Photos: Ed Mulholland
By Eric Raskin
Once it became clear after a few rounds that his tough veteran opponent Isaac Chilemba wasn’t going to capitulate easily, light heavyweight super-prospect-turned-beltholder Dmitry Bivol engaged one of boxing’s time-honored strategies: “Win this one, look good next time.” In the co-featured bout underneath Sergey Kovalev-Eleider Alvarez at Etess Arena at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, Bivol won a lopsided unanimous decision in a fight that didn’t necessarily elevate his stock.
There were plenty of close rounds among the 12 that Bivol and Chilemba boxed, but it was never a close fight. Judges Henry Grant and Ron McNair were both a bit unfair to Chilemba, scoring it a 120-108 shutout, while George Hill was perhaps a bit overly friendly to the underdog, giving Chilemba four of the last five rounds to arrive at a 116-112 card for Bivol.
The left hook was the key weapon for the undefeated 27-year-old Russian, and for the first four rounds, his sharper reflexes and faster hands separated him clearly from the 31-year-old Chilemba. But as the fight wore on, with both men patiently seeking to counterpunch, the rounds got tougher to score, particularly as Chilemba snuck in a handful of effective bodyshots. Bivol (14-0, 11 KOs) really began to play it safe in the final third of the fight, and Chilemba (25-6-2, 10 KOs) never stopped looking for opportunities to turn the fight around. Bivol showed excellent footwork and a keen sense of distance, though, making a one-punch turnaround a near impossibility.
Coming into the fight, the unofficial plan was for Bivol to move on to a showdown with Kovalev next. Bivol got the “W,” so this performance by no means derails his hype train. But it certainly slows his momentum. And while there was talk before the fight of him being ready for the best opposition light heavyweight has to offer, it’s fair now to suggest that Bivol could use one or two more learning experiences first.