Tony Bellew headlines this Saturday’s Sky show when he takes on Isaac Chilemba at the Echo Arena, Liverpool.
Chilemba should provide Bellew with his toughest test since his loss to Nathan Cleverly 18 months ago. The Malawian holds good wins over Charles Adamu and Maxim Vlasov as well as a draw against unbeaten Thomas Oosthuizen. The only defeat on his 20-1-1 record was a debatable points decision against Willbeforce Shihepo, a defeat which was avenged four months later.
His fight with Vlasov highlighted both his strengths and vulnerabilities. His defence looked wide open at times and he was repeatedly caught with straight rights, which were the cause of two knockdowns he suffered in the eighth round. On the plus side, he showed tremendous heart to not only survive in that round but to come back with his own punches.
In short, Chilemba’s a ballsy fighter who can be caught and can be hurt but doesn’t mind swinging his way out of trouble. In many ways he’s very similar to Bellew, although Bellew looks the better technically and is the bigger puncher.
Bellew, sometimes mislabelled as an all-out slugger, showed the full extent of his skills in both his defeat to Cleverly and last time out against Roberto Bolonti. He was dominating Bolonti early and seemed likely to force the stoppage until a horrendous cut above his right eye required him to change tactics and box his way to victory.
Whilst Bolonti wasn’t the most dangerous of opponents, Bellew still showed the nous to adapt and the ability to keep his damaged eye out of trouble for the remainder of the bout. It’s somewhat surprising that Bellew is back in the ring four months later given the nature of the cut. It was the type of cut that could cause permanent weakness in that area, hopefully that won’t be the case.
Bellew has height and reach advantages over Chilemba, although Chilemba seems to prefer fighting taller men, most notably against Oosthuizen and against Jameson Bostic, who he stopped in the second round. Whilst Chilemba isn’t a big knockout artist, with just nine of his victories coming inside the distance, he does carry respectable power, especially with the left hook-straight right combination, and we’ve seen previously that Bellew can be dropped.
The fight should be an entertaining one, Bellew can fight cautiously at times but as we’ve seen before, he’ll go for the jugular if he knows he can keep catching an opponent cleanly, which he’ll be able to given Chilemba’s loose defence. Chilemba has shown a solid chin and a big heart before but one feels he’ll find it harder to repeatedly walk through Bellew’s punches than it was to walk through the likes of Vlasov’s.
Chilemba will come to fight and will believe he can test Bellew’s chin - he faces an uphill battle to do so without getting caught with heavier shots in return, though. Bellew may have to overcome one or two problems early on but the fight should come to a premature finish as soon as Bellew starts finding the target with his right hand. It will be good whilst it lasts, Bellew should be too strong though and I can see him winning inside eight rounds.