The second UK boxing prospect to be featured in this rising star series is cruiserweight Isaac Chamberlain.
Road to Boxing
Born on March 3, 1994 in Brixton, a district of South London within the Borough of Lambeth, Chamberlain didn’t have it easy. He was raised by a working class single mother surrounded by gang violence.
As the oldest of eight children, Chamberlain was forced to mature fast despite having nothing.
“I didn’t have a pot to piss in. I had no one-pound coins, it was just crazy,” Chamberlain told Fight Talk. “I remember, I was so broke, I had cereal sandwiches. You know when you get cereal and you spread it out? I was broke, it was crazy. Go to the shop and get my shoes from Lidl, I used to get laughed at so, I would always be fighting. I’d always get laughed at, so I was like ‘F*** you man!’ I just didn’t want anyone to talk s*** about me.”
The crime-ridden area eventually hit the South Londoner’s family when he was 12-years-old. His cousin was tragically stabbed to death, prompting his mother to take him to the local boxing gym – a decision that changed the course of his life.
“My mum took me into a boxing gym because of the local gang violence,” Chamberlain expressed to Brooke Streatfield. “My cousin got stabbed and it was a bad time for me and my family and she didn’t want me to go down that route.”
Once Chamberlain stepped foot in Miguel’s gym, he immediately fell in love with the sport. Although he got beaten up the first time, he came back due to the support the trainers provided him that he never had growing up.
“Nobody ever told me I could be something in my life,” Chamberlain said to Boxing News TV. “Coaches though, they always say you can become a world champion, even if you’re s***. That’s probably why I kept coming back when I was younger – so I could just hear those words of encouragement again.”
With a newfound purpose, Chamberlain stayed out of trouble, but knows if it weren’t for boxing, he’d be living the Brixton lifestyle.
“I probably would have been following that other life that is going on around my area, drug-dealing, going to prison and fighting over post codes, you know?,” Chamberlain stated to Fight Talk. “Even though you’re not part of any gang, you get into certain situations because of where you come from. You’re in trouble if they wanna stab you or rob you, it’s just (like that) in that situation you can become a target.”
Chamberlain was faced with adversity every step of the way. His resolve to overcome it validated he had the toughness and mindset to be successful in the sweet science.
Chamberlain went on to have a short and prosperous amateur career under the tutelage of former European and British super middleweight champion James Cook and management of his uncle and former European junior welterweight champion Ted Bami.
The relationship between them helped the Brixton product win the Junior and Under-20 ABA Championships, the Senior Novice Title, and the Haringey Box Cup, Europe’s biggest amateur boxing tournament.
Despite capturing amateur glory in under 20 fights, Chamberlain struggled to get more, sometimes going five months without one, which made it hard to stay motivated.
He ultimately decided to turn pro, after consulting with various individuals in the sport, and signed a promotion deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing – a move he has no regrets about.
“I spoke to a few people and just decided that with my style, it would be a better thing for my career to turn professional,” Chamberlain voiced to Behind The Gloves. “I don’t regret it. Some people may say this or that about me not going to the Olympics, but unless you get a medal, what does it really mean? I’m happy with how my career started. I had to do it the hard way, and I feel like I’m a more well-rounded fighter because of it.”
Chamberlain finished his brief amateur career with a 27-2 record.
Moving into the paid ranks, Chamberlain desired to fulfill his ambitions.
“I want to win a world title,” Chamberlain told Max Boxing. “I am going to work so hard to become the best I can. You can have all the talent but if you don’t put the work in you won’t get anywhere.”
Before making his pro debut, the London native was contacted by current WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder to be a sparring partner in preparation for his title fight against Bermane Stiverne in 2014.
The experience sharing the ring with arguably the world’s top heavyweight and knockout artist proved to be vital for Chamberlain as learned important lessons that helped him develop into the fighter he is today.
“We ended up doing a lot of rounds together in that camp,” Chamberlain said to Behind The Gloves. “When I went back the next day, they said they wanted to use me because of my speed and told me that I had given him the best work – which made me feel good. There was all of these guys there and they wanted to use me. I was so happy!”
“So I get back in there, and I’m happy and confident in myself, it’s going well and then all of a sudden…Boom! He hit me with a right hand – I think it was an uppercut – and I just remember thinking ‘oh, wow!’ – I’d never been hit like that before. He didn’t hurt me, but I definitely felt it. I was like ‘okay, you have to be on your game now!’ and I think that’s one of the most important things I learned from that camp. It doesn’t matter if you have one good day: you have to be on it every single day. This sport is no joke.”
Following the conclusion of Wilder’s camp, Chamberlain returned to the UK ready to embark on his professional journey.
He debuted in the 200-pound cruiserweight division in January 2015, winning on points against Moses Matovu (5-51-4), and then proceeded to hammer the ensuing opposition.
The 23-year-old won his next four fights, three on points and one via knockout, against Jason Jones (0-5), Martyn Grainger (8-8, 3 KOs), Igoris Borucha (10-33-3, 2 KOs), and Russell Henshaw (6-1, 2 KOs) before facing Wadi Camacho for the BBBofC Southern Area cruiserweight title in September 2016.
