In January of this year undefeated unified WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev continued his domination of the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight division by stopping the very “Game” former WBC Light-Heavyweight world champion Jean Pascal in the second of their two encounters. Following what was Kovalev’s seventh successful defense of his world title, this observer once again made an impassioned plea for one of the biggest fights that could be made in the sport and clearly the biggest fight that could be made in the Light-Heavyweight division currently to become a reality. A battle between Kovalev and current WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson, the two top fighters in the division that would further unify the World Light-Heavyweight championship.
Despite the near confrontation that took place shortly after Kovalev’s second knockout victory over Pascal when Stevenson attempted to get at Kovalev after the undefeated “Knockout Artist” stated during a post-fight interview that he wanted to continue to unify the Light-Heavyweight division saying quote “I would like to fight Adonis Chickenson”, a battle between Kovalev and Stevenson is no closer to becoming a reality. The two world champions however, will do battle in separate title defenses during the month of July.
The first of those two world championship fights will take place on Monday, July 11th as Kovalev attempts to defend his unified world title for the eighth time when he takes on current WBO number eleven rated Light-Heavyweight contender Isaac Chilemba at the DIVS Sports Palace in Ekaterinburg, Russia. For the challenger Chilemba, this will be his first opportunity at a world championship in a twenty-nine fight professional career.
The question that will be asked of Isaac Chilemba is the same as virtually every previous Sergey Kovalev opponent. Will he be able to withstand the consistent pressure and punching power of the champion? It is important to remember that only the legendary Bernard Hopkins has been able to extend Kovalev to a twelve round distance in his career. The champion will enter this fight having knocked out his previous three opponents following the dominant decision win over Hopkins in November 2014. Kovalev also enter having knocked out thirteen of his previous fourteen opponents registering a career knockout percentage of 87%.
It is logical to assume that most would consider Chilemba a significant underdog as this fight approaches. After all, with the exception of Bernard Hopkins, Kovalev has carved out a path of destruction through the Light-Heavyweight division much in a similar fashion as undefeated unified Middleweight world champion Gennady Golovkin has done in the 160lb. Middleweight division.
Chilemba however, has lost only three of his twenty-nine professional fights and has never been stopped in his career. Although this will be an elective title defense for Kovalev, Chilemba is not a fighter that should be overlooked even though he is coming off of a decision loss in his last fight to top contender Eleider Alvarez in November of last year. It is also important to remember that the sport of Boxing is one of opportunity and for a fighter who is ranked just outside of the top ten and one who is potentially overlooked by some Boxing fans, this fight represents Chilemba’s opportunity to catapult himself to the top of the Light-Heavyweight division.
Chilemba is a fighter that has solid hand speed and lateral movement. In thinking of how Chilemba could have success in this fight, I believe that it is crucial that the challenger establish his jab from the outset and look to keep Kovalev at distance by using his lateral movement to offset the champion’s pressure. This is of course, easier said than done against a fighter who can knock an opponent out at any moment in a fight such as Kovalev has demonstrated throughout his career.
The challenger does have a two inch height advantage as well as a slight reach advantage over the champion and in this observer’s eyes in order for Isaac Chilemba to win this fight he will have to outbox Kovalev from start to finish. If the champion is able to dictate the pace, apply pressure, and land his offense, this fight could end in a similar manner as most of Kovalev’s previous bouts. It will be up to Chilemba to provide resistance and look to neutralize Kovalev’s power and nullify the champion’s pressure. A task that thus far has proven to be easier said than done as Kovalev has knocked out twenty-six of his thirty career opponents.
In studying some footage of Chilemba’s previous fights, I paid particular attention to Chilemba’s bout against Denis Grachev in March 2014. What particularly impressed me about Chilemba’s performance in a fight where he earned a ten round unanimous decision was how he was able to control the tempo of the combat by throwing a consistent jab to set up his offense as well as using lateral movement to keep Grachev from being able to be effective and was able to tie him up and prevented him from having success on the inside whenever Grachev was able to get close.
Grachev is known for having a brawling style and it interests me to see whether or not Chilemba will look to adapt a similar strategy in this fight against Kovalev. The key difference between Grachev and Kovalev however, beyond Kovalev being at a higher level of the Light-Heavyweight division is that Kovalev does have good lateral movement in his own right and could be able to be more effective against Chilemba in being able to neutralize the challenger’s jab and apply the pressure needed to cut the ring off and nullify Chilemba’s movement. If Chilemba is able find success in this fight, the question this observer has is whether he will be able to outbox and avoid Kovalev’s power for twelve rounds.
Although many are still waiting for a potential fight between Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson to finally be signed, if Kovalev is successful against Isaac Chilemba, his next opponent will not be Adonis Stevenson. Kovalev already has a title defense scheduled against undefeated former Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward on November 19th in Las Vegas, NV providing both he is successful against Chilemba and Ward is successful in his upcoming fight against Alexander Brand on August 6th.
This effectively puts the possibility of further unification of the Light-Heavyweight division out of the question in terms of the near future regardless of what happens in Stevenson’s next title defense against Thomas Williams Jr. on July 29th. It will nevertheless be interesting to see how these three upcoming fights shape out and whether or not any of the opponents can pull off what some would consider an upset. Isaac Chilemba has his opportunity to defy the odds on Monday night.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
Kovalev vs. Chilemba takes place Monday, July 11th at the DIVS Sports Palace in Ekaterinburg, Russia. The fight will be televised in the United States on same-day delay by HBO Sports at 10:15PM ET/PT. Check your cable or satellite provider for time and channel in your area. In the United Kingdom and Ireland the fight will be broadcast by BoxNation at 5:30PM. (Local UK Time.) For more information please visit www.HBO.com/Boxing and www.BoxNation.com.
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