When the pressure was on, Lawrence Okolie remained ice cool under scrutiny. The East Londoner produced the finest performance of his career when it mattered, maintaining steely discipline for five rounds before finishing two-time world champion Krzysztof Glowacki in the sixth round to claim the vacant WBO cruiserweight title at the SSE Arena in Wembley on Saturday night.
In the toughest fight of his career on paper, Okolie (16-0, 13 KOs) was cultured and composed, dictating behind a dominant jab before gradually turning the screw to break the Pole’s resistance with a fight-ending right hand in the sixth.
Afterwards, an overjoyed Okolie turned his attention to a possible unification bout with IBF and Lineal champion Mairis Briedis. The Londoner’s range, stature, awkwardness and power would seem to give him a chance against any cruiser on the planet, but those tests are to come.
“I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” said Okolie. “I’m happy. For me, it’s more of a relief. The potential has been there for over a year. I’m happy to get the victory. Now and forever, I’ll be a world champion.
“I was just really focused on putting on a good performance. I’m physically very strong and punch hard. I’m very fit, so I can win on just those attributes at a certain level. I really focused on not rushing any shots because he’s very dangerous with counter shots and he’s very heavy-handed. His jabs were very solid, so I had to be very meticulous in keeping the distance. It was a good, clean performance.
“All of the British former world champions wishing me good fortune really touched me – shout out to them. From every run that I ever did, losing all of that weight, deciding to take a risk, having my parents support me financially when I couldn’t afford to get the bus down to the gym for training. To see it all pay off with a world title is a dream come true – never give up. We can just go on from here. I need to keep pushing myself to prove myself as the best.”
It was a cagey encounter early on. A circumspect Okolie detonated a stiff right hand in the opener but seasoned southpaw Glowacki wasn’t likely to roll over early. Crouching low, the two-time world champion presented an awkward, sometimes impenetrable target, often stepping on the Londoner’s lead foot in close. Okolie’s fluid jab proved the key punch in the first quarter of the fight.
Okolie sprang into life in the fourth, stunning Glowacki (31-3, 19 KOs) with successive right hands with the assault also leaving the Pole with a cut right eye. It seemed like a momentum shift in the fight with a rattled Glowacki lacking composure for the first time.
The Londoner retained his discipline, riddling Glowacki at range and demoralising him with his industry and accuracy in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, Okolie unleashed a right hand that sent Glowacki crashing to the canvas. He rose but was in no fit state to continue. Okolie’s world title dream was now a reality.
His victory signalled another successful project for Shane McGuigan who has previously coached Carl Frampton, Josh Taylor and George Groves to world title glory.
Gifted Welshman Joe Cordina returned after a long break following a taxing right hand injury to outslick Belgian-based Kyrgyzstani Faroukh Kourbanov via majority decision in a super-featherweight 10-rounder. Scores were 98-93, 96-95 and 95-95 with two judges crediting Kourbanov for a strong second half of the fight.
Cordina’s fast hands and flashy cameos were prominent early, but his shots lacked the devil to budge the visitor and he was far less elusive than usual. He won handily enough, but went through the motions somewhat. Kourbanov started negatively but sparked into life from the fifth. He troubled Cordina (12-0, 7 KOs) with body shots in the sixth and gave a far better account in close.
Former European title challenger Kourbanov (17-3, 3 KOs) enjoyed a decent ninth, riddling Cordina to head and body as the Welshman lacked a bit of sparkle. The visitor’s astute bodypunching and late burst of pressure gave Cordina the test he was looking for after a near 16-month lay off, but it ended up a closer than expected call.
“I didn’t think it was close at all,” said Cordina. “I think he nicked one or two rounds, maybe three. I was comfortable and I didn’t really get out of second gear. I let him work a couple of times throughout the rounds, maybe I shouldn’t have. I got a good valuable 10 rounds out of that and it’s something to build on. I’ll put on a better performance in my next fight.”
Liverpool 154-pounder Anthony Fowler scored a career-best win with a clinical third round KO of capable Spaniard Jorge Fortea.
Fortea (21-3-1, 7 KOs) posed early problems with his speed, even buzzing the Scouser a bit in the second, but the improved Fowler was merely biding his time.
