The next chapter: Lawrence Okolie interview

Shaun Brown
09/02/2018 11:00am

Having settled his London rivalry with Isaac Chamberlain at the O2 last Saturday night, cruiserweight prospect Lawrence Okolie talks to Shaun Brown about the next steps for his career, with the immediate target being a clash against Craig Kennedy in Cardiff...

With their London rivalry now put to one side, as well as a truce made, Lawrence Okolie can now move on from the years of hostility and conflict built up between himself and Isaac Chamberlain.

Last Saturday night at The O2 in London Okolie (8-0, 6 KOs) and Chamberlain (9-1, 4 KOs) settled their differences in front of 8,000 people, when the former ran out a comfortable points victor over the ten-round distance.

The bout was disappointing but for Okolie the most important things to take away are that he won and there is plenty to improve on before his next fight.

 "I can now look forward to my next fight," Okolie told Boxing Monthly on Wednesday. 

"I can show the improvements that I've made from that fight going into the next one but I'm definitely happy, because people forget the rivalry was real [with Chamberlain]. There was months, if not years of back and forth bickering. His friends, my friends... and now there's been sort of a truce made since the fight so it's all good."

A relaxed and content Okolie now looks forward to a fighting year that could continue on 31 March at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. The night is headlined by the Anthony Joshua-Joseph Parker heavyweight unification, but Okolie will likely feature and his target, as he called out post-fight on Saturday, is Craig Kennedy. The name flew out of Okolie's mouth in such a manner that the move was clearly strategic with Kennedy the immediate target for the 2016 Team GB Olympian.

 "Yeah, absolutely," Okolie answered when BM asked the 25-year-old if he already had Kennedy in mind.

"I never like to over look anyone but I knew the AJ card was on the horizon, so that's a fight I wanted. A lot of people don't actually know it's a fight that we tried to make for the last Cardiff card [on 28 October, 2017], but it kinda fell through for one reason or another. Another opportunity has arisen so we have to take it.

"He's done interviews saying he's up for it, he's going to be my acid test and beat me," he continued. "It's a massive stage for him in Wales at the Principality Stadium. It probably means a lot more to him to box somewhere like that than myself. I've already boxed there."

The decision to pursue Kennedy, or target the winner of the British cruiserweight title fight between Matty Askin and Stephen Simmons (who fight on 17 March) later on in the year will be a team one. While Okolie would happily fight anyone now, his team know to take just one step at a time.

"You need everyone to be one the same page," he remarked. "It's more about everyone in the team being in agreement. I would be looking at the winner. I want to do some real damage in the domestic scene. I see the fight playing out either Matty Askin is gonna be a bit too strong and fluid, or Stephen Simmons is going to make it a rough fight and grind him out into a rough points win."

That, potentially, is for the second half of the year but still less than a week since that night at The O2, there is still plenty to absorb and enjoy for Okolie. The 'beef', the build-up, the clever media work all built into a perfect storm that took boxing fans aback with its success pre-fight.

Call it clever promoting, call it a reflection of social media but it paid dividends for both Okolie and Chamberlain regardless of the quality of the end product.

"I don't think something like this would have been possible a few years ago, but it has happened. Social media's definitely a massive tool for boxing to be honest," Okolie said.

"I believed that stuff like this would happen later on in my career, but knowing what I've known of boxing you never really see two fighters under 10 fights create that attention and buzz. It was unexpected, but it was a blessing."

"I think it was good in terms of learning," he said of his performance. "It was my first time doing 10 rounds, so trying to pace myself but still getting work off and just winning. I look back on it and I won the majority of the rounds.

"It wasn't a perfect performance obviously, because I would have liked to have won by stoppage and I had a point taken off. So there's definitely things for me to work on. As a whole I look back and I am happy with the whole experience."

On paper Okolie-Chamberlain looked to many a 50-50 fight. One had the stronger amateur pedigree and raw power (Okolie) while the other (Chamberlain) had already been the 10-round distance and endured a greater test when dislocating his shoulder against Wadi Camacho in the third round of their fight in 2016. Yet Chamberlain still had enough in reserve physically and mentally to win and take the Southern Area title.

The threat on the night loomed large for Okolie but it never really materialised from his opponent.

"Every time I go into a fight I expect to be fighting King Kong," said Okolie. "Even when it's supposed journeymen, because boxing can get really, really gritty so I had that mindset going into the fight. I was really prepared for anything.

"For me, it took me back to the amateur days where I was boxing and there was a thought that if I'm not 100 per cent I'm gonna lose. So that kind of mindset was good, and brought out a different side in me. 

"I look back on it all fondly. Now that it's done I can more look back on what was created, which was an amazing event with a lot of media attention. A lot of people in my local area getting behind me, so that was good. Being the centre of attention, like the whole card being built off a fight with myself. It was new, but something I can take into good stead moving forwards."