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Lawrence Okolie looks to step into the big time

Lawrence Okolie
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing
Lawrence Okolie makes the step up to world level against Glowacki, writes John Dennen

FOR once in his career Lawrence Okolie has had to wait. With little amateur experience he qualified for the 2016 Olympic Games, while as a professional he raced to winning British, Commonwealth and European cruiserweight titles in just 14 fights. He pushed on, zeroing in on a world title challenge in 2020, only for his clash with Krzysztof Glowacki to fall through when the Pole failed a coronavirus test a week before their contest.

Their clash for the vacant WBO cruiserweight title has been rescheduled for Saturday (March 20) in Matchroom’s Wembley Arena Bubble. Sky Sports will televise in the UK, DAZN will stream in the US.

In contrast to the Londoner, Glowacki is a veteran. He has gone 12 rounds with the brilliant Oleksandr Usyk, beaten Steve Cunningham and knocked out Marco Huck. His most recent outing was a wild three-round stoppage loss to Mairis Briedis in Latvia, which among the chaos saw Briedis slam an elbow into Glowacki’s jaw, in retaliation to a punch behind the head, as the bout spiralled out of control.

But that was back in June of 2019. When Glowacki was pulled out of the fight with Okolie last year, it meant the Hackney cruiser got a tune up bout in December. Nikodem Jezewski was hopelessly out of his depth against Okolie but the Briton could tee off with a relaxed jab, rip in savage body shots and detonate his explosive right cross. It afforded Lawrence the chance to shake off his ring rust and that will be an advantage come fight night.

Glowacki though is an opponent, and the WBO belt a prize, Okolie has been dwelling on for the best part of a year. “It’s going to be interesting for him in real life to find out why I haven’t come close to losing so far. I believe he’s a good, strong guy and he’s also dangerous because he throws punches with you,” Lawrence said. “As you’re punching, he’s punching. But obviously I feel that’s going to be one of his biggest downfalls as well. But talk is very cheap.

“His recent performances haven’t overly impressed me. He’s still a very good counter-puncher, he’s still semi-awkward, semi-hard to hit but ultimately I just believe if I keep my composure when we get to the middle rounds, if it goes that far, he’ll start to give me opportunities to land. I feel it’s not going to take much of my power shots to really get rid of him. I’m quite a good finisher as well.”

“He’s been face to face with world champions. But ultimately I feel like where his respect for me will come is in the ring,” he continued. “When we get in the ring and he realises, ‘Oh, I can’t close down the range and when I do close down the range, he’s so strong on the inside.’ We’ll have some fun in there. I don’t want to say I have a chip on my shoulder but it’s very important for me to beat him in a way – it doesn’t have to be an early knockout – I have to beat him in a way where he leaves thinking to himself, ‘You know what, there’s nothing I could have done there. I didn’t make a mistake. This guy was just too long, too strong, too smart.’ I need him to say well done at the end of the fight.”

The Pole can push forward southpaw jabs and scoop his left over to catch Okolie. He will pose problems for the Londoner but eventually Okolie should be able to make his size and power tell. Glowacki is able and experienced but he can be stung, dropped and hurt. If Lawrence makes sure to extricate himself from clinches and punches crisply, his strength will make a difference. Okolie should be able to take the win, though Glowacki could hold him to a points victory.

“It’s up to me to execute on the day and hopefully my gameplan’s better than his, my punch power’s better than his and everything that I believe comes to fruition, then we’ve got a world champion,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence Okolie

If he does win Okolie would become the first of GB’s Rio 2016 men’s Olympic team to become a world champion, following Nicola Adams’ and Savannah Marshall’s lead. Some of his other Olympic teammates are on this bill too. Liverpool’s Anthony Fowler, now a gymmate of Okolie’s with trainer Shane McGuigan, looks to solidify a world ranking against Jorge Fortea. The latter sports a 21-2-1 (7) record but rarely fights outside of Spain. In 2019 he did fight for the Eurasian Boxing Parliament super-welterweight strap, another title no one thinks boxing needed, going 12 rounds with unbeaten Russian Bakhram Murtazaliev. Fortea will look to offset Fowler with movement, but eventually the Liverpudlian should be able catch up to him with his solid punching and take a points win.

Joe Cordina was a European champion as an amateur but his transition to professional boxing has taken time. He has looked quality on occasion but also struggled with strong lightweight Gavin Gwynne when he won the British and Commonwealth titles. He subsequently moved down in weight and is looking to establish himself at super-feather. He will fight Faroukh Kourbanov, a recent European title challenger whom Cordina should be able to outclass and outpoint.

At cruiserweight Chris Billam-Smith, another Shane McGuigan fighter, boxes Vasil Ducar and talented featherweight Ellie Scotney goes in with Mailys Gangloff. The career of Ramla Ali, Somalia’s first female boxer, will be worth watching. She gets a test in her second professional bout against Bec Connolly. A battle of unbeatens, Bradley Rea vs Lee Cutler completes the card.

The Verdict A big moment for Okolie as he looks to join the world class cruiserweights.

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