Revered Malawian boxer Isaac Chilemba’s bid for the WBC world light-heavyweight title was halted at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night following a unanimous points loss to Tony Bellew.
Bellew edged a war of attrition to defeat the resilient Chilemba at the second time of asking and finally book a shot at the WBC light-heavyweight title.
The three judges scored the fight 116-112, 117-112 and 116-112—giving Bellew a narrow edge over Chilemba after 24 rounds of brutal boxing and, more importantly, the right to fight Chad Dawson or Adonis Stevenson for the WBC strap.
Chilemba, who was content to box on the back foot in the first encounter, was far more adventurous in the 12-round rematch monitored on SuperSport although he was guilty of turning the contest messy at times with his lunging approach.
Despite the unanimous points loss, the bout was so close and drove the turnout—that included Manchester United and England star forward Wayne Rooney—through a bewildering gut of emotions and, in all fairness, could have gone either way
Chilemba could not be reached for comment on Sunday, but his visibly emotional opponent was quoted by ESPN afterwards saying: “I’m just happy. There were times I hated boxing these last eight weeks. I’ve tortured myself since the last fight … but tonight I got in here and did what [my trainers] said.”
Determined to improve on a first showing that neither fighter was particularly happy with, it was Bellew who enjoyed the better part of the early rounds—intimidating Chilemba with his power and quickly dominating proceedings.
However, Bellew was expending a lot of energy with his constant combinations, efforts that began to take their toll as the rounds wore on—with the more polished Chilemba growing into matters over the middle rounds.
Chilemba was content to slip those lunges before popping off more accurate jabs of his own.
Fearing their fight remained down on the scorecards heading into the final round, both boxers stepped up the tempo and Chilemba was ordered by his corner to go for the knockout. That set the stage for a barnstorming finish with both fighters swinging wildly in a desperate bid for a decisive blow, but one would not come, sending matters to the three ringside judges.
It was only the second defeat of 26-year-old Chilemba’s career, but Bellew, who has won 20 of 22 professional contests, is now ready to move up for a world title shot.
His only previous defeat came over six rounds in 2007—a loss he avenged four months later—while a controversial draw with Thomas Oosthuizen was the standout result on his record.