Sounding ice-cool, just two days before his return bout against Australian Blake Caparello in a joint World Bicing Council (WBC)international and World Boxing Association (WBA) Oceania light-heavyweight title fight, Malawian boxing icon Isaac Chilemba said: “I just can’t wait for Friday. I have been looking forward to my return to the ring, it is now or never…I believe this is it.”
It was indeed a defining bout for the ‘Golden Boy’ on March 16 after being reduced to a side show for almost one year and four months following a serious elbow injury he suffered during a North American Boxing Federation (Nabf) light-heavyweight title bout against Ukranian Gyvozydyk Oleksandr in November 2016.
Not only was it his first loss through technical knockout (TKO), but it was also his third straight defeat. Caparello, on the other hand, was riding on a four-fight winning streak.
First, Chilemba lost a 12- round majority decision to Eleider Alvarez back in November 2015, in what was a WBC final eliminator.
Despite that loss, he had got another chance at then unified light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev in July of 2016.
Chilemba travelled to Russia and gave the dangerous puncher a much tougher fight than anyone had expected. While he went down in the seventh round, he became one of the few boxers to go the full 12-round distance with Kovalev.
But in his next fight, in November of the same year, he took a beating and was stopped for the first time in his career by Gvozdyk, after the eighth round.
Thereafter, the ‘Golden Boy’ endured a 13-month frustrating rehabilitation which included a surgery on his arm.
But to those who know him well, they kept faith and his trainer Roy Jones Jnr—a former four-time world champion—said: “Isaac has got a strong character and while some quarters are predicting doom, he will surprise them. He has a big heart and he will bounce back.”
So, as he stepped into the Melbourne Pavilion ring in Flemington, Victoria, Australia, in a crossroads battle of light heavyweight contenders, he knew that this was it—a make-or-break bout.
And after getting the feel of each other in the first round, it was Caparello who shrugged off some early lethargy in the next four to five rounds, but sensing danger and probably aware that he was facing a race against time, the ‘Golden Boy’—using the famous rope-a-dope style, weathered a barrage of early punches and, in the process, wore down Caparello.
It was a game plan executed to perfection and soon the host—who is rated five steps above Chilemba—was on the back foot.
It was then that Chilemba turned on the heat—stinging like a bee and floating like a butterfly.
In the end, all the judges scored in his favour—115-113, 115-113 and 117-111—to take his record to 25 wins (10 KOs), five losses and two draws (24-5-2, 10 KOs) against Casparello’s 28 wins, three losses and a draw (28-3-1, 10 KOs).
“I feel really great. It took me three to four rounds to settle down because it has been quite a while since I last fought,” Chilemba, 31, said in a post-bout interview.
So what’s next for the ‘Golden Boy’?
The win gave him the vacant WBC International title and a likely boost in rankings. n