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Sergey Kovalev vs Isaac Chilemba: Preview and breakdown

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Sergey Kovalev takes on Isaac Chilemba in a rare Monday fight from Russia.

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

This Monday from Ekaterinburg, Russia, Sergey Kovalev returns home to defend the WBA, IBF, and WBO light heavyweight titles against Isaac Chilemba. HBO will have a tape delay showing of the fight at 10:15 p.m. ET. BLH will have live coverage on Monday afternoon (U.S. time).

Here’s a look at the matchup.

Sergey Kovalev vs Isaac Chilemba

Sergey Kovalev

Sergey Kovalev v Jean Pascal II Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Record: 29-0-1 (26 KO) ... Streak: W13 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’0" / 72½" ... Age: 33

Thoughts: Sergey Kovalev is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world; I’d argue that in a lot of ways, he’s even slightly underrated, if anything. He is exciting, he’s a puncher, he gets knockouts, but beyond that he’s also a very skilled, very effective boxer.

Kovalev burst onto the scene in late 2012/early 2013, and has been one of my personal favorite fighters to watch since then. When he trounced former titleholder Gabriel Campillo in three rounds in January 2013, I sat up and took notice, but also tried to remind myself that Campillo has always been a notorious slow starter. But Kovalev just kept battering guys; Cornelius White went down in three rounds in June 2013, and then Kovalev won his first world title by demolishing Nathan Cleverly in four rounds that August.

His run as world champion has, to be fair, been a mixed bag. Wins over Ismayl Sillakh (KO-2), Cedric Agnew (KO-7), and Blake Caparello (TKO-2) demonstrated his dominance, but left much to be desired in terms of the competition. When he was matched with the ageless Bernard Hopkins in November 2014, there were some people who thought that the old ring genius might expose Kovalev a bit.

That didn’t happen. Kovalev picked Hopkins apart, physically overwhelmed him, and shut him out over 12 rounds. Hopkins’ reaction to the fight was that of a great fighter who had been beaten by a better fighter (at that point in time, anyway), and if nothing else can do it, the way that Hopkins assessed Kovalev’s supreme quality after the fight confirmed that he is one of the best in the game today.

Since beating Hopkins, Kovalev has stopped Jean Pascal (TKO-8), Nadjib Mohammedi (KO-3), and Pascal again (RTD-7). Hopkins, in fact, is the only fighter since 2010 to go the distance with Kovalev, and the only fighter in Kovalev’s entire career to go past the eighth round.

The appeal of this fight is not this fight, it’s that we’re setting up and getting ready for the big November fight with Andre Ward. Kovalev isn’t one to take opponents lightly, as he’s repeatedly proven, so I expect domination again. And this is also Kovalev’s first fight in Russia in nearly five years, so it’s a special occasion for him, too. He’ll want to impress.

Isaac Chilemba

Carl Froch v Mikkel Kessler Super-Middleweight Unification Fight Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Record: 24-3-2 (10 KO) ... Streak: L1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 7-2-1 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’2" / 73" ... Age: 29

Thoughts: Isaac Chilemba is a good fighter. Born in Malawi and fighting out of South Africa, the 29-year-old technician has been tested and proven tough repeatedly. And I’d still have him back end of the top 10 at 175 pounds.

But he’s out of his league with Kovalev, more likely than not. Chilemba is a solid fighter, intelligent, more than knows his way around the ring, and can give a lot of good fighters a very tough night. He’s had draws with Thomas Oosthuizen and Tony Bellew, and close losses to Bellew and Eleider Alvarez. Last year, he exposed prospect Vasily Lepikhin badly in Montreal, shutting him out over 10 rounds.

As good as Chilemba is, though, there’s nothing to what he does that should be a problem for Kovalev, who is not only a big puncher, but a very good boxer, to boot. As a tune-up for the big fight with Andre Ward later this year, Sergey Kovalev and Main Events made a good choice. Chilemba is crafty, an experienced pro, and has never been stopped.

Matchup Grade: C-. You could go lower, but I’m grading on the curve of this being exactly what it is, a tune-up fight, advertised as such, and meant to set the table for a big showdown in November. This is the exact same grade I’ll give Ward-Brand in a few weeks. Neither fight is likely to be competitive, but as tune-up fights go, neither fight is bad, either.