Can Isaac Chilemba Stay in the Light Heavyweight Mix?


Light heavyweight Isaac Chilemba is trying to keep his head above water in a division deep with talent and intrigue.

The 26-year-old South African who stands 6-foot-1, Chilemba (21-2-2, 9 knockouts) is part of a Main Events promotional stable of 175-pounders that includes WBO beltholder Sergey Kovalev, undefeated Sullivan Barrera, once-beaten Ilshat Khusnulgatin and twice-beaten fighters Anatoliy Dudchenko and Lionell Thompson.

Beyond this, Chilemba is attempting to break into a unification scenario involving Kovalev, WBC and RING champion Adonis Stevenson, IBF beltholder Bernard Hopkins and the WBA's Beibut Shumenov (Hopkins and Shumenov meet on April 19).

"The light heavyweight division is hot and there's a lot going on. You're probably going to have all of these big dogs fight each other," said Kathy Duva of Main Events.

"But once they've finished, Hopkins could be 50 years old; Stevenson is going to be 37. Then the future of this division is Kovalev and then everyone else. That's what Isaac is positioning himself for – to be in that mix."

Chilemba's quest continues on Saturday against Denis Grachev (13-2-1, 8 KOs), whom he will fight at the Sands Casino and Hotel in Bethlehem, Pa.,  as the NBC Sports Network co-feature to the Tomasz Adamek-Vyacheslav Glazkov heavyweight bout.

"Isaac is poised to be number one in the WBC if he wins this fight and if that happens, then he's going to be the number one challenger to the WBC. That means that whoever is holding that WBC belt when the dust clears, they'll have to fight him," said Duva.

"So that's all that you can do is get him up into that spot, keep him in the news. I can't specify when all of this is going to happen but within a year, he will have gotten a couple of more wins under his belt, assuming he's successful here on Saturday. But this is not a walkover by any means."

Chilemba was last seen in the ring winning a unanimous decision over Michael Gbenga in November to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to Tony Bellew in May in a rematch of their March 2013 draw.

In November of 2007, Chilemba avenged a loss to Willbeforce Shihepo four months prior and has battled to a draw with countryman Thomas Oosthuizen in November 2010.

"The two fights that I had with Tony Bellew on the road in the United Kingdom, that was a tough experience for me. It was more mental, especially the second fight. That was a learning lesson for me," said Chilemba.

"I'm looking for bigger and better things with Kathy now after this fight. With the training that I have had this time, I can't predict what round but I'm definitely going to try to knock [Grachev] out. I'm not going to try too hard but I'm just going to do what I always do with my boxing skills."

Grachev is 1-2 in his past three fights and was stopped in the first round by Edwin Rodriguez in their bout last July.

Prior to facing Rodriguez, Grachev unanimously decisioned Zsolt Erdei last March to rebound from a unanimous decision loss to Lucian Bute in November 2012.

"I know that he's a tough fighter and a tough customer and that he'll give it all that he's got. He's got a lot of power but I'm not worried about his power," said Chilemba.

"I like to fight somebody who can hit because it makes it easier for me to outbox them. I'm 100 percent prepared and I'm going to use my speed, my power and my footwork to frustrate him. After this fight, I'm going to be in position to be looking for a world title shot."