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Lawrence Okolie is excited to paint on a blank canvas again

Written by Elliot Worsell

For a boxer, there is rarely someone who likes or hates him. Instead, the ideal opponent often falls right in between those two extremes, landing somewhere in the sea of ​​indifference.

Anywhere else, you see, is dangerous. If, for example, it happens enjoy it adversary company, more than likely you will hesitate when it comes time to do damage to them. Similarly, if hatred, a very common emotion in a sport like boxing, has reached such a level that you wish to express your hatred towards your opponent in a legal way, it is likely that your hostility will backfire and backfire. your performance.

In the case of Lawrence Okolie, the former WBO cruiserweight champion, last year’s story surpassed the last. In fact, when he faced Chris Billam-Smith, his former gym buddy, Okolie was put in an unusual and irresistible position, one that, for a boxer, almost redefines what they do for a living. After all, having long been accustomed to harming unknown opponents, suddenly Okolie was being told to do the same damage to someone he would, in an ideal world, never want to harm. Soon his enemy had a name, a face, a heart.

Suffice it to say, this twist on the old system has left Okolie at a loss. Not only that, he was already softened by his rise to world champion, the 31-year-old Londoner, at a time when he needed motivation and maybe something or hating it, he found himself drifting in a way that was never good for a boxer.

He said: “I was just disrespecting myself Debate News on Tuesday (May 21). “I was not taking it as it is.

“Being a world champion comes easily to me. Obviously, I put in a lot of hard work to get there, but I get through the courses and the professional scene feels easy to me. It felt like I just had to do it.

“Even though I was training hard for that fight (Billam-Smith), I also understood that there would come a time when doing that weight (cruiserweight; 200 pounds) would bother me and I knew that I had to be 100% changed as well. to get the job done against Chris. But I didn’t feel trapped, to be honest. When I saw Chris, I never thought, All right, I’m going to box this guy, that’s what I have to do. When I see (Lucasz) Rozanski (Okolie’s next opponent), that’s how I feel. i think Okay, I’m going to crush him and do this and do that. I may not say it to him, or anyone, but I have those kinds of feelings. Well, I’m with Chris, I just thought, Oh, there’s Chris. I will fight him on the weekend. It was a very different feeling.”

Friends Again: Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith embrace following their fight in Bournemouth on May 27, 2023 (Luke Walker/Getty Images)

Leaving Bournemouth that night there was a feeling that Okolie’s right to return would not be ignored due to the dire nature of the battle, which, if true, would have done little to boost the beaten man or indeed his confidence. Furthermore, the feeling of being ostracized or ostracized was not what Okolie needed when, in 2024, he planned a way back after losing his first job.

“It took a while,” he recalled. “I was telling myself that I would return to the rematch, but that didn’t happen. Then I was going to give up boxing completely and continue to do what I was doing outside of boxing. But I got a call to cast Joseph Parker (Deontay) Wilder and that experience rekindled the flame in December. I was saying, You know what, this is a top five heavyweight preparing for the biggest fight of his life and I’m a former cruiserweight world champion who has had some time off and we’re doing well.. Joe (Gallagher) was also in the corner telling me good things and we talked and took it from there. “

Before reaching Joe Gallagher, boxing’s first promoter, Okolie had to first find inspiration from within. That is, he needed to ask himself some tough questions and find out if, at the time of the push, he really wanted to continue this game.

“I had very different motivations when I arrived,” he admitted. “I was just thinking, Oh, I’ll make a million pounds? Will I win the world title? But then you get to a point where everything happened and it wasn’t really fulfilling. Now I feel like if I win this belt (against Rozanski) it will mean a lot to me. The training and the things I had to do in the gym is what makes this win so important to me.”

Asked bluntly if he still loves boxing, Okolie, 19-1 (14), said: “I love boxing; not so much on the business side, but I understand that business has to be done.

“I was ready to go straight into the rematch (against Billam-Smith), but at some point every fighter realizes what boxing is: it’s business. Time off now has changed my life for the better. I was able to see my son born and I was able to be more present in some of the things I set up to make life after boxing a little more comfortable. Now when I punch, it’s not for money. Obviously I want to get paid, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not like I need boxing to support me that way.

“I have understood that at this time in my life I am better off with it (boxing) than without it. I don’t need a fist to pay my bills, but I do it does made my life so much better. I’ll be traveling and people will be asking me for pictures, so it satisfies that ego guilt. I won’t lie.

