The cruiserweight division is currently experiencing something of a renaissance.
Often one of boxing’s more overlooked divisions, the 200lbs roster has been reinvigorated by the added spotlight of the recently concluded World Boxing Super Series.
When looking closer to home, it is apparent that the domestic scene is also thriving.
Though historically Britain has produced some excellent cruiserweight World champions – such as David Haye and Johnny Nelson – the current landscape domestically has drawn keen interest from boxing fans, throwing up a series of well-matched potential clashes between some of British boxing’s most exciting up-and-coming fighters.
After it was announced that Matty Askin would defend his British cruiserweight title against former Olympian and Commonwealth champion Lawrence Okolie on the Joshua-Povetkin undercard, Boxing Social caught up with Askin to discuss his origins in the sport, his journey in the professional ranks and, of course, his bout with Okolie at Wembley Stadium…
Beginning his combat career as a kickboxer, Askin revealed that once he realised that his strength lay in his hands – he left the kicking behind and decided to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Terry Halpin, and pursue a career in professional boxing .
“I did kickboxing with my younger brother and I won a few tournaments – but I couldn’t really kick!” Askin laughed.
“My kickboxing instructor told me to give boxing a go, because kicking wasn’t my strongest point: but I could throw my hands. So I went there, and it stuck ever since. My grandad was a boxer as well, so I think that kind of made my decision that boxing was for me.”
Askin showed great promise on the amateur boxing circuit almost immediately. After joining the Pool of Life Amateur Boxing Club at 16, in 2008, aged just 19-years-old, he would be crowned Senior ABA champion.
“I went to the amateurs at 16. I had 24 fights winning 22, winning the champion novice – and then the same year I won the senior ABA’s. I got an England call-up, but I couldn’t seem to get matched so after that I was a bit fed up and thought right let’s turn professional.”
He would turn professional later that year – signing with promoter Steve Wood and making his debut in November 2008.
The transition from amateur to professional is often one with a number of obstacles for any young fighter; Askin admits that he was no different in that regard.
“I went down to see Brian Hughes and he was interested, so I went under his management and it escalated from there.
“I was 18 when I signed, and it was a long process because my style was very amateurish. It took a while for me to be able to sit down on my shots – and learn to defend with my elbows and my arms and using all that head movement – so for me I guess it took a good two years.”
In January 2009, just two months into his professional campaign, Askin signed with British boxing royalty-turned-promoter Ricky Hatton. The link-up with ‘The Hitman’ would see his career began to flourish, and, boxing under the Sky Sports banner, he was named as a ‘Prospect to Watch in 2011’.
After compiling an unblemished 9-0 record, Askin would pick up his first title later that year – knocking out Neil Dawson in six rounds to become the Central Area cruiserweight champion.
However, as is often the case in professional boxing, Askin would suffer a setback just over a year later, coming unstuck over ten rounds against JonLewis Dickinson in a British title eliminator, before going on to loss his first – and only – bout by stoppage just two fights later to future WBO World cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Glowacki.
After a pristine beginning to a promising career, and now sitting on a less attractive 14-2 record, Askin had faced his first battle with adversity.
Undeterred, Askin would bounce back in his next outing, getting back to winning ways and up the English title with an impressive points victory over the previously unbeaten China Clarke. Buoyed by his return to form, Askin would pick up wins over Tayar Mehmed and Menay Edwards before stepping up to face battle-hardened ring veteran Ovill McKenzie for the British title in March 2015.
Despite coming remaining competitive for periods of the contest, Askin would find himself on the wrong end of a majority decision against the former British and Commonwealth champion, forcing him to once again return to the drawing board.
Nevertheless, a period of rebuilding would follow, with Askin remaining unbeaten over his next five fights – including victories over unbeaten prospects in Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy and Corby man Simon Barclay – en route to manoeuvring himself into British title contention in May 2017.
In his second challenge for the Lonsdale belt, Askin would make no mistake: scoring a crushing sixth round knockout of then-undefeated Welshman Craig Kennedy in his home city of Cardiff. After a career that seemed, for a short time, to be blighted by unfulfilled potential, Askin had claimed the covted British title – the many ups and downs, according to Askin, only served to make his victory even sweeter.
