Lawrence Okolie wants to become one of, if not the greatest cruiserweight that Britain has ever produced.
In the years after his career is finished, Okolie wants debates about who was better. Okolie? Glenn McCrory? Johnny Nelson? David Haye? Enzo Maccarinelli? Tony Bellew? For those conversations to take place, the unbeaten 28-year-old needs to win a world title. On March 20, he gets a winnable opportunity to do that by taking on the vastly experienced Krzysztof Glowacki for the vacant WBO cruiserweight crown.
Legacy means a lot to Okolie and he has already accomplished the old-fashioned triple crown of British, Commonwealth and European titles.
“It’s not a world title but it’s a historic moment,” he told Boxing Social about his European success, which came in 2019 against Yves Ngabu. “As a fighter, I’ll always be British, Commonwealth and European champion so to be able to do that is something ticked off.”
Okolie has even bigger plans for his career which began against Geoffrey Cave in March 2017. A night when Jorge Linares was in Manchester to show everyone how good he was, at the expense of Anthony Crolla second time around. Okolie’s maiden world title fight will arrive nearly four years to the day of his debut. Since then, the 2016 Olympian has gone about his business, putting his physical attributes to good use. Now comes a proper examination of his credentials. Glowacki, a former WBO champion, has shared a ring with current cruiserweight king Mairis Briedis, one of the all-time greats at the weight in Oleksandr Usyk and holds wins over Steve Cunningham and the once awkwardly dangerous Marco Huck.
“I’m ready and willing to get in there and have a fight. I’ve been doing this for long enough now so [I’m] just going to go in there and have a fight and win,” said Okolie who sits at No.2 in the WBO rankings.
And of his opponent, the No.1 contender, he said: “He’s experienced. A good fighter, strong, all of the above. He’s a good, solid, world-class fighter. It’s a world title fight so it’s always going to be hard. I’m going to go in there and dominate the way I envisage myself dominating. There’s a certain way I want to look in this fight and I’ll do whatever it takes to look like that.”
Okolie is a more confident fighter these days. It may seem surprising to hear that from a former Olympian who was snapped up by promoter Eddie Hearn and Anthony Joshua’s management team. He has always known how to fight but there is greater belief in his technical abilities and now a mentality that he can compete with the world’s best in his weight division.
“I used to watch world class fighters and think, can I ever…? How do they…? But now that level of fighter now i.e., world champions, world title challengers, I look at them and say I want a piece,” he said.
That is one of the differences he has noticed about himself in the past four years. And again, it goes back to confidence. He describes the transition in this period of his career as “crazy”.
“It’s happened so quickly I still find it weird hearing people say my name or anything like that,” he said.
The role of being noticed on the street by fans, being stopped for a picture or an autograph is something he enjoys. He has grown into the part that will see more and more want a pic with the champ should he become one next month.
“Especially where I’ve come from, usually when people stop you on the street randomly it’s not for such a nice thing. But it’s a good change and I’ve seen a lot more of the world. I love it really,” said Okolie (15-0, 12 KOs).
It is slightly over the top to say that Okolie has a swagger about him but there is a conviction in his words. His talents and the power he carries has taken care of business so far without too much fuss or drama and it’s difficult to be swayed from anything other than a home victory on March 20. However, he is quick to remind you of the basics of what it’s all about and the challenges a fight brings, especially against a seasoned world title contender and former champion regardless of who you think is the favourite.
“I never go in there feeling like a favourite,” said Okolie who in every fight to date has been just that.
“I’m just guaranteed that I have to go in there for a fight and walk out of there hopefully with a victory. You have to fight for it. It is all well and good being the favourite but I’m also well aware that it’s real life and people throw punches back at you. It’s really not as straightforward as go in there and you’re the favourite with the bookies and it’s a guaranteed win. We’ve seen plenty of upsets before.”
Confidence, maturity, discipline are all in the locker ready to be taken out on fight night.
In December, he picked up a straightforward, second round win against late replacement Nikodem Jezewski on a night when he was originally due to face Glowacki before the Pole tested positive for Covid-19. “I managed to get out and see the positives. I got an extra fight in. I got rid of ring rust or what might have been there. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. Ultimately, it’s given me more confidence in myself and what I wanna get.”
Yet 2020 was a unique experience for Okolie and the year taught him something more than how to win a fight.
“I learned the importance of being able to train at home but ultimately I’m still getting accustomed to it, the new way of life, because it’s not easy but it’s not easy for anyone,” he said. “Something as simple as being able to smile at someone as you walk down the road, that luxury is gone. Now it’s remembering what’s actually important. Even learning to spend a bit more time by myself. It’s been educational [which] is the best way to put it.”
His education at work continues to shine under the tutelage of Shane McGuigan who has been in his corner for his last three fights. The Boxing Writers Association of America ‘Trainer of the Year 2016’ has helped bring out the confidence that has been in Okolie all along, reminding him too that he is world class.
“Before working with him [McGuigan] I knew how to fight but since then it’s been the little things. One thing is technique but it’s the little things that go a long way,” said the Londoner.
While Glowacki may be entering the final chapter of his own story, a new one is beginning for Okolie. WBO title, undisputed champion and then a move to heavyweight, “Once AJ and Fury are finished” as he said. Lofty goals for a man who must rarely look at anyone taller than him. Winning the WBO cruiserweight title is just the start for Okolie.
“These four years have been about learning. It’s good to have done a lot of learning but now you’re at university let’s see if you can get a PhD or not. It’s great but it’s not the be all and end all. There are people with multiple belts or lots of defences. Winning it, amazing, it’s more history but it doesn’t end there.”
And we return to the word legacy and how Okolie wants to be remembered after all the accolades.
“In 10 years, people will say, ‘You know what, you got to hand it to him, he wasn’t bad, was he?’ That would mean a lot to me. Legacy, yeah. To be recognised as one of the best, if not the best cruiserweight to ever come out of Britain. It’s a hard ask because you’ve got someone like David Haye, and you’ve got Johnny Nelson and Glenn McCrory. When they say my name, they will say, ‘You know what, he was one of the best cruiserweights we’ve had’. I want them to say, ‘I wonder how it would be if he boxed Johnny Nelson?’. That’s the kind of conversations I want them to be having.”
Main image and all photos: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.