By Jack Sumner @Jack_Sumner_
After a series of impressive wins that have almost taken him to the summit of the light heavyweight ladder, Tony Bellew hangs just one rung away from reaching his goal of world title contention. In front of an adoring home crowd at Liverpool’s Echo Arena this weekend, the likeable Scouser attempts to scale the penultimate bar by beating Malawian puncher Isaac Chilemba.
Since narrow defeat to Nathan Cleverly in challenging for the WBO title eighteen-months ago, Bellew (19-1, 12 KOs) has matured and developed into a fighter who looks competent on the world stage. He rebounded from the Cleverly defeat with a one-punch knockout of Danny McIntosh and stepped up a level to stop Edison Miranda in nine rounds, before collecting a shutout victory over Argentinian Roberto Bolonti in December to win the WBC’s ‘Silver’ light heavyweight strap.
More important than the lightly regarded title was the position that the Bolonti fight put Bellew in, #2 in the WBC rankings and within touching distance of a challenge to titleholder and division boss Chad Dawson. According to Eddie Hearn, the winner of Bellew-Chilemba will definitely meet the winner of Dawson’s scrap with Adonis Stevenson, but ‘The Bomber’ can’t afford to take his focus off the task ahead of him this Saturday as he’s faced with a formidable and equally motivated opponent.
In his 25 years of existence, Chilemba (20-1-1, 9 KOs) has had it incredibly tough and is no stranger to overcoming adversity. Growing up in Malawi – one of the poorest countries in Africa – he was one of ten children his family brought up in poverty, before the death of both his parents at 16 forced him to seek financial support for his siblings and a move to South Africa to pursue a boxing career. After turning professional at 18, he began a swift rise through African super middleweight and light heavyweight competition, avenging his only defeat and fighting to a draw with the much-hyped unbeaten prospect Thomas Oosthuizen.
Since the draw Chilemba has won five straight including a victory over Miranda, though the Johannesburg resident did not beat the Colombian gatekeeper in as impressive a fashion as Bellew. Despite the relatively low knockout percentages, both of these guys are heavy hitters and both can be hurt and have been put on the canvas, which should be a recipe for an entertaining scrap matching front-foot aggression from Chilemba against Bellew’s intelligent boxing.