For the past several years the light heavyweight division has engaged in its version of the "May-Pac" dance in which the two best fighters in the division circle each other from distance created by politics, promoters, TV networks and management. Thus, Sergey Kovalev vs. Adonis Stevenson remains on the back burner while the two parties engage in a long series of time-marking bouts. On July 18 Stevenson will face Thomas Williams Jr. (instead of mandatory challenger Eleider Alvarez, who instead will fight former champ Chad Dawson) while Kovalev will face Chilemba, who lost to Alvarez in a WBC title eliminator last time out. Only in boxing.
"Krushing" Them With Science: Kovalev used to be an all-out aggressor that steamrolled opponents with extreme volume and even more extreme power. But under the cerebral tutelage of John David Jackson Kovalev has transformed into a thinking-man's destroyer whose intellect was strong enough to out-box Bernard Hopkins but whose aggression remained strong enough to score 12 knockouts in his last 13 fights. John David Jackson has been his chief second since the Darnell Boone rematch in June 2012 and since annexing the WBO crown from Nathan Cleverly (a fight in which he averaged 91.7 punches per round) Kovalev has moderated his pace greatly (52.1 in his last seven fights) but has greatly improved his jab (25.7 thrown/6.6 connects per round) and has become a better defensive fighter (opponents landed 28% overall, 22% jabs and 34% power, landing just 1.9 jabs per round in the process). The gulf between himself and his opponents has only grown and his last two fights are evidence of that. Last time out, he destroyed Jean Pascal in seven rounds by out-landing him 165-30 overall, 87-14 jabs and 78-16 power (the gaps in the final four rounds were even more dramatic -- 100-10 overall, 57-6 jabs and 43-4 power) but most impressive was his jab (30 thrown/12.4 connects per round). The same formula applied in his three-round destruction of mandatory challenger Nadjib Mohammedi (32 thrown/10.7 jab connects per round and connect gulfs of 67-17 overall, 32-11 jabs and 35-6 power). The evolution continues and his one-punch ko potential also serves as his defense: in Kovalev's last 8 fights, opponents have landed just 5.9 total punches per round (wgt. class avg.: 16.3 and 3.6 power shots per round wgt. class avg.: 11.4) - #3 in both categories among CompuBox Leaders. Kovalev also landed 6.8 jabs per round in his last 8 fights- well above the wgt. clas avg.
The Gift of Jab: The centerpiece of Chilemba's offense has long been his jab. The average light heavyweight lands 4.9 jabs per round while throwing 22.6 . Chilemba averaged 7.5 jabs landed in in his last 5 fights (wgt. class avg.: 4.9). But if one can neutralize the jab, he also neutralizes Chilemba. After tasting 6.1 jabs per round during their disputed draw, future WBC cruiserweight titlist Tony Bellew did a better job in the rematch as he kept Chilemba to 3.9 jab connects per round while landing 4.7 of his own. Thus, he was able to out-land Chilemba 178-167 overall, 56-47 jabs and 122-120 power and get the decision. Last time out Eleider Alvarez was very slightly on the short end of the stats (151-147 overall, 53-50 jabs, 98-97 power) but home ring advantage and the ability to keep Chilemba from dominating with the big stick surely helped him gain the majority decision win.
Prediction: Kovalev is a massive favorite with the oddsmakers (he is a 33-to-1 choice in some sectors) because they know Chilemba will need to fight the perfect fight to lift the title just like Amir Khan had to do against Saul Alvarez. Khan did well for a few rounds but one mistake left "King Khan" down and out. The same scenario will unfold here. Kovalev by KO.