Managed by Anthony Joshua, the Hackney fighter knocked out Krzysztof Glowacki at Wembley Arena to claim his first world title
Lawrence Okolie’s coronation as WBO cruiserweight world champion, after knocking out Krzysztof Glowacki on Saturday night, is more than just a sporting triumph. It is a tale of vast, life-changing determination.
Okolie is now managed by Anthony Joshua, the fighter who inspired him in 2012 — when Okolie was an overweight Hackney teenager working in McDonalds — to aim for the heights in boxing and also in life.
In the past nine years, Okolie has turned himself into a world-class athlete, shed seven stone, represented Britain at an Olympics, and could now become a star of British sport.
His style and some of his performances have been pilloried by fans as too awkward, or as hit-and-hold boxing. Yet, in just 16 professional fights — mirroring his manager — he has risen to become a world champion, completing the journey with an emphatic right-hand, sixth-round knockout of Glowacki at Wembley Arena.
In his most challenging contest on paper, Okolie starched the former two-time world champion, who was stepping into the ring for his 34th contest. Headlining at Wembley, Okolie bossed the bout impressively for six rounds against the Pole, showing poise and maturity before delivering a brutal right hand to finish the fight.
He said afterwards: “Throughout the whole fight, all I was thinking was one thing. Four years ago, Eddie Hearn saw a boy from Hackney and said to him, ‘If you win a world title, I’m gonna get you a gold Sky Dweller [Rolex watch].’ Every single moment in that ring, that’s all I was thinking.”
Speaking exclusively to Telegraph Sport, Okolie added: “Winning the world title is definitely is a big moment. I’m still trying to find a way to articulate it. It’s a big deal but it just feels like an exclamation mark. This won’t be the greatest thing that’ll ever happen to me. It’s great and a checkpoint ticked. But I’m allowing myself to dream. Why can’t I be the unified champion, or go up to heavyweight?
“Winning the world title is amazing, but I don’t see it as I’ve done it now. I’ve dealt with adversity and the critics, people telling me I’m rubbish, I’ve put that aside and kept going. When I finish my career I’ll be able to see what they have said about me and what I have actually achieved.”
Okolie also explained how Joshua has shaped his journey: “AJ reminded me a little bit of myself. He was from London and had been through what I’d been through, I was always drawn to him. As an athlete as well he was a big strong black guy. I watched his world amateur championships, where he got a silver in 2011, as a spectator. I watched him go from that to winning the Olympics.
“Watching that, in that moment I said to myself there is nothing about these boxers that is far-fetched to me. They throw punches, they block punches. I thought to myself I’m never going to get to his place if I’m eating fast food every lunch break and not really living the life. That day I decided I was done there [at McDonalds]. I cancelled everything.”
The 28-year-old explained: “I was going to college but I said to my mum that I wasn’t going to work. I saved up and I just trained, trained, trained. That became my main focus from 2012 onwards. In 2014, I started sparring AJ and Dillian Whyte. AJ was an Olympic gold medalist and had all this fanfare. He was struggling for sparring because no one wanted to spar him at that time. Every time they called, I was straight on the train from Hackney to the Matchroom Gym [in Essex]. I was doing eight rounds, back-to-back with him. It boosted my confidence. When you’re sparring an Olympic gold medalist, or a professional like Dillian Whyte and holding your own against big heavyweights, you really start to believe.”
Okolie, 6ft 5ins tall with an 83-inch reach, a huge frame for a cruiserweight, now wants to unify the division, and then step up to the heavyweight ranks.
“Glowacki was talking about fighting Maris Briedis [the IBF champion] again. He thought I was inexperienced, not at his level. I wanted to show him brutally it’s not the case. Now I want to face Briedis, and become the division’s undisputed champion.”
Even McDonald’s tweeted to say how proud they were of their former employee. Okolie has come full circle, is now a world champion, but clearly has ownership of his own destiny.
Undercard wins for Scotney and Ali
Catford featherweight prospect Ellie Scotney recorded her second professional victory with a poised points win over France’s Mailys Gangloff, while Bethnal Green featherweight Ramla Ali dominated Bec Connolly over six rounds, winning 60-55 on the referee’s scorecard to move to 2-0 in her career.
Both appeared on the undercard of Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing show at Wembley Arena on Saturday night.
Scotney, 23, showed glimpses of her talent, catching Gangloff with crisp combinations in a six-round points victory.
“It was definitely a learning fight for me for sure,” said Scotney. “Normally in your second fight you’re going to box someone that’s not coming to win. She wasn’t an idiot; she’d had five fights. I learnt a lot from that and there’s a lot to build on. I’m thankful for that.
“She was very angry, wasn’t she? She’s as tough as they come, and I think I’m going to benefit a lot from it. It’ll give me a kick up the backside. I’ve got a lot more work to put in, which I love doing. I’ve got a long way to go.
“It was my birthday this week, I’ve just turned 23, I want to push on and I know I’ve got it in me. Now it’s time to start delivering. Women’s boxing is going from strength to strength. Hopefully I can get on the undercard of one of the big ones in May.”
Somalia-born boxer Ali, meanwhile, displayed her classy ring skills from the opening bell, almost stopping Connolly with a sustained attack in the third round before completing another one-sided points win.
“Apart from the shiner on my face I’m very satisfied,” Ali said. “Regardless of what the scales said, I gave away about half a stone. I weighed-in in like two pairs of jogging bottoms just so I could match the weight. I felt the weight difference for sure, but I tried to not let her use her weight advantage against me.
“I tried to maintain the centre of the ring as much as possible, which I did. I’m really satisfied with how I performed. She’s tough but I got it done. Jobi always says you can’t beat the feet – and he’s right! I was always moving off from the double jab. We work a lot on footwork, and I feel like I did really well with my footwork.”
Ali added: “She was the one calling me out saying that she wanted to fight me. Don’t then turn around and complain that you’ve had short notice. You’re a professional, if I was calling someone out, I’d be ready any time. She said she had a couple of days’ notice. I don’t know what to say about that really.
“Everyone is nervous before getting in the ring because it means so much to you. You want to prove yourself and you want to show all of your friends and family that are watching at home that you’re worthy of watching. You want to put on a good performance and have a good fight. The moment that bell went all of the nerves went and I was razor focused on getting the job done. The Olympic dream is still alive and I’m still hopeful to go, and hopeful to compete. I’m still hoping to progress in my professional career.”