Headlining York Hall for the first time in his career, Chamberlain put forth a heroic performance. He overcame a dislocated shoulder in the third round, which he popped back in himself, to outpoint the experienced Camacho (16-6, 10 KOs) in a thrilling 10-round scrap to claim his first belt.
The pure heart and bravery the star of Sky Sports’ “Straight Outta Brixton” documentary displayed in the victory is a reflection of his determination to not let his tough upbringing prevent him from becoming a champion.
“It was the most painful experience I’ve ever been through, but I don’t want to lose more than I want to win,” Chamberlain expressed to the Sports Gazette. “I just don’t want to lose, it’s not in my vocabulary. Even when everyone was like ‘pull him out, you’ve got to stop,’ I was still in my head thinking ‘I have a good chance of winning.'”
“That’s my mentality, the mentality of a warrior. You could have chopped off my leg, and I would have been hopping on one leg, fighting. I had to grind hard, and because I know what I’m about, what I done in training. I gave up too much time, made too much sacrifices – not going out or having a proper social life, for that one thing to set me back.”
Chamberlain continued his winning ways in 2017 with stoppages of Imantas Davidaitis (5-20-1, 4 KOs) in March, Ryan Crawford (2-3-1, 1 KO) in July, and Ossie Jervier (4-5, 4 KOs) in October.
As a legitimate cruiserweight contender, the undefeated Briton was primed for the next chapter of his burgeoning career.
Chamberlain first crossed paths with Lawrence Okolie during a sparring session when he was in the amateurs.
He knew immediately he and the Hackney native wouldn’t be friends.
“F*** Okolie! This guy – since he turned pro, he’s just been a bit funny, acting as if he’s better than everyone and all of that,” Chamberlain stated to the Sports Gazette. “He started tagging me in some stuff, trying to call out my name, but before he’s never acted like that. Back in the day he used to come to the gym and he never act like that. When he sees me in person he doesn’t act like that.”
With a domestic rivalry brewing, Sky Sports decided to let the duo settle their differences in the ring on February 3, 2018 with the vacant WBA continental cruiserweight title at stake.
Over the months leading up to the bout, both fighters exchanged insults on social media and at their press conferences further intensifying their feud and increasing the hype for “British Beef.”
To prepare for the grudge match, Chamberlain traveled to Ukraine to spar current unified cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk and top contender Mateusz Masternak ahead of Usyk’s World Boxing Super Series matchup with former two-time titleholder Marco Huck.
The opportunity to study and challenge himself against a few of the division’s elite before the biggest fight of his life is something the South Londoner believes is invaluable.
“The most important thing is I see what people do at that top level, and what I need to do to get there,” Chamberlain voiced to Behind The Gloves. “You see a lot of things: what people are doing well, and what things to avoid. It’s all a learning experience, and something I’m grateful for.”
After his stint in Eastern Europe, Chamberlain came back to Britain looking to silence Okolie because he felt the 2016 Rio Olympian talked too much.
“I’ve sparred and boxed big hitters already, he waffles a lot and he talks too much, his ego is too high, and when I beat him, it’ll knock him down a peg,” Chamberlain expressed at his pre-fight press conference (transcribed by Boxing News Online). “I’m not the one that talks, that’s him. I know the way he acts and in the face to face, I could see through him. He has no heart and that will show February 3.”
Unfortunately, the Brixton cruiserweight was unable to make a statement against Okolie (8-0, 6 KOs) as he was knocked down twice on the way to losing by unanimous decision in the 10-round fight.
Tasting defeat for the first time since the amateurs, Chamberlain admitted he wasn’t himself in the main event at the O2 Arena after suffering a fractured tibia and broken patella in the opening round.
“Honestly, it was just different in there,” Chamberlain told Sky Sports. “I wasn’t 100% and wasn’t myself in there, I’m not sure what happened.”
Chamberlain (9-1, 4 KOs) has been given a six to eight-week timetable for recovery. During the lay-off, he plans to make adjustments to avoid another disappointing loss in the future.
“[Ted Bami] and I are a team and we work together. When you lose it makes you take a step back and that’s what I’ve done,” Chamberlain said to Sky Sports. “The training and preparation needs to change. It needs to be geared toward me and the specific fight, not just the same, run, run, run, schedule. Losing isn’t nice but I know there are lessons to be learned and we will learn – 100 per cent.”
When Chamberlain returns to form, he hopes to challenge commonwealth cruiserweight champion Luke Watkins (13-0, 9 KOs).
“I want Watkins, that’s the one I will be looking for,” Chamberlain voiced to Sky Sports. “Eddie Hearn knows that. He and his team have been in touch since the defeat and have already talked about an eight-rounder, when I’m fit.”
Chamberlain, nicknamed “Chambo,” still has a bright future ahead of him. Regarded as one of the UK’s most promising young boxing prospects, the school of hard knocks prizefighter possess the mental fortitude and technical ability to bounce back from his lone setback and make his mark in the squared-circle.