Capital Cruisers: Okolie vs Chamberlain preview
Callum Rudge, who has interviewed both combatants, previews Saturday night's eagerly awaited clash between London cruiserweight prospects Lawrence Okolie and Isaac Chamberlain...
This weekend the O2 Arena plays host to its first big boxing show of the year as Team GB alumni Lawrence Okolie (7-0) of Hackney takes on Brixton’s Isaac Chamberlain (9-0) in a fight that is listed as being for the WBA Continental cruiserweight title. More importantly - I suspect - for both, bragging rights in the capital are up for grabs.
While both boxers are undefeated, their elevation to the big arena stage is very early for both, with Chamberlain’s Southern Area title win over Wadi Camacho in September 2016 the standout victory on either man's record.
This showdown is the kind which usually finds itself at York Hall but it is testament to Matchroom’s promotional acumen that the biggest indoor arena in London will host the event, even if at half capacity. The bout - titled ‘British Beef’ - has been given the big fight treatment with Sky even hosting a 'face off' between the two in which Chamberlain admitted to being jealous of Okolie’s Olympic adventure.
Both fighters have appeared on the Below The Belt podcast - Okolie here and Chamberlain here - and offer very different versions of the beginning of their rivalry, with both blaming the other for originating it. Whatever the truth, it is clear that there is a genuine resentment between the two and, in my opinion, this boils down to nothing more than each of their belief that they are better than the other.
Okolie is very much the 'name' in this fight - he has a compelling and more widely known backstory - the battle from obesity to Olympic hopeful - as well as the power punching style to end fights at any time. He thus goes into this fight the slight bookies' favourite at 8/5.
His friendship with heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has also been well publicised and the feeling among his management seems to be that he should be matched with Chamberlain sooner rather than later - that now is the best time to settle this rivalry once and for all.
As for Chamberlain, the impression I get is that he sees nothing special in Okolie and there is even some envy towards a fighter who has, in his mind, been given it all on a plate, whereas he has come through 'the hard way'.
Chamberlain’s background has been less well publicised than Okolie's but is no less interesting - as a ten-year-old he was dropped off at Miguel’s Boxing Gym in Brixton by his Mum with only one simple request: “please take him!” as she was desperate to see some discipline installed into her wayward son.
In terms of their pro careers, Okolie’s has been quite straightforward, with six stoppages in seven victories and little in the way of trouble. Chamberlain, meanwhile, has already proved himself in the trenches, overcoming a dislocated shoulder to decision the aforementioned Camacho to win the Southern Area title on points.
Having seen Okolie box up close he clearly is the bigger man and has the greater 'fight -ending' power but he can be guilty of merely looking for the knockout. Chamberlain is not the puncher Okolie is and can be easy to hit at times but he looks to be the more polished of the two when putting punches together.
My gut feeling is that Chamberlain will meet Okolie ring centre and look to draw him into a phone box kind of fight, in an attempt to take away Okolie’s reach advantage and draw him into something he’s not experienced. This could lead to a quick end for Chamberlain but my overall pick is for the Brixton fighter to take Okolie out of his comfort zone and eke out a close but deserved decision win.