Lawrence Okolie breaks mould after finding inspiration working in McDonald’s
Tuning up for the fight of your life once involved dawn runs, chopping logs, tossing tractor tyres and smashing sparring partners around to the sound of the beat, with the gym pumped up like a sweat shop, but methods are changing from “caveman” training to something far more subtle.
Towering cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie, Great Britain Olympian in Rio in 2016, meets Krzysztof Glowacki for the vacant World Boxing Organisation crown at Wembley Arena on Saturday night.
Okolie, prepping for the toughest assignment of his unbeaten 15-fight career, has been taking long evening walks, wearing sunglasses before bed, mood monitoring and listening to hypnotic music in specially-created earbuds before sleep.
Hardly the Spartan regime you might imagine in preparation for a battle with an opponent whose aim is to render you unconscious.
Yet Okolie, 28, is emerging as a fascinating character as he climbs boxing’s ladder, and it is not too bad an elevation for a kid from Hackney who was flipping burgers at McDonald’s in Victoria as a teenager, and weighed 21st when he watched Usain Bolt and Anthony Joshua win Olympic gold in London in 2012.
Looking back, he sees those moments as pivotal in his life, that he was “fortunate to get a break during that time and to see the Usain Bolt final, then AJ winning gold”.
His account of the day of Joshua’s final is fascinating. “So, I’m working at the McDonald’s and in that moment, randomly, I got my break come up. It’s crazy that I just happened to see it, and it really did have so much of an effect on me.”
He had already tried his hand at amateur boxing, but something in him clicked. He felt there was a glow around Joshua, something which Okolie identified with deeply.
“I try not to think too much about it, but honestly if I didn’t have a work break at that time and maybe saw he won on YouTube, it’s not the same feeling as living it punch by punch. When you’re in it live, you’re in it. It’s an emotional rollercoaster.
“There was a high of watching Usain Bolt win and then AJ. He was down and then back up. It just hit that day. I can be a boxer.”
Then he got the opportunity to spar with Joshua, watched by Rob McCracken, the head trainer of the Team GB squad.
Okolie tells it as if it is a series of unreal events in his life.
Okolie believes, now, that it was fate that day which made him change his life and set a goal for himself of going to the Olympics, something he achieved in 2016 when he reached the round of 16 in the heavyweight division.
Influenced by his mentor, Joshua, and the university of boxing life at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield – which has the most advanced sports science programme for boxing anywhere on the planet – Okolie has spent the past year during lockdown “taking ownership” of his sporting career – and his life.
It has meant changes to everything – sleep patterns, recovery times and he even has a book out revealing the inspiration he has found through following his dreams in boxing: Dare to Change Your Life, which is published by Random House on April 8.
Okolie is managed by Joshua’s company, 258 Management, and will become the first world champion it has overseen if he beats the Polish fighter on Saturday night.
It is some story: inspired by a fellow fighter from a flabby wilderness, then sparring with him, and, after becoming an Olympian, being managed by him.
“This is a huge moment in my life, fighting for a world title,” Okolie says.
But the greatest thing is “being accountable” and “taking ownership” of his life.
The legendary middleweight Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who died last week at the age of 66, coined that wonderful saying, “It’s tough to get out of bed at 5am to do roadwork when you have been sleeping in silk pyjamas”, but I suspect that if Okolie finds that wearing silk at night enhances his performance, he will do it.