Kovalev Gets Past Chilemba in Homecoming, Sets Sights on Andre Ward
The interim title defense was a homecoming of sorts for the IBf/WBO/WBA Light Heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs) as he worked over the tough and very durable Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10 KOs) in front a hometown crowd at the DIVS Palace of Sports in Yekaterinburg, which is a three hour drive north from Kovalev’s hometown of Chelyabinsk.
Kovalev won a wide 12-round unanimous decision over the Malawi-born Chilemba who now fights out of South Africa. The official scores were 117-110, 116-111 and 118-109.
Chilemba came in to the bout as a heavy underdog following his majority decision loss to Eleider Alvarez last November and since Kovalev treated the bout as a tune up for what will be the biggest night of his fighting life later this fall in Las Vegas if the presumed showdown with Andre Ward goes off without a hitch.
Ward has his own tune up bout coming up next month in his hometown of Oakland versus the lesser known Alexander Brand of Colombia.
Kovalev has been in this position before as he had to take on Blake Caparello in August of 2014 just one day after signing a contract to face Bernard Hopkins that fall.
Kovalev got up from an off-balanced knockdown to pulverize Caparello in two rounds and then went on to dominate Hopkins in the biggest win of his career to date.
Kovalev said before this bout that he was not expecting a walk in the park and after getting his head snapped back repeatedly by the 29-year-old Chilemba, the “Krusher” had to use more of his arsenal besides just the power shots to defeat the game Chilemba.
The 33-year-old Russian has a mean streak and it took deep into the seventh round for Kovalev’s power to finally ring through when a big right hand came over the top and landed cleanly on Chilemba, sending him scrambling and down to the canvas.
No one would have remained standing after that shot. Chilemba managed to recover and Kovalev did not have enough time left in the round to follow up with anything quite as meaningful.
Chilemba appeared calm between rounds and tried to assert his will in the eighth round, but Kovalev perhaps sensing Chilemba was tiring landed a left flush on the chin hurting him, but the suborn challenger didn’t go down this time.
Kovalev landed a perfectly placed left jab to the body which set up a three-punch combination that had Chilemba wobbled. Once again there just wasn’t enough time left in the round for Kovalev to follow up and muster any sort of flurry.
The ones he so menacingly displayed when wiping away Nadjib Mohammedi and Jean Pascal twice.
Kovalev was the aggressor early in the bout pushing Chilemba back and landing big power shots. Chilemba managed to establish his jab and earned Kovalev’s respect early on.
In the second round Chilemba’s jab tried to neutralize Kovalev’s power and found some success tho Kovalev landed the harder shots and walked the Malawai fighter back. Kovalev seemed more committed more to his punches than Chilemba was and the harder shots was the difference. Chilemba became content with being the awkward counter-puncher.
Kovalev stalked Chilemba in the third round and landed some effective body punches which made Chilemba take notice. Chilemba landed a hard right hand of his own seeming angering Kovalev who tried to lure Chilemba to trade with him which Chilemba wisely didn’t do.
Chilemba found a home for the straight jab in round four continued snapping Kovalev’s head back and swelling up his face. Kovalev was unable to string together any combinations and was caught each time as he tried to come forward. Chilemba’s confidence continued to grow as he disrupted Kovalev’s timing. Chilemba landed 15 of his 37 jabs which kept him in the fight.
Kovalev charged out of his corner to start Round 5 looking to land something big, but Chilemba withstood the power swings, made Kovalev miss and countered with his jab again.
Kovalev’s body work edged the round in his favor and he kept pressing the action. Kovalev’s left hand started to beat Chilemba to the punch in the sixth round and just as he was getting comfortable Kovalev ate a hard left hand by Chilemba. Kovalev walked through it and asserted his will keeping Chilemba backing up on his heels.
Kovalev found success with body shots in the seventh round which set up the massive right hand that scored the knockdown. Kovalev landed a left to liver which took all the wind out of Chilemba as he backed up and dropped his guard against the ropes. Kovalev lunged with his big right hand that badly hurt Chilemba.
Kovalev started to tire in the eighth, but still hunting for the knockdown was able to feint a jab then land two hard jabs which Chilemba could not defend against. Chilemba staggered around and tried to hold on to break up the barrage of punches. There just wasn’t enough time in the round for Kovalev to take another shot to get Chilemba out of the fight.
Fatigue started to set in during the ninth and 10th rounds for both men and Kovalev seemed resigned to continue backing Chilemba up, but to also not get caught with anything in return. Blood started to come from Chilemba’s nose as the accumulation of power shots were starting to take their toll.
Although he didn’t become the first fighter to ever knock Chilemba out, Kovalev did become the first Russian to defeat him.
Chilemba defeated the previous three Russian fighters he’s faced including Vasily Lepikhin who simply refused to throw any punches when they fought on the undercard of Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal I in Montreal last year.
Now looming for Kovalev is the fight he has longed for, a star-making pay-per-view attraction in Las Vegas against Ward, who is still regarded one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport today.
Even with his inactivity, Ward still commands large pay days and is a spokesman for Nike’s Jordan Brand alongside Gennady Golovkin and Roy Jones Jr.
A win over Ward will finally help Kovalev breakthrough as a superstar and earn the riches he so greatly desires.
Slideshow photos by Alexandr Safonov/Championat.com