Isaac Chamberlain’s cameo marks the latest step in a comeback from boxing limbo

On Saturday night it lasted just 50 seconds, a short cameo by Isaac Chamberlain and the latest fight in his strange career.

Back in February of 2018 Chamberlain was just a novice when over 13,000 fans paid to watch him fight one cold night. A very popular novice.

He lost that night at the O2 and in the shock and confusion of the aftermath a member of his team took £10,000 of his earnings. He fought just once in the next 30 months, struggling with dead contracts, liars, fakes and conmen. Chamberlain attracted a lot of empty offers, which is odd because he is not a fool.

He was very quickly the forgotten man, gone in the boxing night and that happens too easily in our modern business; we build them up, chop them down and ignore them in defeat. A lot of fighters never recover from that first tumble, a defeat when they had been told they were unbeatable.

There is probably more the business could do to prepare prospects; they often need wiser boxing people in their company and not the hundreds of instant experts the sport currently has. There seems to be an urgent and misguided need for fighters to come too quick and go too fast. There is always a replacement, a new star, a new plastic spat for the offline and online masses. But every now and again a boxer comes along and there is a sense that there is more to the fighter than a six-pack, a few shallow claims and a repetitive history of great sparring tales.

In many ways Chamberlain’s O2 loss to Lawrence Okolie was a fight without precedent, held in a vast venue and without a tacky bauble of any real value on offer. In his fight before, an anonymous eight-rounder at York Hall, Chamberlain was fourth on a weak bill in front of just over 1,000 people. The fight with Okolie was a shock, a ridiculous success, an odd piece of matchmaking alchemy that allowed two undercard novices to take over the O2 for one night only. It hardly matters that it was a bad fight to watch, an ugly maul. They were novices and that is easy to forget.

Okolie is still unbeaten and has a world title fight on Anthony Joshua’s undercard somewhere and at some time this year. Okolie is a good fighter, tough, awkward and an Olympian, but it felt like most of the O2 crowd was there for Chamberlain. It became a London thing – Chamberlain is from Brixton and is proud of his roots there. Okolie is from the east of the city, a nomad across boroughs.

Right now, Chamberlain, who is 26, is in a boxing twilight area, having signed a five-year deal with Mick Hennessy in January and then having to wait until late August for the first fight of the deal. The August fight was his first for 22 months, an extraordinary break for any young fighter. The second fight last Saturday, live on Channel Five, was brutal and brief; he fights again on terrestrial television in October and November. He is not the main event, but it feels like he is the attraction.

This time last year Chamberlain was languishing in Miami, putting a list of dreams together, planning fights, adding up cash, plotting a takeover. He was also sleeping in a room like a cell, his body crammed into a tiny bed and each day it seemed the promises kept shifting. He had enough money from the Okolie fight left to bankroll his stay, but the worry was not his pocket – it was his boxing desire. And his mental health.

As fights and trainers and promoters came and went, Chamberlain’s exile from the ring continued until Hennessy cut through the hopeless hype, did the deal and now his man is back fighting. Hennessy, who had both Carl Froch and Tyson Fury from their debut fights to British titles and through millions to world titles, is brilliant at developing his boxers the old way. And there is something distinctly old-fashioned about Chamberlain the fighter.

“I would not be the fighter I am without that fight,” Chamberlain said of his clash with Okolie. “It had great appeal – it was not just a fight, it was a public event.” 

He is right, and there will certainly be other “public events” with Chamberlain, it just feels that way. It’s a boxing feeling, one you get over time, and in our clickbait kingdom, the south London boy actually has people talking. Yes, old-fashioned words from mouths.

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