In the third, a stiff Fowler jab dropped a stunned Fortea in the corner. He dusted himself off but was dropped with the very next shot Fowler threw – a crisp right hand. The bell rang to end the round, but referee Steve Gray’s count continued with Fortea still on his haunches. He was duly counted out, prompting scenes of jubilation from former amateur star Fowler (14-1, 11 KOs) who is upgrading fight-by-fight with trainer Shane McGuigan.
“I surprised myself, I’m not going to lie,” said Fowler. “I thought it was going to go to points. I half play myself down. He just went 12 rounds with a Russian 18-0 killer, IBF No.1 [Bakhram Murtazaliev]. I’m boxing at a much lower level. I’m the first one to admit that.
“I get a few trolls sometimes telling me that I’m boxing at English title level and they’re right, it’s not my fault. I’m asking for these big fights. I haven’t been getting them. I’ve said to Eddie, ‘throw me in mate, let’s see what I’m made of’. Try and get me smashed and let’s see how I get on.
“Cortea went down from a stiff jab which I was surprised about. I heard Shane say, ‘don’t rush it’, but I knew there was 10 seconds left so I thought ‘fuck it’. I had to throw one bomb at least, luckily enough it landed. He was actually better than I thought he was going to be.
“The first round was even and in the second round he caught me with a good shot. The jab was landing but he was quite tricky. I started throwing to his body to slow him down. The finish was nice, it was a nice straight hand. I was glad he stayed down; it could have been a long night that.
“I could have cried in that ring; it means that much to me. My coach genuinely believes in me more than me. I’ve got the power in both hands and I’ve got the ability. Me and [JJ] Metcalf is an unbelievable fight. I know he wants it; I’ve heard him talking about it. The whole city [of Liverpool] would be buzzing. Put me in with [European champion Sergio] Garcia and I’ll beat him, too.”
Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith (12-1, 10 KOs) scored two knockdowns but showed a porous defence at times in outscoring rugged Czech Vasil Ducar (9-4-1, 8 KOs) in an entertaining cruiserweight 10-rounder.
Outside of the two knockdowns, Ducar gave Billam-Smith a solid argument and closed strongly. Somewhat predictably, two of the home judges only credited Ducar with a single round. Scores were a derisory 99-90 (twice!) and 97-92.
Late sub Ducar came to win and enjoyed a bright opening two rounds, but Billam-Smith’s heavy hands soon told. The visitor was wobbled by a right and dropped by another right hand near the end of the fourth. After a conservative opening, the reigning Commonwealth champion found more verve though Ducar continued to have bright spells with his heart and industry.
A left hook to the body dropped Ducar in the sixth and he endured a sustained beating for the rest of the session. The Czech looked on the way out but rebooted impressively. He was a persistent bother and caught the Brit with some flush right hands in a vibrant eighth. The Czech finished in the ascendancy but inevitably received scant recognition on the scorecards.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get the stoppage, but the main important thing was the win,” said Billam-Smith. “I switched off a couple of times during the fight because I felt very comfortable. I let my hands get leaky probably two or three times during the fight and he clipped me, but I wasn’t buzzed or hurt at all. I saw everything coming so you can always take something out of the shots.”
Bethnal Green based Somalian Ramla Ali (2-0, 0 KOs) looked very bright dissecting Swindon’s Bec Connolly in a one-sided featherweight six-rounder. Referee Bob Williams scored 60-55. With impressive feet and an educated jab, Ali unloaded with unerring accuracy in the third and almost couldn’t miss Connolly with her incisive left lead and stiff right hand. The bout could have easily been stopped in the fourth and the fifth as Ali upped the ante, but the game Connolly (3-9, 0 KOs) made the final bell after a low key sixth. The only downside for Ali was a nick over her right eye, which she sought to protect in the last round.
Catford super-bantam hope Ellie Scotney (2-0, 0 KOs) was given a good six-round workout by France’s committed Mailys Gangloff (4-2, 1 KO). The visitor pressed throughout but the more educated Scotney picked her shots exquisitely off the backfoot. Referee Marcus McDonnell scored 59-55.
In the off-TV show opener, Stretford middleweight Bradley Rea (10-0, 4 KOs) blasted out Bournemouth’s previously unbeaten Lee Cutler (7-1, 4 KOs) in the opening session.
Main image and all photos: Matchroom Boxing.