By Jake Donovan
While the fighting ability of Isaac Chilemba has never been in doubt, his style and lack of a set fan base will always leave the Malawi-born boxer as the B-side of any given major promotion.
Along with that designation comes the risk of not getting the benefit of the doubt in coin flip fights, especially when you are forced to fight on the road. His modest knockout-to-win ratio coupled with his sturdy chin and crafty style often lends the suggestion that a long night is in store, one that will likely come down to the viewpoint of three ringside judges.
The two draw verdicts on Chilemba’s ring ledger of 24-3-2 (10KOs) came in situations where his opponents – South Africa’s Thomas Oosthuizen (Nov. ’10) and England’s Tony Bellew (Mar. ’13) – were the house favorite, as was the case in all three of his losses.
He avenged an early career defeat versus Wilbeforce Shihepo, scoring a points win in his very next start. However, the veteran boxer wasn’t as fortunate in points losses to Bellew in their May ’13 rematch and Eleider Alvarez in his opponent’s adopted homeland of Canada last November.
A sanctioned title eliminator that could have went either way ultimately landed in favor of Alvarez, who is now the mandatory challenger to World light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson – one of many in the division not in a hurry to face unbeaten, unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (29-0-1, 26KOs).
Not only has Chilemba – who turns 29 in May – answered that call, but once again willingly hits the road for his next adventure as they meet July 11 in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The bout will mark his first shot at a title, while Kovalev attempts his 8th defense of at least one light heavyweight belt, but first in his home country, where he hasn't fought since Dec. '11.
Chilemba knows he has a tall order ahead of him, but also believes his past experiences – and letdowns – make him an even greater threat for a man universally regarded as among the top two or three pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
“I have gained a lot experience from a lot of hard-fought fights in hometowns of my opponents,” Chilemba notes, while acknowledging it will take additional tweaks in his style for this particular challenges. “I am working on adjusting my style for Kovalev. I am going to give him hell and not leave it in the judges' hands.
“Everyone expects it to be an easy fight for (Kovalev). I have come short fighting for the WBC title (versus Stevenson) but maybe this is where I was meant to be. I want to thank everyone who helped make this happen. I will put it all out there to make sure I get the decision.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow him on his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2