“Also, there are not many things that I am at world level. Boxing is one of them. I will always push because the one thing I don’t want in my life is regret. In every battle I have won, even one battle I have lost, I have never regretted anything afterwards. I tried my best in every fight and put as much work into it as possible. It’s the same with this fight (against Rozanski). What I don’t want to be is 35 and think to myself, I quit boxing when I was 31, but I might have been able to do something four years ago. I just want to push it as far as I can and find out. All the things I love outside of boxing will still be there when I’m done, but boxing won’t be there for me in a few years.”

Lawrence Okolie fights

Lawrence Okolie with the WBO cruiserweight belt

On arrival, Okolie began training with Gallagher at his Manchester gym in December. There, surrounded by boxers of all ages and levels, Okolie was taller than the rest. Besides, he was another boxer who practiced; another boxer trying to prove himself; another boxer in the gym felt he couldn’t beat us.

“Since I’ve been in this camp, Joe has been really pushing me everything,” said Okolie. “I’m talking song, versaclimber, bar bag, and just working hard. If you don’t want it, that’s where you’ll get it. If you don’t want it, you will come to a place where you think, Fuck this, he just went out. But we got it out and that will come out tonight, I think.

“I can compare being in the gym with hungry young players. Everyone else is doing hard things, so you are forced to do the same. I have entered the work. I think in this fight I will show you a little, but in the next fight I will show a lot.”

Lawrence Okolie and Joe Gallagher

First things first, to continue his career Okolie must defeat the unbeaten Lucasz Rozanski on Friday (May 24) in Rzeszow, Poland. Do that and Okolie will not only be running again, but he will have marked his arrival at bridgeweight (220 pounds) holding the WBC title, making him a two-weight world champion before the age of 32. Others, of course. , you’ll want to use an asterisk on that because the bridgeweight division is a baby relative to boxing, but Okolie won’t care about such arguments right now. All he cares about is that he has a date, a person against him, and what he is aiming for. More importantly, this target is very unusual; flawless, almost.

“So far it feels good,” he said of being in Poland. “I’ll be honest, it feels like I’m here for a job. No home comforts or any of that stuff. I’m here to do a job. It allows me to think only about going out and doing my job. I feel good about that.

“Obviously I want to win for myself and my friends and family, but in the end what I have to do now is just win the boxing match. I have to go in there and take it out. The only way to win this war is to win well. Nothing less will do.

“I don’t know the boy here. When I look at him, I don’t hear anything. There is no backstory. He is another boxer who can throw a double-jab combination, right. That’s all I have to think about. I don’t have to think about what my old coach is doing. I can stick to the fight itself, and we’ll see how that translates on the day. “

As for the weight gain, Okolie, a former heavyweight champion, sees it as part of his natural progression. Not only that, he is now in his thirties, the idea of ​​being free became almost a necessity.

“It was much better, I’ll tell you that,” she said. “I will never do cruiserweight again. I still deserve it do bridgerweight but today, for example, I had a chance to rest. I rarely get a chance to rest before a fight. I will have to do so something as a cruiserweight. But now I can rest a little bit and I think that will pay dividends at night in terms of my explosiveness​​​​.”

Lawrence Okolie (Ian Walton/The Game Box)

If that is indeed true, the prospect of a return to the flames of Lawrence Okolie will attract boxing fans as much as it terrifies potential enemies. “I think that comes with the territory,” he said when asked about the pressure to consistently produce big hits. “I am a big, strong boy it should do it. In this fight, the guy is going to come out and try to do it to me, so I have to stamp myself on him early. He is not (Oleksandr) Usyk, or one of these talented boxers; he is a sniper who will come and throw bombs. If I don’t discipline him and get him out, he’ll be aiming to do that to me.

“If I’m doing well, this is a style that’s perfect for someone like me. When I’m hitting guys with his size and style, it’s better because I can get to them and I’m quick enough to avoid their shots. You can only wait and see what it’s like under the lights at night, but I think he’s designed for a big KO loss.

“I want to go out and make a statement because there is a lot of talk even about him. I used Google translate for some of what he said and I think it will be good for him to hear what I’m talking about.”

If Lucasz Rozanski is finally the one to hear it, it’s the rest of us, watching from positions of relative safety, who will need to see – or just be reminded – what Lawrence Okolie is all about.

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