As the Boxing world continues to wait for further unification of the Light-Heavyweight division with a highly anticipated battle between undefeated WBO/IBF/WBA Light-Heavyweight world champion Sergey Kovalev and WBC world champion Adonis Stevenson, Boxing fans continue to see the two best fighters in the division defend their respective world championships against opposition other than each other. Although most would say that a unification fight such as a potential Stevenson-Kovalev showdown should be made when anticipation is at its height, an interesting question that will surround both fighters is whether or not they can maintain their standing in the division as each continues to face other opposition while keeping the would be “Super Fight” for future consideration.
For Kovalev, a fighter who has established himself as one of the sport’s feared knockout artists, the question of whether he could maintain his position atop the Light-Heavyweight division was once again asked as the undefeated champion made the eighth defense of his world championship against WBO number eleven rated Light-Heavyweight contender Isaac Chilemba on Monday night at the DIVS Sports Palace in Ekaterinburg, Russia. What made this fight interesting beyond the question of whether or not Kovalev could continue his dominance as one of three current world champions in the division was whether Chilemba, a significant underdog prior to the fight could provide some resistance against Kovalev, who had knocked out thirteen of his previous fourteen opponents.
An element that also made this fight intriguing was that if Kovalev were victorious, it would in part set up a battle against undefeated former Super-Middleweight world champion Andre Ward in November. A question that is asked whenever a world champion has a lucrative title defense lined up before making a scheduled title defense against an opponent that is in some ways treated as a “Tune up” for the big “Payday” on the horizon is whether or not the champion will underestimate the challenger who that champion must defeat before that lucrative encounter can take place.
Chilemba did have the type of style that could pose problems for a knockout artist like Kovalev. The challenger also had never been stopped in twenty-nine previous professional fights. Going into this fight I wondered whether or not Kovalev, who has been able to make relatively short work of most of his opposition would look to get Chilemba out of there quickly.
It was not surprising to see Kovalev look to impose his will on Chilemba from the outset and apply pressure on the challenger. In previewing this fight, this observer stated that I believed it was crucial for Chilemba to establish his jab early and look to keep Kovalev at distance by using his lateral movement to offset the champion’s pressure. The champion however, was able to take advantage of what appeared to be a small ring and almost immediately pushed Chilemba back and thus was able to limit the challenger’s movement.
Although Kovalev was clearly the effective aggressor throughout much of this fight, Chilemba was able to have periodic moments throughout particularly in landing his jab as well as landing occasional hooks and uppercuts to the body and head of the champion. It also should not be overlooked that Kovalev did have some difficulty in landing some of his power punches due in large part to the challenger’s ability to slip and use upper body movement to make the champion miss.
Kovalev however, was able to get to Chilemba late in the seventh round when he landed a left hook to the body followed by a straight right hand to the head that sent the challenger down to the canvas. Chilemba was able to get up and the fight continued. The challenger to his credit was not affected by the knockdown and continued to have sporadic success in landing offense in the later rounds. Chilemba however, simply could not land something significant to discourage the champion from coming forward in what amounted to a tactical Boxing match that Kovalev would ultimately win by convincing twelve round unanimous decision to retain his unified world championship.
Even though some might be critical of Kovalev’s performance in this fight as he was unable to gain knockout in a bout that he seemingly got the better of his opponent in almost every round, it is important to remember the old adage that styles make fights. Isaac Chilemba is not only a fighter who had never been stopped before his challenge of Kovalev, but he is also a fighter who has a style that is very difficult to look good against. This fight can best be described as Kovalev simply doing what he had to do and retaining his championship and position atop the Light-Heavyweight decision. Although this was not a victory that came in devastating fashion as most of Kovalev’s fights have, it was still decisive and the champion still got the job done.
Sergey Kovalev has now done his part to set up what would likely be one of the most anticipated fights of the year against Andre Ward in November. It will now be up to Ward to do his part as Ward will face Alexander Brand on August 6th in Oakland, CA. If Ward is successful and an eventual clash with Kovalev does take place in November, one can only hope that the winner of that fight will then face whomever the WBC world champion might be sometime in 2017 to further unify the Light-Heavyweight division. Whether or not Adonis Stevenson, who has a title defense later this month against Thomas Williams Jr. and assuming he retains his championship in that fight than has a mandatory defense against current WBC number one contender Eleider Alvarez at some point in the near future, will still be WBC world champion by the time a winner emerges from a potential Kovalev-Ward fight remains to be seen.
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