By Graham Houston
WealthTV features boxing for the second week in a row on Saturday with a double-header from Liverpool, and although Tony Bellew’s fight with Isaac Chilemba for the WBC Silver light-heavyweight title is the main event, the chief supporting bout between Anthony Crolla and Derry Mathews for the Commonwealth lightweight title could steal the show.
“Bomber” Bellew, fighting at home in Liverpool, is the favourite against Chilemba. Bellew’s only loss was on a majority decision against unbeaten British rival Nathan Cleverly, and I consider this Bellew’s best performance even though he lost.
It was anyone’s fight after 10 rounds but Cleverly came on strongly at the end, pulling out the majority decision by sweeping the last two rounds on all three judges’ cards. I’m not sure that Chilemba would have been able to withstand the sort of pressure that Cleverly was putting on Bellew in that fight.
In his three fights since then, Bellew has blown hot and cold. He was very good stopping the unorthodox Danny McIntosh in the fifth round but looked somewhat ordinary before getting a faded Edison Miranda out of the fight in the ninth. In his last fight, Bellew fought from the third round with a severe cut over the right eye against Roberto Bolonti, defeating his Argentinean opponent comfortably enough on points but never looking like fulfilling his pre-fight pledge to “destroy” Bolonti. Obviously, getting cut so early in the fight was a handicap, but even allowing for this Bellew wasn’t what you could call impressive, and in the later rounds the crowd was watching in a bored way.
On Saturday, Bellew is guaranteeing excitement. He says that the Liverpool fans want to see Chilemba’s blood “and I’m going to give it to them”. Bellew promises to smash Chilemba “until there’s nothing left to smash” and says that he is willing to die in the ring (a comment I always feel uncomfortable hearing from a boxer).
I’m always a bit concerned when fighters talk like this. Some fighters famously back up their words, but for many others the rhetoric falls flat in the heat of battle.
Bellew seems to be putting an awful lot of pressure on himself, more than is usually the case, and the generalisation of longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Herb Lambeck still echoes in my consciousness: “Talkers don’t win.”
Chilemba, meanwhile, seems remarkably unaffected by Bellew’s bold comments or by the hostile Liverpool setting: Jeered as he stepped to the scales for Friday’s weigh in, Chilemba cheerfully gestured to the crowd to ramp up the volume.
Born in Malawi in southeast Africa but based in Johannesburg, Chilemba trains in the U.S. and will have ex-champ Buddy McGirt working in his corner. Chilemba is probably a classier boxer than Bellew, more athletic, a bit faster, but Bellew seems clearly to be the heavier handed.
“He’s a good fighter, good at what he does,” Bellew says of Chilemba, “but I’m a lot stronger than he is. I’ve got a desire that can’t be matched and it doesn’t matter how hard it gets. I have something inside me which keeps me going. I always find a way to win.”
Bellew and Chilemba have each survived two knockdowns in a fight and come back to win. Bellew. perhaps too eager to land his own heavy blows, was down in the first and second rounds against the strong and dangerous Ovill McKenzie but rallied to win in the eighth; he comfortably outpointed McKenzie in a rematch in which Bellew showed that he can vary his method by boxing a clever, calculating type of fight. Chilemba was dropped twice in the eighth round by Maxim Vlasov but he not only survived by far the shakiest round of his career he came back to hurt the Russian boxer before the round was over.
I can envisage the relaxed and skilled Chilemba scoring points, but Bellew is likely to be going right after him from the start, and if Bellew can land flush with his right hand there could be a problem for Chilemba. Bellew has shown that he has boxing ability, but if he goes into the fight focused on scoring a knockout, and doesn’t get one, he could get frustrated and start missing and getting picked off. So Bellew must stay disciplined and use his jab to give Chilemba something to think about while Bellew is trying to set up an opening for the right hand.
Chilemba has stopped only one of his last 10 opponents but it was an impressive finish as he blasted out the lanky New Zealand southpaw Jameson Bostic with a right hand in the second round last October. Veteran Dan Birmingham was training Chilemba at the time but Chilemba has since made the change to Buddy McGirt, feeling he could learn some “new tricks”; McGirt calls Chilemba a “fantastic” fighter.
I’m leaning towards Bellew a little bit but I see it as almost an even-money fight whereas the oddsmakers have Bellew a clear favourite at around -225.
The first fight between Liverpool’s Derry Mathews and Manchester’s Anthony Crolla last April was Britain’s fight of the year for 2012, a war in which Crolla seemed poised for victory after two rounds only to get knocked down in the third round, cut over the eye in the fourth and then staggered and stopped in the sixth. Crolla says he knows where he went wrong; Mathews, of course, says that what he did before he will do again. Mathews is dangerous but vulnerable; Crolla has a jolting left jab and goes to the body effectively but doesn’t have much margin for error against the heavy-hitting veteran. I’m expecting Crolla — the slight betting favourite — to keep a tighter defence this time and come on strongly in the later rounds to turn the tables, but it really is a pick ’em fight.
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