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Lawrence Okolie faces his biggest test

Lawrence Okolie
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing
Last weekend's storm might have shredded the O2's roof, but Lawrence Okolie's fight with Michał Cieślak still goes ahead on Sunday, writes Declan Taylor

JUST nine days after storm Eunice left the O2 roof looking like a pair of old boxer shorts, Lawrence Okolie will bid to blow away Michał Cieślak inside the repaired arena.

Although British rapper Dave had to postpone his scheduled shows there this week, it has now been confirmed that the roof will be back in time for this curious Sunday night card to take place.

It will be interesting to see the numbers at the gate, considering Okolie is not one of Britain’s bigger ticket sellers at the best of times. But it appears that this one is not necessarily about bums on seats but rather how the DAZN viewing figures do on a Sunday night as opposed to a Saturday. It is also understood that the main event should go off at around 9pm.

Cieślak, for his part in that, represents arguably the biggest test of Okolie’s career despite not being an opponent who will generate the sort of interest other high level cruiserweights might have.

Since winning the WBO belt with a punch-perfect performance against Krzysztof Głowacki 11 months ago, Okolie’s career has not exactly taken off. He crushed his badly overmatched mandatory challenger Dilan Prašović in September but has otherwise been unseen. Indeed this will be only his fourth fight since October 2019.

Despite that, at 17-0 (14), Okolie is rated second in the world at 200lbs and is desperately seeking a fight with the only man above him: Mairis Breidis. Unfortunately for Okolie, and just about everyone else who has seen the cringe-inducing videos, the brilliant Latvian is far more interested in calling out Jake Paul with diss tracks and tattoos.

That means Okolie has had to go elsewhere in search of meaningful action and Cieślak will provide exactly that. The 32-year-old is 21-1 with that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Ilunga Makubu in January 2020. In what was the only time he’s ever had to go 12 rounds, Cieślak dropped a unanimous decision in a temporary arena in Kinshasa.

At 6ft 3in, the challenger will give away both height and reach to the long, rangey Okolie but will look to work away on the inside. He punches extremely well to the body with either hand and with 15 inside distance victories, has requisite power to stop this fight at any moment.

That being said, the current version of Okolie, now five fights into his alliance with trainer Shane McGuigan and improving with every outing, should be too good for Cieślak – or indeed anyone in the division on his night. Chances are, he will be a problem up at heavyweight too once he decides to make his move.

Given the patient and methodical way in which he broke down Głowacki before closing the show in the sixth, it is difficult to pick against the Londoner inside the distance again here but Cieślak is as tough as they come and has never even been dropped. Okolie to win on points.

Elsewhere, one of Britain’s leading featherweights Jordan Gill challenges Frenchman Karim Guerfi for the European title. Gill has been steadily rebuilding since his shock stoppage at the hands of Mario Enrique Tinoco back in May 2019. However things did not go exactly to plan in his last outing, when he sustained an early cut against Alan Castillo, resulting in a technical draw after three rounds of their scheduled eight in December. Now just two months later, the Cambridgeshire native is ready to go again against the experienced Guerfi.

However, the 30-5 champion has operated mainly lower down the weights – in fact the last time he boxed a Brit was Lee McGregor for the European bantamweight title 11 months ago. It’s worth noting he got stopped inside a round that night.

Therefore a big, strong career 126-pounder like Gill should have far too much for Guerfi on the night and win the title at some point in the second half of the fight.

There is also very notable action for gold medal hero Galal Yafai as he makes his professional bow, eschewing the usual format of an easy debut by jumping straight into a 10-rounder.

Yafai takes on 10-4-1 Mexican Carlos Vado Bautista just six months after his victory at the gold medal final at the Tokyo Olympics. Expect him to beat his 25-year-old visitor inside distance.

Elsewhere, Anthony Fowler returns for the first time since his eighth-round stoppage by Liam Smith. The 30-year-old Liverpudlian is now campaigning up at middleweight and makes his first appearance at the weight against Lukasz Maciec over 10 rounds, and he might need to work for all of them against a man who has never been stopped.

Two heavyweights from Ipswich are also in action on the night, with Suffolk’s Fabio Wardley and Queensland’s Demsey McKean taking on Daniel Martz and Ariel Esteban Bracamonte respectively. Both should win early.

So should Yafai’s former amateur team-mate Cheavon Clarke who also makes his debut on the night, while Campbell Hatton and John Hedges are in six-rounders of their own. Hatton, fresh from the first knockout of his career in his last outing, faces Joe Ducker.

The 19-year-old Hedges, meanwhile, takes on a man old enough to be his father in Aleksander Nagolski. The 36-year-old will certainly feel very old for as long as it lasts.

The Verdict Expect a useful and solid workout for Okolie against tough opponent.

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