By Allan Fox: Sergey Kovalev will be facing a very slick fighter on July 11 in Isaac Chilemba on July 11 in Ekaterinburg, Russia. This is a fight to prepare Kovalev for the slick style of former WBA super middleweight champion Andre Ward, who Kovalev(29-0-1, 26 KOs) will be fighting later this year if he and Ward win their next fights.
Kovalev, 32, will be defending his IBF/WBA/WBO 175lb titles against the 28-year-old Chilemba (24-3-2, 10 KOs) at the Palace of Sports.
It’s not under ideal circumstances that Kovalev is fighting Chilemba, because there are clearly better opponents in the light heavyweight division than Chilemba, who lost his last fight against the unbeaten Eleider Alvarez last November by a 12 round decision. However, getting Alvarez in the ring to fight Kovalev might prove to be next to impossible.
Chilemba is at least someone that Kovalev’s promoters at Main Events could get for him to fight, and he’s someone that will prepare him for the style that he’ll be seeing from Ward in November. As we saw in Ward’s fight against Sullivan Barrera last March, Ward is now 90 percent defense and only 10 percent offensive since moving up to 175.
Ward doesn’t have the power to bang with light heavyweights, so he’s resigned to jabbing, landing pot shots and trying not to get hit. Chilemba is a similar fighter with most of his emphasis being on his defense. When Chilemba does land, it’s jabs and pot shots like Ward.
“This is no easy fight for Sergey, though. Sergey wanted a challenging opponent for his return to Russia and someone who would help him prepare for Andre Ward in November, assuming he emerges with a win,” said Kovalev’s promoter Kathy Duva of Main Events. “Isaac Chilemba has the right style and came ‘this close’ to becoming the WBC mandatory contender. We, and many observers, thought that the scorecards easily could have gone his way. Fortunately, we are in a position to give Isaac his world title fight and the opportunity to become a unified world champion. This is a perfect situation for all involved and I can’t wait to go to Russia!”
— Egis Klimas (@KlimasBoxing) April 23, 2016
If Kovalev can prove that he can easily defeat Chilemba and his defensive style of fighting, it’s going to be a shot across the bow to Ward and his promoters at Roc Nation Sports that they’re going to be in deep, deep trouble in November when Ward faces Kovalev. Chilemba is an almost exact copy of Ward.
If Kovalev can obliterate Chilemba, which won’t be easy, then it’s going to put Ward in a position where he’ll need to decide whether he has the skills to compete against Kovalev right now or if he needs more time to try and get five years of rust out of his system still.
I don’t think it matters at this point how many tune-ups Ward takes. He’s just an older fighter now and has lost too much of his game due to his time out of the ring and the natural aging process. You can’t reverse time when you’ve missed as many years as Ward has through inactivity and soft opposition.