“Winning the British title was the biggest relief I have ever had in my life, without a doubt.” said Askin.
“I was scouted as being one of the next best prospects and I failed at that because everything went wrong.”
When asked what the difference was in his makeup as a fighter compared to the man who lost to McKenzie, Askin’s reply was simple.
“I just believed in myself a lot more.
“I had a few bad performances, I had been out for 18 months with hand injuries, I guess going into it I thought ‘this is it’.
“He [Kennedy] was a better fighter than McKenzie. McKenzie had a better punch but I don’t think he moved as well or threw as many shots – so I guess it was just a case of its now or never for me.
“I threw all my eggs in one basket and just went for it”.
A successful first defence of the title followed, with Askin blitzing Scotsman Stephen Simmons at York Hall in September 2017. After a protracted back-and-forth on social media, Askin has now been mandated to defend his title against Lawrence Okolie – with the two slated to meet on the Joshua-Povetkin undercard on September 22nd.
“People think that I have been chasing him: I haven’t at all.” said Askin when asked how the fight came around.
“He [Okolie] seems to be the biggest draw right now and they have made it mandatory so it’s here. He’s just another opponent so let’s get on with it. It’s probably not the way that everyone would think, but for me it is – it’s just another fight.
“I don’t give a s**t who it is: it’s just a fight and I will prepare in the right way for him.”
While predominantly boxing on smaller shows throughout his 10-year professional career, the opportunity to fight on the big stage against one of the bigger names makes Askin neither nervous or excited.
“It’s boxing isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I would be able to say I boxed at Wembley or something like that, but it’s just boxing.
“I would go and fight him at his house, so for me that won’t bother me in the slightest – it’s just another fight.”
When asked to identify Okolie’s strengths, Askin credited his opponent’s right hand as the only thing he felt the need to be wary of – before making it clear that the former Olympian has nothing else on offer to trouble him.
“His right hand: that’s about it. Everything else about him is pretty s**t.
“When you watch him he is very raw. He doesn’t sit on his punches, he’s very amateurish, he’s very excitable – where as I’ve got that maturity about me when I’m in the ring where I know I don’t have to rush things. If I don’t knock them out straight away, I won’t panic. I think I believe that my ability is going to be a lot more than his.”
With camp already underway, Askin revealed that he has been sparring with British heavyweight champion Hughie Fury in preparation, and stated that he had been studying Okolie’s recent outings with a view to coming up with a gameplan to topple the former Commonwealth champion.
“As far as my game plan goes, I have been watching his last few fights – which I know he is not going to move from them – and I will devise something at that point there and then.
“I’m sparring Hughie Fury. He is a big lad, a big British heavyweight champion so you know he is good. We started in camp together and we will both be in the gym at the same time now.”
The bout against Okolie is one that was warmly welcomed by boxing fans, with both men sure to provide an exciting spectacle. The outpouring of well-wishes and support is something that Askin hopes will spur him on to a knockout victory on September 22nd.
“I’m feeling a bit proud because of the support that I’m getting on Twitter which is a bit different for me!” he joked.
“I’m pleased that everyone is buzzing for the fight and its getting the recognition that the fight deserves.
“I genuinely don’t intend on going 12 rounds – I’m a lazy bastard! I always go for the knockout and I’m gonna try and get him out of there as quick as I can.”
As we ended our conversation it became clear that Askin was not in the sport for glitz and glamour. Seeing every fight as a business opportunity, Askin spoke of his desire to secure his family’s future one fight at a time.
“I sound like the most boring guy on the planet: but it’s a business. I want to make sure my house is paid off and my missus and my little boy are looked after.
“If I have to relinquish my belts to fight someone for a lot more money rather than defending my belts: then that’s what I will do. It’s not a matter of where I want to be, it’s a matter of how much money I can get. Whether it’s a World title or a small hall show – which ever pays more money for me and my family, then that’s where I will be.”
Article by: Emmily Simcock
Follow Emmily on Twitter at: @emmily_jane