also an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and heralded amateur, fought 35 times over a four-year period before he first got in position to challenge for a world title. Of the other three belt-holders, Chagaev fought for almost six years and had 23 fights before challenging and beating Nikolai Valuev for his title; Sultan Ibragimov waited five years and 21 fights before his chance, while Oleg Maskaev took a grueling 13 years and 37 fights before his time came.

Chambers traveled a much more traditional route than Povetkin. While he had a very good amateur record of 75-5, he never fought in an international tournament or outside of this country. Chambers earned his shot the old fashion way, by grinding out victories in one of the country's toughest fight towns, Philadelphia. He had fought his first nine bouts in the relative obscurity of Pittsburgh, before he father and trainer Eddie Sr., wisely moved the family to the town of Brotherly Love.

Chambers quickly found tough love in Philly, fighting 17 straight times in the legendary Blue Horizon, the former home of such champions as Bernard Hopkins, Meldrick Taylor, Tim Witherspooon and Matthew Saad Muhammad. Chambers' shot at a mandatory title fight took him 30 bouts and seven years.

The subtext in this fight is that it will bring together two men who will be engaging in a sort of class warfare. In his homeland and throughout Europe, Povetkin is regarded as blue-blooded royalty. The only thing blue about Chambers is his everyman's work ethic. Chambers goes out of his way to remind you he is a lunch pail, blue-collar kid from Pittsburgh.

What Povetkin and Chamber do have in common is that each will come to the ring with an excellent set of boxing skills.

The Goossen-Tutor promoted Chambers is a slick fighter graced with hands so quick that his ring moniker of "Fast Eddie" doesn't quite do him justice. He is a tight, compact boxer who fights very economically, wastes few punches, and has a crisp and effective jab. With his high-glove defense -- similar to Winky Wright's -- Chambers makes it hard for punches to penetrate. The downside is that by keeping his gloves up by his face it leaves his body vulnerable, as former young gun Dominick Guinn demonstrated just two fights ago when he repeatedly landed hooks to Chambers' ribs. While the Philadelphia boxer won a unanimous decision over Guinn, he was hard-pressed to do so.

Chambers is also something of an anomaly. Most fighters with excellent hand speed generally have quick feet, but Chambers is largely a stationary fighter, moving reasonably well when he does, which is not often.

Povetkin had changed his style since becoming a pro. As an amateur, he was a typical European fighter, standing straight up, showing few angles or head movement, and preferring to fight in the center of the ring. Since turning pro, however, he has transformed himself into something of a hybrid -- part European, part American, with a dash of Mexican spice thrown in.

The Russian has a decent enough jab, but tends to just paw his opponents face with it, as if measuring the distance between them before he typically lunges forward with a quickness honed as a world champion kickboxer.

Once inside the perimeter, Povetkin fights like a commando who has breached an enemy compound. He will lean forward with his head, push his weight against you and throw short, compact punches with hands almost as quick as Chambers. In some ways, Povetkin fights a lot like Evander Holyfield, relentlessly attacking while keeping his head firmly planted against your face.

On paper Chambers would seem to have the edge in ring experience, with a combined total of 165 rounds in his 30 fights. But Povetkin's long and extensive amateur career, and his exposure to the pressures of the world stage probably negates that.

The key to this fight will probably come down to one thing: who dictates the manner in which it is fought.

Povetkin will look to bully his way inside and keep the fight on the ropes. Although Chambers is a good inside fighter, he is not nearly as effective as the Russian if forced into a phone booth. For Chambers to win, he must keep the fight in the middle of the ring where he can take advantage of his hand speed and strong jab. Unfortunately for Chambers, Povetkin is unlikely to be deterred by taking a few hard shots to the head.

2008 01 26 overview Povetkin Chambers young guns

Part of the Povetkin Legend is that he possesses the proverbial iron chin. Just once has Povetkin been knocked down, that coming as an amateur at the hands of hard-punching, fellow Russian Islam Timurziev . Povetkin got right up and eventually stopped his opponent. As a pro, the only part of Povetkin's body to touch canvas so far has been the soles of his feet.

But this strength of Povetkin's could also be a weakness. Because he feels sure he can take any man's punch, Povetkin is willing to absorb shots to give shots. His confidence in his chin tends to make him lose focus on his defense, which in theory would leave him open to damage from a good counter-puncher like Chambers.

Even without his thick whiskers, however, Povetkin is unlikely to be knocked out by Chambers, who does not pack all that much power. Of Chambers' 30 victories, only 16 have come by way of knockout. Povetkin has demonstrated heavier hands, with 11 knockouts among his 14 wins.

Povetkin has also benefited from a far more experienced trainer in his corner between rounds. Until this fight, Chambers had been trained exclusively by his father, who while having done an excellent job, was an undistinguished amateur boxer without championship experience on any level.

On January 11 Chambers, with the agreement of his father, hired world-class trainer Buddy McGirt, a two-time former welterweight champion, to be part of his team. McGirt will not have had much time to make any changes in the way Chambers fights, but he will be a valuable asset in the corner between rounds, especially if the going gets rough.

The larger question looming over this fight is what chance would either boxer have against Klitschko, the sanctioning body's champion, should the Ukrainian get by Ibragimov in their unification fight on Feb. 23.

Neither Chambers nor Povetkin is a particularly big heavyweight in this era of giants, and that could prove to be a detriment against Klitschko, who stands 6'6" and carries 240-plus pounds into the ring. Povetkin is 6'2" and usually weighs in at a trim 226 pounds or so. Chambers is even smaller, standing 6'1" and fighting at around 213 or 214 pounds. Klitschko would tower over either man, and with his massive 81-inch reach, would be tough to get inside on.

That being said, size can be neutralized, as the slick Chagaev demonstrated when he boxed circles around the seven-foot Valuev while giving up 11 inches in height and nearly a hundred pounds.

Chambers and Povetkin do not move nearly as well as Chagaev, but both are smart, technically sound boxers capable of getting under a long jab and causing damage. In Klitschko's case, this would be particularly important, since the champion's weak chin has been exposed several times.

The guess here is that the rugged Povetkin will be able to walk through Chambers jab and take the fight inside. The fact that the Philadelphia fighter does not have quick feet or fast lateral movement will make it hard for him to get away. Once up close, Povetkin is likely to wear Chambers down and continue his rapid march to the world title fight his royal pedigree has long suggested is his destiny.

The larger question looming over this fight is what chance would either boxer have against Klitschko, the sanctioning body's champion, should the Ukrainian get by Ibragimov in their unification fight on Feb. 23.

Povetkin vs Chambers

HBO BAD - Jan. 26, 2008

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