July 11 in Ekaterinburg, Russia, light heavyweight destroyer Sergey Kovalev will look to keep his freight trail rolling when he defends his WBA, IBF and WBO belts against Isaac Chilemba. Kovalev is perhaps the most feared fighter in the entire sport. He’s a pound-for-pound star and already slated to face fellow star Andre Ward, later this year.
He’ll need to take care of business against Chilemba first. The Malawi native and South African resident is at least close to a top 10 at 175 pounds. He’s coming off from a majority decision loss to undefeated Eleider Alvarez last November. But prior to that, in March of last year, he put in good work to defeat Vasyl Lepikhin. He lost and drew against Tony Bellew in 2013, but defeated Edison Miranda in 2012 and Maxim Vlasov in 2011.
Chilemba is a clever fighter, but should be far over-matched by Kovalev. This is Chilemba looking to cash in a lottery ticket and he’s willing to travel all the way to Russia for a chance. For Kovalev, the bout is a bit of an indulgence after spending the past few years hammering out the sport’s most fearsome resume. It’s a return to his native Russia, for the first time in nearly five years. Chilemba should be no more than a stay-busy opponent.
It’s always risky to look past any opponent with world-class experience, but if Chilemba were to defeat Kovalev, it would be the biggest upset in years. He’s knocked out far better opponents, such as Jean Pascal and Nathan Cleverly.
Even as this fight is scheduled for this weekend, Kovalev has his real test for 2016 already penciled in for November. That’s when he will face Andre Ward, a former dominant champion at super middleweight and arguably the most skilled boxer on the planet right now. That should ultimately be the biggest fight of 2016.