Tony Bellew held to a draw
Tony Bellew was left frustrated in Liverpool after a lackadaisical performance saw him draw with fellow world title contender Isaac Chilemba.
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The 30-year-old Scouser knew victory in this WBC light-heavyweight title final eliminator would put him in position to take on American champion Chad Dawson, who first defends his title against Adonis Stevenson in June.
Bellew was unable to force that title challenge, though, with a laboured night's work in front of 7,000 partisan fans at the Echo Arena in his home city.
Bellew - with a record of 19-1 with 12 early wins heading in - is ranked at number one with the WBC having steadily rebuilt since his only career defeat, which came against British rival Nathan Cleverly for the Welshman's WBO title in 2011.
Malawi native Chilemba, with a record of 20-1-1 (9KO wins) heading into tonight's encounter, represented another step up for the Englishman and boasted a number three ranking with the WBC.
Everton fanatic Bellew, watched by Toffees manager David Moyes in the crowd and entering the ring the club's Z Cars theme tune, started positively in an untidy first round, landing a solid early right hand to mark Chilemba's card before the two had to be pulled apart after the bell.
Bellew employed the jab in the second with some success but Chilemba was ready to counter when the chance arose.
Both men landed stiff right hands in an otherwise-tepid third round with Bellew struggling to pin down the visitor. Both men traded close-in in the fourth with Bellew just about coming off better thanks to a stern body shot and right hand.
Another burst of action saw the Scouser repeat the attack with a left hook to the stomach and glancing right but Chilemba was certainly making a fight of it.
Chilemba bullied the home favourite across the ring with one attack without doing any real damage but looked to have done enough to win the round.
Bellew was labouring but did land a long right hand in the sixth, though the African was landing more prolifically. Chilemba was progressing from prey to predator, taking ring centre in the middle rounds. A Bellew right made him think twice for a moment.
Chilemba was more accurate and, as his confidence grew, more aggressive. The consensus at ringside was that the fight was level after eight rounds but Chilemba had the momentum heading into the ninth. Chilemba landed two body shots before Bellew responded with a booming right and following it up with two more decent shots.
The Englishman had sparked into life at last, doubling up the jab before a left to the body and short right gave him a strong finish before the bell.
Chilemba began the 10th well, landing hard shots from range and edging the round. The underdog's combination punching was superior too as he arguably did enough to take the 11th, picking his punches and landing eye-catching shots with the right.
It was all to play for heading into the final round and Chilemba landed a right followed by a counter left hook to Bellew's temple.
Bellew still seemed flat, only sporadically forcing the action as he urged the crowd to gee him up. A right to the body did land for the Briton but he faced an anxious wait before scores were read out.
One judge scored it 116-112 for Chilemba, another 116-115 for Bellew and the third had it level at 114-114 to leave both men disappointed.
Bellew said afterwards: "I thought I won nine out of the 12 rounds and even Chilemba's trainer Buddy McGirt, one of the most respected men in boxing, told me he thought I won.
"I've got a lot of time for Chilemba he's a good fighter and a tough man but I won the fight."