LAWRENCE OKOLIE is a big cruiserweight, a GB Olympian and a hard puncher. It’s counter-intuitive to think once he was the victim of bullying. For Anti-Bullying Week this week he has been visiting his local school. “I was bullied in primary and early secondary school so it’s a subject that’s close to me. I come in and speak to some of the kids in assembly, show that you can be bullied, you can be body conscious and you can change your life, become an Olympian, box on Sky, do whatever you want to do in life,” he said.
It’s been an eventful week in other ways. He had his next fight confirmed for December 13 at York Hall and expects to take on London rival Isaac Chamberlain in February next year. After the two confronted each other on the sidelines of a show last Friday, Okolie phoned promoter Eddie Hearn to insist on the fight happening as soon as possible.
“He likes to play this underdog, ‘nothing’s been given to me,’” Lawrence told Boxing News. But he points out, “It’s me taking the step up in the sense that I’m boxing someone that’s ranked above me, who has been pro for three years, so has developed a lot more experience in that time as a professional. He’s done 10 rounds. I haven’t gone past six. He’s been in the trenches. He’s gone six hard rounds with Russell Henshaw, four hard rounds with Martin Grainger. He’s gone 10 hard rounds with Wadi Camacho. He’s gone six rounds with Ossie Jervier. So in a sense he’s the favourite.”
Their recent confrontation was the final straw. Okolie said, “Chamberlain and I have seen each other on multiple occasions. Face to face, man to man, he doesn’t want to say a word to me ever. When he’s with his people, I’m with my people, he doesn’t want to talk. This time I was at York Hall to support my friend. I was there with my brother, we were walking through when Chamerlain and his friends suddenly confronted us, all with their cameras out, you know, talking about ridiculous stuff, nothing to do with fighting. So I pressed the issue, do you want to fight?”
“I said talk’s cheap, let’s get cracking in December,” he continued. “Some people are about talking, other people are about action.”
Lawrence maintains if the two don’t box on February 3 2018, it will be down to Chamberlain. “Unfortunately they overpushed it with the taunting and the talking, I made the relevant calls and stressed that the fight needs to happen soon. It takes away the whole ‘letting it build’,” Okolie said. “If the fight doesn’t happen in Feburary it’s because they bottled it, in the sense that they want to fight me but they don’t think it’s worth the risk right now.
“It’s bluffing in the sense that they didn’t want the fight right now. If the fight doesn’t happen in February, it’s purely because of an injury, and if he says he’s injured I’m telling you it’s not real, or because they priced themselves out of the fight. That’s the bottom line and it sickens that this stuff is even possible in boxing.”
“I don’t think Chamberlain’s afraid to fight me. I think he wants it to be life-changing money,” he mused. “We’ll see anyway.
“I’m not in this game to mess about for three years talking rubbish with someone, trying to build up a big fight. If I’m as good as I believe I’m going to be, then my big fight isn’t Chamberlain, it’s European, World title, unification that I’m going to build towards.”
There is personal animosity between them. “They’re saying they want to fight but, I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of money, but Chamberlain is extremely jealous of me,” Lawrence said. “He’s jealous and he thinks that he’s been hard done by, despite the fact that he’s got TV, Sky, Facebook Live, coverage from Matchroom, when people in his own gym have done more as an amateur and are doing more as a professional and haven’t got the same platform. So I don’t think that’s fair.”
Okolie reasoned there is no point waiting. He wants to avoid the curse of letting a fight ‘marinade’. “I’m not in boxing to do talking for months or years. He says he wants to fight, he says he wants to box for the Commonwealth title, for the English, whatever. So that being said, the Commonwealth title is held up because Luke Watkins has a mandatory against Mike Stafford and also the English title is the same, [Arfan Iqbal] and Simon Vallily are scheduled to fight. So that means that the Commonwealth title is held up, the English title held up, Southern Area, he already beat Wadi Camacho [for it], I’m ranked above Wadi Camacho. The natural progression is Chamberlain,” he said. “Chamberlain wants to go for this, that and the other. All of those titles he claims he wants to fight for are held up. He cannot fight for them.
“He doesn’t have an excuse not to take the fight. Because he can’t box for a title in the interim and also he can’t say he’s not been given anything and then have the opportunity to be co-main event on a massive show and then say no.”
For Okolie this will be a continuation of his accelerated amateur career. “I got through the amateurs with 26 fights but I managed to do Europeans, qualifiers, Olympian, CYP champ, on the GB team etc. all based on taking hard fights,” he said. “I not only managed to get through but I got a lot better quickly because I was taking risks. So win, lose or draw I was in there having a fight.”
He doesn’t to wait around. He wants to move straight into real fights. That is a refreshing attitude to have.