“Lawrence Okolie vs Wadi Camacho is announced, and the crowd goes ... mild.”
It’s approximately 8.30pm on a Saturday fight night, and Lawrence Okolie has just impressed again with the eighth knockout of his thus far short professional career, defending his WBA continental cruiserweight belt against Hungarian journeyman Tamas Lodi. Yet there’s something not quite right, the 5,000 or so screaming fans at the O2 just aren’t excited, and they become even less so when his next bout is announced almost immediately after.
A young, British fighter with a real chance of making waves in the cruiserweight division is met with an almost awkward silence – and not for the first time. The Anthony Joshua protégé has been on quite the journey to get to where he is now, from a once clinically obese teenage McDonald’s worker to the most inexperienced British boxer to ever go to the Olympics in 2016, and after a short but effective time in the amateur ranks, Okolie has wasted no time in the ring since.
But despite a record of fights which when looked back on, have all been dominantly won – with the exception of Matty Askin at Wembley Stadium, his toughest opponent – there has been a lack of enthusiasm from the British crowds.
The 6’5” fighter has an awkward style, a long-ranging jab with a less than impressive inside game, yet his ability to punch as hard as the top heavyweights makes Eddie Hearn’s role of finding him credible opponents difficult.
Okolie’s original rival on the Ted Cheeseman vs Sergio Garcia undercard, American Shawn Miller, was only confirmed on Tuesday of fight week and then pulled out two days later, so in stepped Lodi, a fighter looking to pick up a quick and easy paycheck, more than willing to fly over to the UK without a care for his professional record in the world. Sadly, similar to the majority of the boxing world.
Despite fans lacking excitement about Okolie, he is highly rated among the stars of the sport. He regularly spars Anthony Joshua when the unified heavyweight champion of the world enters a fight camp – because at 6’5” and with a range longer than most, the unbeaten cruiserweight has the hallmarks of a heavyweight who could pose many a fighter in the division a serious problem.
Tyson Fury too brought Okolie out to Big Bear in California to aid his training due to his similar style to that of the Gypsy King’s then-upcoming opponent in Deontay Wilder – long arms with devastating power but perhaps a lack of boxing skill and technique. But that is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to Okolie’s game, the 26-year-old is a fighter you can’t predict and at any moment, he can put you on your back.
But it is his inside game that leaves fans wanting more, often getting tangled up and not knowing what to do so retreating to his range and keeping his opponent away, which similar to the much-loved Fury means that for the casual boxing fan used to watching the likes of Joshua, Wilder and other heavy-hitting knockout fighters blow opponents away with ease, they are going to be seen as boring.
Perhaps unfairly, an all-British fight against Isaac Chamberlain in 2018 was billed as one of the most exciting domestic fights of the year by the Matchroom promoter of both men – but ‘British Beef’ was a massive disappointment. The O2 Arena was sold on the fact this was a grudge fight, one to really say once and for all who the best upcoming cruiserweight home fighter was, with the winner going on to be the golden boy of the division.
Despite Okolie’s victory, which included knockdowns along the way, both men came away from their big night with reputations badly soiled after 30 minutes of boxing which seemed to go on for about 300.
Having won the British title in just his 10th cruiserweight fight – quicker than his mentor Joshua who took all of 15 – Okolie’s rise cannot be taken lightly and with improvement to his boxing intelligence and all-round game, could be a force to be reckoned with in both the cruiserweight and eventually heavyweight divisions. It’s just a force that may never see him headline big shows that supporters pay their hard-earned pounds to attend.
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