Monday night at the DIVS Arena in Ekaterinburg, Russia, WBA Super World light heavyweight champion Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev (30-0-1, 26 KOs), from Ft, Lauderdale, Florida, by way of Kopeysk, Russia, successfully defended his WBA/IBF/WBO titles against Isaac Chilemba (24-4-2, 10 KOs), from Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa, by way of Blantyre, Malawi, after 12 rounds.
Final scores were 116-111, 117-110, and 118-109.
The fight was Kovalev’s first in Russia since the tragic 2011 bout with Roman Simikov. But what was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts turned into a struggle as Chilemba, a presumptive warm-up for the November 19 fight with Andre Ward, proved to be more difficult, more seasoned than expected, as he extended the reigning and defending champion the distance.
Chilemba had a point to make. He was not taken as seriously as he felt he deserved. He was viewed as a stepping stone and was determined to prove to the world that Kovalev, despite his record and reputation, isn’t all he’s cracked up to be.
Chilemba boxed clever. Fighting behind his jab and using every inch of the ring, he refused to engage and repeatedly made Kovalev miss in the opening rounds.
After looking less than impressive in the first half of the fight, Kovalev found the range in the middle rounds. He dropped Chilemba with a combination in the seventh, but the challenger beat the count and resumed fighting.
In the final analysis, a win is a win is a win. That’s all that counts. But Chilemba’s lack of power meant that he could slow down but couldn’t stop the Russian from recording his 30th victory in 31 fights.
“My promoter and manager chose a fighter that is similar to Andre Ward’s style,” said Kovalev after the bout, “so that I will be prepared for the fight with Ward. When they told me that my opponent will be Chilemba because his style is similar to Andre Ward’s style, I was thinking to myself what’s so similar to his style? Their height is different, so at first I didn’t see much, but after the fight I realize that, in fact, he does have similar style to Andre Ward’s: waiting out and counter-attacks, he is not going in much, he waits in defense and waits for the right moment.”
Kovalev should have been aware of that going in. Power is the great equalizer, but the sport is called boxing for reason. If Kovalev struggled with Chilemba, how will he fare against a master boxer like Andre Ward?
“Andre Ward’s got different timing,” continued Kovalev. “He’s faster with his legs. He’s not only good in defense but also he can attack. He has some defensive tricks. If saying in an advanced way, his defense is more modernized. He can feel his competitor better, he’s got better reaction. He also has good experience. After all, he is an Olympic champion, the last American champion at the Olympics. Moreover, he is undefeated. This adds a kind of psychological pressure. He is the best in all the categories. But talking of power he is not a crusher.”
Ward doesn’t have to crush opponents, not when he can simply befuddle them.
“I gained experience,” said Kovalev about the fight with Chilemba. “There are things that I have to work with now. I have to work with opponents that sit in the defense and I have to work more with my left arm. And probably I also wanted to make a hard punch and that worked against me. My arms felt heavy and not everything that I wanted happened, and that is again because it’s Chilemba. I believe my mistake was that I was trying to put power in every punch. I had a heavy feeling in my hands. That’s why he was faster than me in some moments.”
Kovalev reliance on power won’t be enough in itself for him to defeat Andre Ward. If he had trouble with Chilemba, despite the knockdown, Kovalev will likely to have trouble with Andre Ward.
“If it wasn’t the end of the round I would have pursued to actively attack him. But because the bell rang, we rested and he managed to pull himself together and I didn’t want to waste my energy. He is very experienced and had as many fights as myself and with boxers of highest level, therefore I was boxing and continue boxing and whatever happens, then it happens. There was no aim to knock him out, but the main aim was to gain experience from this fight for the next fight in November in Las Vegas.”
This article was penned by the author who is not related to the WBA and the statements, expressions or opinions referenced herein are that of the author alone and not the WBA.