IF all fighters were like Lawrence Okolie, the sport would be a better place.
That’s what came to mind when it was announced the unbeaten 2016 Olympian will fight British cruiserweight champion Matt Askin on September 22 at Wembley Stadium. The fight, Okolie’s tenth as a professional, follows back-to-back successes against fellow undefeated fighters Isaac Chamberlain and Luke Watkins, and is probably one he could delay another six months if that way inclined.
But, no, Okolie is a breath of fresh air and is doing things the right way. He’s taking the fights people want to see, backing up talk with action, and displaying a gung-ho approach that will not only accelerate the process but quickly see him becoming a fan favourite.
Askin, after all, is far from a soft touch. He’s not the sort of champion a highly-touted Olympian is typically manoeuvred towards at this early stage in their career, nor someone on the slide.
If anything, Askin, 23-3-1 (15), is enjoying the form of his life. He stopped Craig Kennedy in six rounds to claim the British cruiserweight title in May 2017 and then followed that with a merciless second-round stoppage of Stephen Simmons in March. Unbeaten since 2015, Askin is flying high and, like Okolie, has made a habit of snapping unbeaten records (three of his last four opponents were undefeated before facing Askin).
“Every credit to Okolie,” said Askin, 29. “He’s vacated the Commonwealth title because he wants this fight, but he’s going to end up flat on his back.
“I can punch, I can box, and I can have a fight. I’ll do whatever I need to do against him to get the win. I don’t think it will go past four or five rounds. It definitely won’t go the distance.
“We’re both going to come out all guns blazing, it’s as simple as that. He’s going to come out thinking’s he’s going to bang me out straight away. I’m looking to go out there and tear his head off. I’ll be going in there and giving 110%, and my 110% beats his 110% every day of the week. I believe that I’m a level above him.”
Okolie, 9-0 (7), bagged the Commonwealth cruiserweight title in June with a straightforward third-round stoppage of Luke Watkins at York Hall. He looked big, strong, powerful and imposing that night. He won with gears unused. Yet it’s Askin, not Watkins, and not Chamberlain, who should represent the true test of Okolie’s abilities – at least domestically.
“This announcement is a fantastic day for me,” said the 25-year-old from Hackney. “My ultimate goal is to be the unified world champion, but before that I want to go down the traditional route, clean up domestically and prove to myself and the fans that I belong at that level.
“Matty Askin is a very experienced fighter who is ranked in the top 10 in the world. I want to start making my way towards the world scene, and I need to be able to beat people like Askin to do that.
“I’ve won the Commonwealth title in my first two years and I want to keep that trajectory going by winning the British title and hopefully winning a world title before the next Olympics.”
Matchroom Boxing’s September 22 show at Wembley Stadium, topped by the world heavyweight showdown between Anthony Joshua and Alexander Povetkin, is shaping up nicely. In addition to Askin vs. Okolie, as good as any domestic fight right now, we also received news yesterday that Luke Campbell will rematch Yvan Mendy, one of only two men to beat him, in a WBC world title eliminator. So far, so good.
It’s the rematch nobody wants, nor needs to see, but Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr are suggesting (granted, only on social media) that a November rematch could be in the works.
Back in September 2012, Martinez, the great virtuoso, defeated Chavez via 12-round decision, but a grandstand finish by the Mexican saw him hurt and deck the Argentine with seconds left on the clock. Too little, too late, this moment of drama has seemingly left the door ajar for a return, despite the fact Martinez, up to that point, had produced a clinic of distance, movement and timing, and Chavez Jr had won barely a minute, much less a round.
“I would like Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez give me the rematch we never had!” wrote Chavez Jr on his Twitter page. “It’s never too late… @maravilla… Let’s Go Champ.”
Rather than ignore this suggestion, or simply post the scorecards from fight number one, Martinez, ever the gentleman, responded: “Exactly, it’s never too late and I’d fight again just for that rematch. Accept?? Are you sure?? I’m proposing November.”
Exacto, nunca es tarde y volvería a pelear solo por esa revancha. Aceptas?? Estás seguro?? Te propongo Noviembre.
— Sergio Martínez (@maravillabox) August 7, 2018
Good one, Sergio. Very funny.
For the sake of sanity, a reminder: in the six years since their first fight, Martinez has boxed only twice, beating Martin Murray and then losing to Miguel Cotto. He has seen his body fall apart on him – most notably, in round one of the Cotto defeat – and hasn’t boxed competitively since 2014. He is now 43 years of age.
Chavez, meanwhile, similarly broken down and living off past glories, is the younger man by 12 years, but has been out of action since fellow Mexican Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez beat the living daylights out of him in May 2017. He wasn’t anywhere good enough to beat Martinez first time around, despite the last-gasp effort in round 12, and I’d hazard a guess even now, with Martinez four years retired, the son of a legend would still find it a struggle.
Some fighters will do anything to get a bit of attention.
Shaquille Day, a man with an already cool first name, signed a management deal with MTK Global today and in doing so revealed there’s a “Black Mexican” in our midst. This, his nickname, grabbed my attention, made me read an otherwise routine, vanilla press release, and therefore seemed to do the trick.
Day, a 24-year-old with a 8-0 professional record, is from Eltham, London. He hasn’t, to my knowledge, visited Mexico, much less lived there, but he would appear fond of the country all the same. Likely a nod to his fighting style, Day, ‘The Black Mexican’, wants to now get busy like a Mexican, having boxed just three times in 18 months.
“I need to be out more because I’m too young to be sitting there dormant,” said the junior-middleweight. “I need to be active.
“I’m 8-0 already so within three or four fights I want to move towards title fights. I don’t care what title it is. I want to let my people know that I’m fighting for a title because I really feel I’m on the cusp of something.
“What you can expect from me is skills, come-forward fighting and excitement. This will be a new era for the ‘Black Mexican’ – so come and watch and find out.”
I have no idea if Shaquille “Bigger than O’Neal” Day fights like a Mexican or is even any good. But he’s saying all the right things, and, because of this, there’s intrigue and, yes, I want to find out.