Isaac Chilemba and Tony Bellew will do battle on Saturday, March 30 at Echo Arena in Liverpool, England. This bout is crucial to the futures of both light heavyweight contenders. The winner will be penciled in for a shot at Chad Dawson, the recognized light heavyweight champion of the world.
Chilemba (20-1-1, 9 KOs) is rated seventh in the light heavyweight division by The Ring and ninth according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings while Bellew (19-1, 12 KOs) is tenth according to both sources. Yet, the "Golden Boy" is considered an underdog, perhaps, because the bout is taking place in Bellew's backyard.
Chilemba is an intelligent and multifaceted boxer who has exhibited a ton of heart. No fight proves his courage more than when Isaac picked himself off the canvas twice against Maxim Vlasov on February 25, 2011 to earn a unanimous decision victory.
Born to Christian parents, Isaac grew up with his nine siblings impoverished in Malawi. According to an interview with ESPN's Brian Campbell, Chilemba raised his siblings when his mother was away looking for work. When his mother died, 16-year old Isaac took responsibility for his younger siblings.
The desire to help his family influenced his decision to enter into professional boxing at the age of 18. Chilemba has since been drawn to Judaism through his manager, Jodi Solomon. Isaac is a member of the Lemba people, who, DNA evidence suggests, have Jewish roots. For the fight against Bellew, Chilemba trained in a New Jersey Jewish Community Center.
Chilemba, who will have Buddy McGirt as his trainer for the second time, has thus far fought the slightly stiffer competition. In addition to Vlasov, he defeated Edison Miranda and drew with Thomas Oosthuizen. Including Vlasov, Chilemba is 4-0-1 against undefeated fighters with at least ten wins.
Bellew also defeated Miranda and lost.a majority decision to beltholder Nathan Cleverly, the only undefeated man with at least ten wins the "Bomber" has faced. He defeated an Argentine club fighter with a gaudy record, Roberto Bolonti, last November. Otherwise, Bellew has stuck to British opposition.
Bellew, who throws straight hard jabs and has no hesitation about attacking his opponent's body, is quite capable of adapting within a fight. One negative is his propensity to get knocked down, which is primarily caused by his poor defense. Jevgenijs Andrejevs, Bob Ajisafe, and Ovill Mackenzie have all put him down. If you've never heard of any of the three, you are not alone. What's worse, none of them have achieved even 50% of their wins by way of knockout. Bellew also suffered a horrendous cut on his nose in his last fight, which took place only four months ago.
To Bellew's credit, he came back to win all of those fights. When hurt, Bellew has the unusual desire to lower his defense and want to trade with his opponent rather than cover up and hide. That urge is a testament to his fortitude rather than his intelligence. But don't be fooled, he is also a smart fighter. In his step up against Cleverly, Bellew was on the receiving end of a number of hard overhand rights to the face in the first round. By using his jab from that point onward, Bellew was able to keep Cleverly off balance and avoid eating any more flashy rights.
Bellew's path to victory will likely come on the end of a busy jab. He's an inch and a half taller and has a longer reach than Chilemba. But Chilemba has a five year age advantage. The 25-year old has shown better stamina in his fights. He'll need to keep his hands, particular his own jab, moving towards the target throughout the bout to overcome Bellew's steady work rate and crowd support. If they both dispense with their jabs and begin to trade, Bellew has more power, but Chilemba will likely have the faster hands.
Dave Oakes of Bad Left Hook sees Bellew exiting the ring victorious. He envisions the Liverpool-native landing powerful right hands and possibly stopping Chilemba inside of eight rounds. Oakes curiously describes Chilemba as someone who swings when hurt and has poor defense (a rather apt description of Bellew, actually). This analysis is based on his fight with Vlasov and doesn't take into account more recent contests.
British pundit Wingy believes Chilemba will win by decision after frustrating Bellew with his awkwardness. He notes that Bellew can land one big knockout blow, but Wingy isn't willing to risk his prediction on that possibility.
The fight is scheduled for twelve rounds. It will air on WealthTV in the United States and SkySports in England.