Fortune favours the brave: Okolie vs Watkins preview

James Oddy
05/06/2018 3:05pm

Lawrence Okolie meets Luke Watkins on Wednesday night in a clash of unbeaten cruiserweight prospects. James Oddy previews the contest...

'Fortune favours the brave' is a fitting appellation for Lawrence Okolie’s (8-0, 6 KOs) meeting against Luke Watkins (13-0, 9 KOs) this Wednesday at Bethnal Green’s York Hall.

The two cruiserweight prospects, aged 25 and 28 respectively, are taking the road less travelled for many undefeated young fighters by risking their '0' in search of bragging rights and a Commonwealth title, it should be a mid-week treat for the discerning fight fan.

For Okolie, this fight follows on from another relatively high risk encounter in his last appearance when the Hackney bomber widely outscored another promising young cruiserweight in Issac Chamberlain, who was 9-0 at the time.

There’s no escaping the fact that this much hyped showdown was a dire fight, but it was still an impressive result from Okolie in his first real test. He out hustled Chamberlain, and used his superior size to bully his opponent at times. Okolie picked up the spurious WBA continental title as a result of the win.

Whilst that was Okolie’s first step up as a pro, he was a high quality amateur, appearing for the Team GB Olympic squad at Rio 2016 to cap a meteoric rise, having only taken up the sport at 17 in order to get fit.

Okolie won two English university national championships in 2014 and 2015 before winning a gold medal at the 2016 European Boxing Olympic Qualification Tournament.

Since turning over in 2017, Okolie has been matched well and rapidly, boxing around the country against the usual durable opponents. His athleticism, power and body punching have stood out, and, whilst far from the finished article, Okolie has shown real promise as a pro.

Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins has had a longer stint as a pro, first stepping in the ring for pay in 2014. Under the guidance of Paddy Fitzpatrick, Swindon’s Watkins picked up the Commonwealth cruiserweight title with a victory over the then undefeated Robin Dupre at York Hall last year. It was a good tussle, which showed Watkins' own blend of athleticism and punching power.

This is a real 50/50 encounter and both men deserve credit for agreeing risk the fetishised '0'. I suspect Okolie will not be allowed to dictate the pace as he did against Chamberlain, and we may see what he’s truly made of.

At 6’5, Okolie is the taller man by 4 inches, and he will need to establish a sturdy and accurate jab early doors to stop the intelligent Watkins from finding a way to him.

My initial reaction is that Matchroom and Okolie’s team wouldn’t take the risk taking the fight if they didn’t feel they could win. But on further reflection, I feel Watkins and the mercurial Fitzpatrick may just have a few more tricks up their sleeve than Okolie can handle at this stage of his career.

Whatever happens, it’ll be cagey until someone lands big. After that, we’ll see who fortune really is favouring.

Watkins, by late TKO, is my prediction.