'Mad Polish warrior': Kamil Sokolowski interview

Oliver McManus
11/12/2019 10:43pm

Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images

Polish heavyweight Kamil Sokolowski tells Oliver McManus that Ultimate Boxxer 6 is the golden opportunity he has been waiting for...

Boxing is a sport of fine yet distinct lines. The stark separation between glory and defeat is magnified on the small hall stage. The winner has their arm raised and moves one step closer to 'making it'; the loser slips through the ropes back to the changing rooms and, all too frequently, to a phone that stops ringing.

And the harder you stare at the phone, the less often it seems to ring. Opportunities often present themselves in less than perfect circumstances but fighters pride themselves on the challenge.

Polish-born heavyweight upset specialist Kamil Sokolowski dances neatly across the divide. He's experienced more highs than many prospects but his 8-15-2 record has seen him crestfallen more often than not. A number of those losses have been contentious, to put it mildly.

On Friday night he is presented with an almighty opportunity. He competes in Ultimate Boxxer 6 with a mixture of familiar faces and new challenges. £16,000 awaits the winner but it's the potential for long-deserved respect that draws Sokolowski in. Boxing Monthly caught up with Kamil and, head coach, Gavin Lane to tell their story.

“I speak to [coach] Gavin [Lane] more than I speak to my wife”, Sokolowski tells Boxing Monthly, “and I’ve never had a camp like this before. It’s been very, very good: longer than usual, I’ve had good spars and I’m feeling good. I’m ready, 100 per cent.

“Gavin is a very dedicated trainer. He spends more time with me than with his family. We meet everyday and we speak everyday - lots of work together. We’ve known each other for three years and we work very well. [There has been] big improvements since I started working with Gav.”

Sokolowski comes from a kickboxing background - having had professional fights in that code and in Muay Thai. As a result of that hinterland, his boxing fundamentals have often had a slightly unorthodox nuance to them.

When he linked up with Lane in 2016 the pair prioritised improving his footwork. In the following three years the improvements haven’t stopped, as Lane explains: “I’ve seen a lot of improvement with him. The technique is so much better but not just in his feet - his balance when he’s throwing the shots is so much better. His reactions have improved and he’s piecing together combinations - there’s a lot that we’ve done in the last three years. I’ll be lucky if I ever got someone like him again because he just loves to learn and he soaks everything up.”

The Barum Boxing Club coach carries with him a meticulous attention to detail - whether through his training methods or when remembering statistics from previous bouts. His constant strive for improvement within his fighters is something Sokolowski highlights.

“When we are on the pads Gavin is checking everything and he always wants me to improve. For me it can be very annoying and after training sometimes I’m sulking and Gavin comes up to me and goes 'oh you’ve got sulking face today.' But I know he is good for me and I am happy working with him.”

For the 33-year-old this is the first opportunity where he doesn’t arrive as the nominal 'underdog' - though he’s been defying that moniker for quite a while. Sokolowski has built an enormous reputation in boxing circles since debuting in 2014. His name has become synonymous with a real tough night for whatever prospect he happens to be facing. Ultimate Boxxer is a chance to further jolt the apple cart and Sokolowski is raring to go.

“I am very happy [with the opportunity] because it is a big chance for me. If I win maybe more people will know my name and I can get better chances for better fights. I am focussed on the tournament and my fight against Josh Sandland. He is an ex-rugby player and a very difficult style - I’m thinking about him first.

"I have trained the same as every fight but maybe now there’s more pressure because it’s on TV and people from my town [Barnstaple] are coming to Manchester to watch me fight. That gives me more stress than the fights.”

Despite previous fights with fellow Ultimate Boxxer participants Nick Webb (a third-round TKO win) and Mark Bennett (a 39-38 loss), the Devon resident is refusing to put too much stock in these past encounters.

“I am not thinking about my other fights with them. Nick Webb, I beat him and knocked him out, but he has got to win before he fights me. I have got to beat Josh Sandland before I fight anyone else so I don’t think about them, really. It’s a new start, this tournament, the fights in the past don’t matter because it’s three, three minute rounds against big men. We can all punch, so who knows what will happen?”

Lane, a former professional himself, was more forthcoming in his assessment of the tournament. Understandably he’s planned for the bigger picture and potential scenarios whilst his charge remains in the 'here and now' bubble.

Adjusting to this format of boxing hasn’t been difficult for the pair, as Lane explains: “I run an amateur club so the three rounds is no issue for us because that’s what we work around anyway.

"He’s in good shape, he always is, and the key will be just to be patient and not trying to rush anything. I think as soon as he lands a couple of punches then he’ll settle and then we’ll work from there. The thing is he’s got a great overhand right and we’ve been working on the uppercut for a while so he knows what his strengths are.”

As we speak it becomes clear just how mentally prepared Sokolowski is for the occasion. He doesn't want to be drawn on hypotheticals - who he may face in the later stages or what opportunities he could have afterwards. There is distinct respect for every fighter in the draw and perhaps an underselling of his own ability.

Meanwhile, in the mind of his coach there is no ceiling to the Polish fighter's potential. “If the right fights come there’s no real limit on what he can achieve.

"We’re being sensible in the fights we’re taking because we want him to win and get something, financially, out of the sport. He’s learning to put his gym work into the ring on fight night, that’s been an issue in the past, but we know the names he’s beaten and he’s getting better - that’s the best thing about Kamil. He’s 33 and still improving.”

There is an incredible amount of trust between the two men - and it flows both ways. Sokolowski says Lane is the best thing to have happened to him in boxing whilst Lane says the heavyweight is his “easiest pupil”.

This particular opportunity has been a long time coming: Sokolowski repeatedly proving himself as a class act over a number of years. For two decades he has dedicated to combat sports - in one form or another. It is, he says, “a hobby” but he’s a darn sight better than a mere enthusiast. It’s an obsession that has his colleague's questioning his sanity.

“I started training when I’m 13 years old - it was a hobby for me. If I win the tournament maybe it’s no longer just a hobby for me and it can be a full-time job. Sometimes people say to me 'you’re crazy, Kamil'. They’ll ask me at work, 'did you run this morning?' and the answer is always 'of course'.

"I’m running at half four in the morning when everyone is asleep! I go back home, get a shower and then go back to work. I love it, I love it. I sit at home when I’ve got no training and I can’t sit still, I need to be in the gym.”

The family man - married, with a seven-year-old son - is either at work or training from 4.30am often until sunset and beyond.

For Kamil Sokolowski, Ultimate Boxxer is that golden moment that all sporting professionals wait for; the lob that wins Wimbledon, the touchdown to secure the Superbowl, the crescendo that all your hard work has been building up to.

It's the opportunity to sit back and say ‘we did it’ and this self-confessed "mad Polish warrior" is determined to make the most of it.

“If I win it will be the best Christmas present I’ve ever had. It will be the best present for my son, my family and for Gavin. I’ve trained all my life and this will give me something to show for it.”