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Monday, July 31, 2023

Isaac Chilemba to Face Obinna Mathew

It has been a long road home for Isaac Chilemba. He is scheduled to face Obinna "Wise Man" Mathew on September 30 at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi.

After Isaac's mother died, he moved from Malawi to South Africa to pursue a professional boxing career and support his younger siblings. Boxing has since taken Chilemba all around the world. In addition to South Africa, he has fought in the U.S., U.K., Russia, Poland, Greece, Australia, and Canada. Primarily under the guidance of trainer/manager Jodi Solomon, Chilemba (27-9-3, 11 KOs) has faced some of the best super middleweights and light heavyweights of his generation. But September 2 will be the first time the 35 year old has fought in his home country.

It's been a long road for Chilemba out of the ring as well. He battled alcoholism, depression, and has attempted suicide. Chilemba has also described a kind of fear of success, explaining that he has acted in self-sabotaging ways before some of his biggest fights. This homecoming will be the culmination of a long and difficult journey.

Obinna Mathew is a 35 year old old police officer from Lagos, Nigeria. "Wise Man" wears the Nigerian police force colors of blue, green, and yellow on his trunks and when he fights at home, fellow police officers accompany him to the ring waving the police force's flag.

BoxRec lists his record as 21-0 with 21 KOs, but The JBB found two more unlisted fights, which both ended in "Wise Man" KO victories. In 2019, Babatunde Akim didn't come out for the third round, and in 2021 Mathew stopped Sunday Ajayi in the second. None of Obinna's opponents have been anywhere near world class, but most have shown they know how to box. He has fought a number of inexperienced foes and even the veterans have been on losing streaks when Mathew faced them.

Typically, Mathew's opponents have not gone out on their shield. They follow the Bruce "Mouse" Strauss playbook: after a couple rounds, they run out of gas and look for a soft spot on the canvas. Five of the Nigerian's opponents have gone gentle into that good night, retiring after two or three rounds. Many have decided Obinna is too imposing, and they quickly look for a way out early rather than get hurt.

Mathew has skill and composure in the ring. A very tall southpaw, he keeps his distance well behind a good jab. His straight left knocked Olufemi Akintayo down hard for a one-punch KO in 2021. Mathew has a good right hook, too. A series of them stopped Gbenga Sampson a year ago. Being so tall, Obinna has a left bolo punch in his arsenal and he knocked down Julius Obi in the first round of their 2021 fight. He lands check hooks and uppercuts as well.

Mathew keeps his hands high and has a pull-back counter in which he counters back with the jab. He also takes a subtle half-step back but maintains balance so he's ready to punch when the opponent lunges forward. His chin has yet to be tested because he hasn't been hit much in his 70 rounds of pro boxing. The Nigerian has also fought a few rounds as a righty. He's smooth from the orthodox stance and awkward as a southpaw. He mostly fights southpaw, because almost everyone wants to fight a smooth righty rather than an awkward southpaw.

The police officer is open for counters, however. Because he's so tall, he drops his hand before launching the straight left. He doesn't bring his jab back high. Mathew also doesn't keep his form consistently, so a skilled counter-puncher like Chilemba should find openings.

Despite Mathew's record, this is a huge step up for him. Even if Chilemba isn't quite the fighter he was five or ten years ago, he's more skilled and has more experience at the top level. This likely won't be a walkover, but Chilemba should be able to outbox the Nigerian for a successful homecoming.

This bout is scheduled for twelve rounds and is for a minor sanctioning body's world title belt.

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