IT MIGHT not have had the national resonance of Villanova's return to college basketball's Final Four, but this past weekend was a very good one for Philadelphia-area boxing.
On Friday night, in the ESPN2-televised main event at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh-born, Philly-based heavyweight contender
Eddie Chambers (34-1, 18 KOs) scored the most impressive victory of his career when he outquicked former WBC champion Samuel Peter (30-3, 24 KOs) to win a 10-round, majority decision.
"If I had been a little more aggressive, I could have taken him out of there," Chambers said of his conquest of the power-punching Peter, whose only two previous defeats as a pro had come at the hands of the men widely acclaimed as the best heavyweights in the world, the Klitschko brothers, Wladimir (who holds the IBF and WBO titles) and Vitali (the WBC champ).
The next evening, in the Showtime co-feature at the Buffalo Run Casino in Miami, Okla., Harry Joe Yorgey (22-0-1, 10 KOs), the junior middleweight prospect from Bridgeport, went Chambers one better, flooring the previously unbeaten Ronald Hearns (21-1, 17 KOs) three times in winning on a ninth-round knockout. Hearns' father, the legendary Thomas Hearns, was ringside, looking almost as stunned as his woozy kid.
"It didn't bother me at all," Yorgey said of Tommy Hearns' intimidating presence. "I'm a Marvin Hagler fan anyway.
"Ronald Hearns is not his daddy. I punched Ronald from pillar to post. I literally beat him up. I destroyed him."
And if the signature successes of Chambers and Yorgey weren't enough, another Philadelphia-area contender, Paulsboro, N.J., heavyweight Chazz Witherspoon (25-1, 17 KOs), padded his resume with a third-round stoppage of journeyman Travis Fulton (14-23, 14 KOs) in one of the lead-in bouts to Yorgey-Hearns.
It remains to be seen how many benefits can be wrung by Chambers and Yorgey out of their big wins, but you have to figure their stock has risen considerably.
Chambers and his support crew - manager-trainer Rob Murray Sr. and co-promoters Dan Goossen and Rob Murray Jr. - know how costly even one high-visibility misstep can be. In Chambers' only loss, a 12-round unanimous decision to Russia's Alexander Povetkin on Jan. 26, 2008, the onetime club fighter who fought and won 17 times at the Blue Horizon from 2002 to 2006 faded in the later rounds in a bout that, had he won, could have put him in line for a world title shot.
Three subsequent triumphs against second-tier opponents had helped Chambers, who turned 27 on Sunday, climb back to a No. 3 rating from the IBF, but he needed to step way up in class if he was to have any chance of seizing the public's attention. Toward that end, Team Chambers took the calculated risk of accepting short money against the more acclaimed Peter.
"Short money? I'll say. Peter got 10 times [$150,000 to $15,000] what Eddie got," Murray Sr. said. "It was ridiculous. But it was the right time to roll the dice because I thought we had the better horse in the race."
The senior Murray was working in a dual capacity with Chambers for the fourth time, having succeeded Eddie Chambers Sr. as trainer after Eddie Jr.'s loss to Povetkin. The changes Murray has sought to implement are what might be described as old-school Philadelphia fisticuffs.
"I had Eddie wearing only a left glove for 2 months to force him to develop a better jab," Murray said. "That's something I learned from old masters like Sam Solomon, Yank Durham and Quenzell McCall. Philadelphia boxing has been running on fumes, but that great history is still here. It's locked inside my head."
Like Chambers during his Blue Horizon period, Yorgey was regarded as mostly a local attraction as he headlined minor shows in high school gyms. But the former Upper Merion High football star dared to believe he had the stuff to break out of that rut.
"It's nice to be the big fish in a small pond, but you have to be willing to go beyond that," Yorgey said.
Yorgey said his association with promoter Art Pelullo and his new trainer-conditioning coach, Henry Racich, have facilitated his breakthrough to a higher level.
"I became the puncher in the Hearns fight," Yorgey said. "I turned the juice up."
Steve Farhood, who did the color commentary for the ShoBox: The Next Generation telecast, said Yorgey's domination of Ronald Hearns, whom the WBC had rated No. 7 among 154-pounders, should land him a spot in some sanctioning body's world rankings.
"It was a very impressive win, and a huge win because of the last name of the other guy," Farhood said. "It should get Harry Joe another big fight against a ranked opponent, which he probably won't be favored to win. But, hey, he wasn't supposed to beat Ronald Hearns either."
You have to hand it to Don Elbaum. When he latches onto an idea, he runs with it.
Elbaum, the matchmaker for Blue Horizon promoter Vernoca Michael, is billing Friday night's eight-rounder between Dave Brunelli (8-4, 3 KOs) and Ran Nakash (17-0, 13 KOs) as being for the "Israeli-Italian Philadelphia Championship."
Brunelli, from Northeast Philly, is a heavyweight of Italian descent; Nakash is a cruiserweight from Haifa, Israel. The bout has a contract limit of 205 pounds for each fighter.
"It's going to be a fun night," Elbaum said. *