Ed Mulholland
Ed Mulholland

Bivol Pounds Out Workmanlike Decision Over Durable Chilemba

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 the possibility remained on the table heading into the evening’s main event. The glass-half-empty view might be that Bivol failed to build additional hype for the fight. The glass-half-full counter is that he certainly didn’t scare Kovalev off.