Light heavyweight contenders Tony Bellew (right) and Isaac Chilemba (left) trade punches during their first fight on March 30 at the Echo Arena, which ended in a draw. They will rematch on Saturday’s Froch-Kessler II undercard.
It is difficult to recall a high-profile rematch coming to fruition so quickly.
Isaac Chilemba and Tony Bellew, THE RING’s No. 7- and No. 8-rated light heavyweights, fought their way to a split decision draw at Liverpool’s Echo Arena on March 30th.
It was a final eliminator for the WBC title, which became anything but final when the rematch was confirmed for May 25 at the O2 Arena in London under the huge Carl Froch-Mikkel Kessler rematch main event.
Two big fights within an eight week period may not have turned heads in the 1940s but in today’s game that is super quick and Tony “The Bomber” Bellew is keen to commence round 13.
“Chilemba wasn’t willing to commit himself last time,” said Bellew with scorn. “I thought he would come to fight but all he wanted to do was make me miss. He was reasonably fast and he was elusive but I didn’t perform to the best of my ability and I took my foot off the gas towards the end.
“I still think I won the fight but it was too close for my liking and when I’m in close fights I always give rematches.”
During the build-up to the first fight, Bellew was adamant that he would destroy the awkward Malawian and move on to his second world title shot. His power did look ominous initially but around the midway point Chilemba began clipping the Brit with some nice counter punching and the pattern changed.
“I wanted to go out there and back up my words,” remarked Bellew. “I expected a hard fight because Chilemba has proven himself and he matches up well against me. Anyway, I got frustrated after round six and allowed him to come to me which gave him the opportunity to close the gap.”
Given the fact that Chilemba has knocked out less than half of his 20 victims, this reporter asked Bellew if he really expected his opponent to take chances and be drawn into exchanges.
“No way,” Bellew told Ring TV.com. “We knew he wouldn’t come out and trade but against solid opposition he usually throws some combinations. Against me he wasn’t even looking to land in the first half of the fight and I was disappointed with that.
“He talked a great fight and so did I but it was impossible to deliver against such a negative opponent. I’ve now learned that it takes two fighters to make a great fight so there will be no more talking it up.”
In December 2010, Bellew fought the wrong fight against feared Jamaican, Ovil McKenzie, in a Commonwealth title bout. In a Fight-of-the-Year candidate Bellew hit the deck twice on the end of volcanic right hands but rose to end the contest with an equally devastating left hook.
Unimpressed with his performance Bellew took an immediate rematch and schooled his opponent over 12 rounds, displaying excellent ring craft and defensive finesse. Could a serious change of tactics be on the cards in this return bout?
“It depends on what Chilemba does,” stated Bellew dismissively. “I will adapt on the night and let my skills do the talking. He’s not big enough, strong enough and he doesn’t have the balls. He can’t lie to himself and knows he hasn’t got what it takes to mix it with me. He can box and stay away but sooner or later he’s going to be in range and, this time, I’ll make him pay.”
Chilemba may not be as powerful as Bellew but, like his opponent, he does have serious ambition and pedigree. If not then why take this match away from home for the second time? He has also stated that this fight will be different and has vowed to “destroy” the Englishman on fight night.
“It’s funny because the roles have reversed,” laughed Bellew. “I’m the one who is quiet and he’s the one talking knockout and great fight. This guy has never been in a great fight in his life. I’ve been in several great fights, fought for the world title and I entertain the crowds.
“Chilemba was happy to get a draw whereas I was devastated and his own trainer (Buddy McGirt) felt I won which speaks volumes. I’ve taken a lot of criticism since the first fight and for what? Because I boxed s__t in the last six rounds, I’m a s__t fighter now? According to a lot of people that is that case and I won’t forget what’s been said.”
Both of these fighters are quality contenders but neither of them will fight for a world title until this matter is settled. One senses real confidence in Bellew but that is always the case regardless of who he is matched with. Chilemba has also vowed to get it right this time but “The Bomber” remains unconvinced.
“When I get through Chilemba I get a dream shot at Chad Dawson’s title,” he said. “I’ll be a huge underdog but that is the fight I’ve always wanted because Dawson is the best light heavyweight on the planet. There is no point fighting for the other titles because I wouldn’t have beaten the top fighter in my weight class.
“I’ll win this fight with Chilemba and I’ll win it convincingly. Every second of every minute of every round.”
Photos / Alex Livesey-Getty Images