Heavyweights Eddie Chambers and Samuel Peter have a shared experience -- one that they experienced separately.
Each man, at the pinnacle of his career, went to Berlin in 2008 and lost a career-defining fight to a European fighter in a terribly disappointing performance. Both Peter and Chambers were diminished in the eyes of the boxing community and forced to take humbling steps back on their paths to glory.
On Friday, their separate comeback roads converge when they face each other in Los Angeles (ESPN2, 9 ET).
It's a classic crossroads battle. Both Chambers, 26, and Peter, 28, are young, with time to overcome past mistakes in a forgiving heavyweight division. A win can erase the ghosts of Berlin altogether -- for one of them, if he shows he has the determination to win a must-win fight.
As for the loser?
"If you don't work, then you're gonna be like some of these journeyman guys," says Chambers. "And I don't want to be that."
For Chambers, it all seemed to be going so well. He'd built an undefeated record fighting almost exclusively on his home turf in Philadelphia and signed with promoter Dan Goossen, who got him into a heavyweight tournament, the winner supposedly becoming a mandatory challenger to world titleholder Wladimir Klitschko.
Chambers pounded veteran Calvin Brock to move to 30-0 and to the tournament finale in January 2008 against undefeated Russian prospect Alexander Povetkin. Their fight in Berlin was Chambers' biggest payday -- a main event on HBO before a worldwide audience. And for the first half of it, Chambers dominated with his speed and composure. He counterpunched crisply, making Povetkin eat shots to the face when he came forward.
Chambers' signature trait is how relaxed he is in the ring. He'll stand almost freeze-frame, waiting to land a countering jab or combination. But midway through the Povetkin fight he just seemed to freeze. Nobody knew why. His father, Eddie Chambers Sr., who has been training Eddie Jr. since he was a teenager, spent the second half of the fight screaming at his son in an effort to revive his spirits. So did Buddy McGirt, who'd been brought in specifically for the Povetkin fight.
As Chambers evaporated, the rugged Povetkin surged to a decision victory.
"He [Chambers] had a dead man in front of him," McGirt said afterward, outside Chambers' dressing room, frustrated that his fighter let Povetkin come back to life. Inside, his handlers wondered if it was something inside Chambers' head. Chambers himself blamed the meltdown on nerves and on the magnitude of the moment.
"I don't believe it was conditioning," Chambers said last week from L.A., where he's been training at Joe Goossen's gym. "It turned out to be more mental. The fight gets tough; you're supposed to get tough with it. I didn't get tough enough to throw the punches that were necessary for me to win the fight."
How do you work on that in the gym?
"There's not much you can do but just remember [what you did wrong]," he said. "You remember it and know what bad it brought you."
Chambers was forced to get back in line after his first loss. He became the second-fiddle heavyweight prospect in the Goossen camp, where the golden child is Chris Arreola. Chambers fought three untelevised bouts against lesser opponents, one of them at Blue Horizon in Philadelphia -- that's the equivalent of a rock band that made it big coming back to play a gig at a hometown club.
Considering everything, Chambers says, getting a shot against Peter 14 months after the loss isn't so bad.
"To get a guy [Peter] who is one fight removed from having the title is a big, big step," said Chambers, 33-1 (18 KOs). "Boxing is tough business. I can't expect people to give things to me. I just fight myself back into position."
Peter (30-2, 23 KOs) indeed is one fight removed from having a title belt. He won the title in March in an unimpressive stoppage of Oleg Maskaev and lost it in his first defense in October. More than one observer called Peter's performance against Vitali Klitschko in Berlin "pathetic." The relentless knockout artist that Peter had been years earlier seemed to be sleepwalking. Klitschko hammered Peter from the opening bell until Peter quit on his stool before Round 10.
"I know that wasn't the real Sam Peter that night against Klitschko. Something wasn't right," said Dino Duva, who has promoted Peter since he turned pro. "He disappointed a lot of his fans, he disappointed the boxing public, he disappointed the TV people. The unfortunate reality of the business is he does have to re-establish himself."
For Peter, who has reached a higher peak on the mountain, Chambers is the first step of his climb back up. So they'll tussle for modest purses, and redemption, on basic cable.
"[Peter] has to win, and he has to look impressive," Duva said.
Chambers knows Peter will be coming with everything -- and he's prepared appropriately.
"I've got a guy who's gonna be there in front of me to be hit," Chambers said. "But he's also gonna be throwing punches. So I've gotta be prepared to throw more, move more, do more than I've ever done."
He's been watching tapes of Peter's disappointing nights against the Klitschkos, Maskaev, Jameel McCline and James Toney, but Chambers doesn't want to be lulled by Peter's recent lackluster showings. He's also watching tape of Peter's vintage KOs.
"I'm looking at his fights when he was really good, when he put guys on the defensive and kept them there, when he knocked guys out," Chambers said. "I want to see it all. Because you never know what you're gonna get in this fight."
Don Steinberg, a winner of the Boxing Writers Association of America's award for best column in 2005, covers boxing for The Philadelphia Inquirer.