PHILADELPHIA -- Like many people, Eddie Chambers was stunned by what he read about the terrorizing of a 13-year-old boy by seven bullies, all of whom were older and larger than their victim.
But for Chambers, the Philadelphia-based heavyweight contender, the description of what had happened to Nadin Khoury wasn't just something to tsk-tsk. It stirred unpleasant memories of his own past, when he was a seventh-grader in his native Pittsburgh who came to dread attending school.
"I had to deal with something like that, although the abuse was more verbal," said Chambers (35-2, 18 KOs), who takes on Derric Rossy (25-2, 14 KOs) in an IBF elimination bout Friday night in the Adrian Phillips Ballroom of Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall. "There was bullying going on because I was poor and didn't have some of the things other kids had, like nice clothes and the 'right' kind of sneakers.
"Kids can be cruel at that age."
If his own childhood torments weren't enough to convince Chambers of that, what was happening to his eight-year-old brother, Isaac, surely did. Chambers brought Isaac to live with him last summer after a group of older boys in Greensburg, Pa., intimidated and negatively influenced him on a daily basis.
"He was hanging out with kids 16, 17 years of age," Chambers said. "They had him doing the dirty little things they wouldn't do themselves, and Isaac would be the one to get in trouble.
"They hit him. One time they threw him down a laundry chute. I wanted to get him away from that."
Although it might not have been a direct result of his own experience, Chambers, 28, shortly thereafter took up boxing as a means to boost his self-esteem and to make himself less of a target for the taunters. He said some quality time in the gym could work similar wonders for Nadin, which is why the man known as "Fast Eddie" has offered to personally instruct him at the James Shuler Gym in West Philadelphia.
It is one of two such invitations being extended. The other was made by Margaret Hand Cicalese, vice president of Joe Hand Promotions and the Joe Hand Boxing Gym.
"I'm not advocating (Khoury) learn how to box so he can come back later and beat the bullies up," Chambers stressed. "It's more about him gaining some self-confidence and learning how to protect himself. No one wants to go to school and be afraid of somebody jumping on you. Bullies prey on the weak. They're not so quick to pick on somebody who knows how to handle himself."
Nadin's mother, Rebecca Wright, indicated she was receptive to her son taking up Chambers or Cicalese on their offers.
"Yes, he would be interested," she said. "That would be a cool thing."
Also cool would be a second victory for Chambers over Rossy, whom he stopped in seven rounds on Feb. 9, 2007. A repeat would make Chambers the IBF's mandatory challenger to the heavyweight division's ultimate bully, IBF/WBO champion Wladimir Klitschko (55-3, 39 KOs).
Chambers already has shared the ring with Klitschko. He was on his way to losing a unanimous decision on March 20 of last year in Dusseldorf, Germany, when the Ukrainian giant nailed him with a crushing left hook late in the 12th and final round. Referee Genaro Rodriguez reached the count of 10 just five seconds before the fight would have gone to the scorecards. It is the only time Chambers has lost inside the distance.
"I wanted to go all 12 rounds with him," said Chambers, who, at 6-1 and 209 1/2 pounds that night, was giving away 5 1/2 inches in height and 35 1/4 pounds. "I wanted to (ital) beat (end ital) him. And I think I can, if I can get another shot at the guy. I feel like I can beat anybody."
IBF cruiserweight champ Steve "USS" Cunningham (23-2, 12 KOs), the Navy veteran from Southwest Philly, admits to being displeased when his scheduled Jan. 22 defense against Serbia's Enad Licina (19-2, 10 KOs) in Mulheim, Germany, was pushed back to this Saturday night after IBF welterweight champion Sebastian Sylvester, who was to defend his title against Mehdi Bouadia on the same card, developed a viral infection.
"We got the news six days before the fight," Cunningham said. "Physically, emotionally and mentally, I was ready to fight then. But my trainer (Brother Naazim Richardson) and I have been in boxing a long time, so we knew how to tone it down and bring it back up again over those 3 1/2 additional weeks. I actually feel I'm a little sharper now than I was before the postponement."
But a disruption in his training schedule is almost a minor inconvenience for Cunningham, who has more consequential matters on his mind these days. His manager-wife, Livvy, gave birth to the couple's third child, son Cruz, on Dec. 14, and his daughter Kennedy, 5, was recently hospitalized with breathing difficulties.
"Kennedy literally was born with half a heart," Cunningham said. "She has what's known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (which occurs when parts of the left side of the heart do not develop completely). She spent the first year of her life in the hospital. She's undergone two surgeries, with one more to go."
The Cunninghams have learned to juggle their professional and familial responsibilities because, well, what other choice do they have? Baby Cruz has made his second trans-Atlantic trip to Germany because Livvy is nursing him, and she and Steve have restructured their lives to accommodate Kennedy's condition. (The oldest Cunningham child is Steve Jr., 8.)
"Children are a blessing," Cunningham said. "Kennedy was born two days after my fight with Kelvin Davis. I have a job to do as a fighter and as a father. I think it's possible to do both well."