Tony Thompson and Eddie Chambers, the top American heavyweight contenders, will put their close friendship aside and fight each other with a rematch against champion Wladimir Klitschko at stake.
Thompson and Chambers, who both fight for promoter Dan Goossen and have signed contracts for the fight, will meet Oct. 28 in a title eliminator at Bally's in Atlantic City, N.J. That is the night before Goossen is co-promoting the much-anticipated Super Six World Boxing Classic final between super middleweight titleholders Andre Ward and Carl Froch down the block at Boardwalk Hall, making it a big boxing weekend on the boardwalk.
"It's tough, but there is an opportunity for both of us to realize a dream," Thompson said of fighting his friend. "I'm happy for both us to get this opportunity, but I have to go in there and take care of business. I consider us more than friends -- I consider myself like a mentor to him. But I told my own brother I'd kick his ass if had to to get back to a Klitschko fight, and my brother knew I was dead serious."
Thompson and Chambers have sparred regularly with each other while preparing each other for fights and have been friends for years.
"But sometimes in this business you got to fight your friends," Chambers said. "I'm just looking forward to the fight and getting it done. We're two of the top heavyweights in the division and we've helped each other get there. I've helped him and he's helped me get ready for fights several different times. He's the kind of person that if I had kids, I'd have my kids play with his kids, but we know this is business. Boxing is not a team sport, but if it was a team sport, we would be on the same team."
Goossen said he has Oct. 28 from Showtime for a "ShoBox: The New Generation" card that likely will include prospects Shawn Estrada, a super middleweight, and welterweight Javier Molina, both 2008 U.S. Olympians, in separate televised bouts. However, Goossen hopes to convince Showtime to make it a tripleheader and also televise the meaningful heavyweight bout.
As a mandatory challenger, Thompson (36-2, 24 KOs), who turns 40 on Oct. 18, challenged Klitschko in July 2008 and was stopped in the 11th round of their fight in Germany. Klitschko has made 10 title defenses in his current reign and Thompson, of Silver Spring, Md., has given him the most competitive bout, despite entering the bout with an injured right knee that required surgery after the fight. Thompson, whose only other defeat came via four-round decision in his fifth professional bout in 2000, has won five fights in a row -- all by knockout -- in dominant fashion since the loss to Klitschko.
Philadelphia's Chambers (36-2, 18 KOs), 29, also had a mandatory shot against Klitschko in March 2010. Klitschko thoroughly dominated the much-smaller Chambers before knocking him out cold with one punch with five seconds left in the 12th and final round in Germany. Chambers, whose only other loss came via decision to 2004 Olympic gold medalist Alexander Povetkin, rebounded in February with a unanimous decision victory against Derric Rossy in a rematch of Chambers' 2007 seventh-round knockout victory.
"Both fighters have had that taste of a championship challenge and both of them withstood many rounds with Wladimir. To me the question about their fight is who has learned more from their loss," Goossen said. "Both of them have come back from their loss. Eddie beat Rossy and looked good and Tony has been kept fairly busy and has been winning against pretty good opponents and getting knockouts. I hate to have our guys fighting each other and only one advancing, but that is what you do as a promoter -- you give both of the guys an opportunity. I think it will be an interesting fight."
They both said their friendship and respect for each other will not hold them back from fighting hard.
"I definitely gotta go in there and stop this guy. I'm going in there to knock your head off your shoulders and separate you from your senses long enough for the referee to raise my hand," said Thompson, who is close to Klitschko's size at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds.
"We're both fighting for our professional lives," said Chambers, who is 6-1 and 210 pounds. "This could be his last go-round, his last hurrah. He's still performing well, but at the age of 40, you can get old overnight in this game. Yes, we have respect for each other, but that is even more reason to go out there and give 100 percent. We got two people on a collision course who have everything to lose, and there's a lot to gain as well with a win. With a win it catapults us to a title shot again. That's what we are both shooting for."
Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.