When Billy Conn (aka The Pittsburgh kid) fought Joe Louis for the world heavyweight title in June 1941, Conn was celebrated in his hometown as a folk hero for going almost 13 rounds before being KO’d by the champion.
Nearly 70 years later, almost no one noticed when another Pittsburgh-born boxer fought for the heavyweight belt and almost went the distance.
Not to confuse Eddie Chambers with Billy Conn, although both were in David v. Goliath battles before crowds of 50,000-plus.
Where Louis outweighed Conn by 25 pounds, Wladimir Klitschko had a 35-pound edge on Chambers. The difference? Conn was leading on the scorecards when he was knocked out by Louis in the 13th, while Chambers had lost every round before Klitschko KO’d him late in the 12th.
The point is, there was a time when a Pittsburgher fighting for the world heavyweight title captivated the city. Now, it was essentially ignored because Chambers trains and fights out of Philadelphia.
“It’s kind of sad. There should have been more write-ups about it,” said Jimmy Cvetic of Iron City Pro Boxing. “It’s remarkable that he fought for the world title and almost went the distance. He’s a great, great kid. He was a Golden Gloves champion. His dad took him to Philadelphia because he felt he’d get a better chance, which was the correct decision. The general public does not know. That went unnoticed, and it’s a shame. I understand how it is out-of-sight, out-of-mind but he’s not out of our minds.”
Speaking of Eddie Chambers Sr., he stopped working as his son’s trainer following a loss to Alexander Povetkin in January 2008. (Rob Murray Sr. took over Chambers’ corner). The elder Chambers now works at Buddy McGirt’s gym in Florida, building his own stable of fighters.
“There was understanding at both ends of the table,” Chambers said. “You see how fathers and relationships are. You’re used to him being your dad, used to him being in every decision in your life. It’s really, really hard. When you’re an adult, you want to make your own decision. There was never an idea that we came up with, always something that was told to me. That was difficult, being a man and the pride. It got to be so hard.
“It comes with those relationships in sports. There’s no outlet. It’s not something you can get away from. If it’s not your dad, you can get away from it. It was a constant pounding on my head. It gets to be a strenuous situation. Now, the relationship is that much better because of that. We don’t see each other at the gym every day, not living that tough, hard life. … This is the best thing for us. Boxing is too hard for us to have a relationship. Father and son will have a better relationship if you leave it out of boxing.”
Chambers is hoping for another title shot someday, and believes he learned a valuable lesson by fighting Klitschko. Chambers doesn’t blame the loss on the size differential but rather the mental edge a champion has and how he carries himself in and out of the ring.
“I’m always undersized, but also a guy with top-level skills, strength, heart and motivation,” Chambers said. “That’s not something these other guys have. They’re used to winning. You have to be ready. I was, but I didn’t have all the bases covered like he did. You could see his dressing room, his team, his ring walk – so determined to be what he is. He dominated because of his team, his focus and his professionalism. He’s skilled and he’s strong – and they’re reasons – but it’s his professionalism.”
• I’d like to recommend fight fans to visit a new Pittsburgh-centric boxing Web site. It’s run by a guy I’m not afraid to say knows a lot more about boxing than me: my brother, Brian Gorman.