Lawrence Okolie can equal Anthony Joshua’s swift rise to world champion in only 16 fights, surely the clearest proof yet that his journey is undervalued and inspirational in its own right.
Undefeated Okolie faces a difficult, rugged foe in Krzysztof Glowacki on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports, for the vacant WBO cruiserweight championship – if he’s ultimately not ready, this is an opponent who will expose his shortcomings.
But Okolie has been confidence personified all week, boldly insisting this fight “is not his pinnacle” and predicting a move to heavyweight soon after. It is bolshy talk ahead of his most stringent test but, as a pro, he has steamrolled through every level so far.
Okolie was obese and flipping burgers at McDonald’s in east London in 2012 with the Olympics just down the streets that he called home.
He saw Anthony Joshua claim the men’s super-heavyweight gold medal and vowed to turn his life around.
Nine years later he is an Olympian himself, an author and a rapper, a British, European and Commonwealth champion, he is signed to Joshua’s 258 Management and just hours away from his world title moment.
It is a rise that Joshua himself would have been proud of – he beat Charles Martin in his 16th fight for the IBF belt and Okolie can match that achievement tonight.
Okolie’s 2016 Olympic elimination at the hands of Erislandy Savon, the nephew of Cuban great Felix Savon, was just his 26th amateur fight. That is an absurdity, to be mixing at such heights despite such inexperience.
He has grown, evolved, learn the hard way and occasionally frustrated in the full glare of the public. He has had an on-the-job boxing apprenticeship which has included a series of brutal knockouts (Okolie has the type of power that cannot be taught) and also a few ugly brawls.
He isn’t perfect, and that makes his rise to tonight’s world title fight even more admirable.
Twelve stoppages from 15 fights and a ruthless instinct when he smells blood means Okolie is a serious threat to blow Glowacki away but he isn’t desperate for a quick fight, he insisted: “I’m not relying on a big shot to knock the guy out. I’m relying on him landing and me landing.”
Poland’s Glowacki has been in Okolie’s shoes before.
He is a former WBO champion who has won world title fights on the road before. In 33 fights he has only lost to Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis, the cruiserweight division’s two outstanding recent talents.
Okolie is brazenly looking ahead to other champions: “Anyone that [promoter] Eddie Hearn can guarantee, I’ll take. If it’s Briedis next, I’ll take it, Arsen Goulamirian, I’ll take it. If it was Ilunga Makabu.
“Any one of them, genuinely, I’ll go for.”
Briedis’ promoter Kalle Sauerland warned: “He is obviously the man to beat in that division after raising the Muhammad Ali trophy and the World Boxing Super Series.
“But his direction looks more likely to be towards the heavyweight division in 2021, however one never knows.”
Heavyweight is also where Okolie sees himself. He has already been embroiled in a spicy war of words with Dillian Whyte.
“His ambitions are to go to heavyweight,” his trainer Shane McGuigan said. “It’s very rare that you roll and slip, flashy useless stuff when it comes to heavyweights. The basic, fundamental stuff works for the big guys.”
Okolie has said: “I’m not here to scratch and claw my way to the top. I won’t scrape through, I will do it in impressive fashion.”
If that prediction becomes true then Okolie will become Britain’s newest world champion in the division that Johnny Nelson, Tony Bellew, Enzo Maccarinelli and David Haye once conquered.
His sights are set much, much higher but foreign contenders have spoiled several parties in British rings since last summer.
Glowacki is more experienced and savvier when the stakes are this high, so if Okolie can bludgeon him it will be a devastating statement.