By Kevin Francis, courtesy of The Daily Star
TONY Bellew’s world title dreams have been put on hold after failing to beat Isaac Chilemba in a final title eliminator.
Bellew knew that victory at the Echo Arena in Liverpool would put him in a position to take on WBC light-heavyweight champion Chad Dawson.
But the 30-year-old Scouser failed to hammer home the advantage he had gained in the early rounds and had to settle for a draw against his rugged opponent from Malawi.
Even Bellew’s usually optimistic promoter Eddie Hearn admitted: “On that performance, maybe he is not ready for a Chad Dawson, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise.
“Maybe he needs to build again, learn more and come back better because I don’t think on that performance he may have been able to deal with Dawson.”
The result is a bitter blow for Bellew whose only defeat came at the hands of Nathan Cleverly in a bid to relieve the Welshman of his WBO title in 2011. Bellew was bitterly disappointed with the draw after one judge scored it 116-112 for Chilemba, another 116-115 for Bellew and the third had it level at 114-114.
He said: “I thought I won nine out of the 12 rounds and even Chilemba’s trainer, Buddy McGirt, one of the most respected men in boxing, told me he thought I won.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Chilemba. He’s a good fighter and a tough man, but I won the fight.”
It was a laboured performance from Bellew in front of 7,000 fans in his native city and he admitted: “I could have done more.
“You listen to your corner and team and there were things I could have done better.
“They told me to go and win the last round and I thought I did.
“I think I did enough to get a decision.
“Now I want a rematch to put this whole thing behind me.”
It was a very close fight with Chilemba rallying in the final five rounds after looking as though he was on the way to defeat.
No wonder promoter Hearn said: “He started well and just fell away.
“I felt Bellew needed to do more when the world title opportunity was on the line.”
There was another draw in the main supporting bout when neither Derry Mathews nor Anthony Crolla were able to claim the vacant Commonwealth lightweight title.
Mathews stopped his rival over six thrilling rounds in April last year to become British champion – but there was no clearcut winner this time around.
The judges marked the bout 115-113 for Mathews, 115-113 Crolla and 114-114, leaving both boxers disappointed at a title opportunity missed.