British boxer Lawrence Okolie is the current WBO cruiserweight champion; holding an unbeaten professional record of 18-0, 14 of those victories coming by way of a knockout.
The former Olympian, who has also held the Commonwealth, British, and European cruiserweight titles during his career, will put his WBO belt on the line again when he makes a mandatory defense against New Zealand’s David Light on March 25 at London’s AO Arena.
M&F was able to sit down with “The Sauce” at his fight camp in Florida to learn more about his striking power and accuracy, life as a champion versus being a challenger, and why Okolie feels that he is not a natural athlete.
You have been boxing since you were a young man, but at what point did you decide to invest your whole life into being the best that you can be?
I must have been 19, really, because it was during the 2012 Olympics. I was watching Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell and even Usain Bolt go on and win gold medals, but moreover Joshua and Campbell, and Nicola Adams, and seeing them get their hands raised at the end of an Olympic final … and especially Anthony Joshua, because he was someone that I felt looked like me and came from a similar area, I really felt like, “Oh, if he’s done it, why can’t I”’ so, I really knuckled down and left my job at the time, in a fast-food restaurant, and from there I just pushed on.
As a young man, did that decision mean that you would miss out on fun with your friends? How was that?
Yeah. It still goes on now. Obviously, I enjoy hanging out with my friends, I’m still a human being, I enjoy all of the same stuff, but there are times, especially in camp, where I have to say, “It looks good, but I have to say no.” Or [people will say] “Such and such is here,” but I’ll still have to say no.
It’s very, very difficult but I just think to myself that in terms of sports you only have a select period of time to achieve what you possibly can, so I don’t want to ever look back and regret that I went to that party or I stayed and had a drink with that girl, or I did this or I did that. I think the best thing to do is stay disciplined, train as hard as you can and then whatever happens, win lose or draw, as long as you’ve done the best that you can, it will be what it is.
Who have been some of the heroes who have inspired you along the way?
I think it’s a mixture between David Haye and Anthony Joshua; British, big guys, power punchers, who also handled big occasions very well. So now, when I’m in my fights, I just think to myself ‘these guys have been here before, I’m just following in a similar footstep.’
You are known for having a very accurate jab. Do you think this is something that you were born with or do you have to work on the mind and muscle connection to really hone this?
Yeah, I think it’s just about the time that you put in. I was not athletic as a kid at all. I was actually overweight to the point of needing to go and see a doctor, who told me the various different problems I would develop if I didn’t get myself in shape. So, it wasn’t like I was a naturally athletically gifted (fighter). You just have to work at it. I think in boxing in particular, as a sport, it’s about putting yourself in difficult and uncomfortable situations where it is dangerous, where you have to learn, “Oh, If I don’t throw (a punch) things are gonna happen.”
For accuracy, in particular, you’ll hit the pads where there is a small target or you can focus, when you are in sparring, on not just hitting somebody (anywhere) but actually aiming for a specific part of the body like the shoulder as opposed to just the whole arm. I might want to hit the top of the head, or the chin, or go for the right side of the cheek.
How could someone improve their own punching power?
Train up the punching muscles. Like, get your shoulders bigger or your lats stronger. Or you can do more pushups so that you’ll definitely be able to punch harder. It’s about finding out which exercises work for you. Some people’s bodies are built to be long and elastic and others are more short and compact.
What you wear in the gym must be very important to you, and you are an ambassador for BohooMan. What do you like about this clothing range?
You know, it’s comfortable. It’s breathable. They have different stuff for different sessions. So, when I’m in the weights room I wear a different set from when I’m boxing. When I’m boxing, I want to have my shoulders free. There are some days when I want to sweat, and hold the sweat, so I wear the more cotton stuff. Other times I want it to be more sports specific so I’ll wear an active top that wicks the sweat away. I was wearing their stuff before we ended up being partners.
You haven’t eaten meat, fish, or dairy since 2016. This is for both ethical and nutritional reasons. It’s a preference that seems to work well for you!
They have me on the lentils, the pulses, and chickpeas. Then it’s just mixed with sprouted this and spouted that, but you gotta do it. It helps me to feel in shape and energized. I made myself a promise that while I’m boxing, I’m not going to eat meat or drink alcohol. I’ve kept up with it, and it’s gone well so far.
People often say that it is tougher to be the champion than it is to be the challenger. As the champ, what are your thoughts on this?
For me, I still fight and train as though I am a challenger. It feels different. When you are the champion it’s not the same hunger and chase, it’s more that you have something that you want to keep hold of and I kinda see it as a responsibility to keep this now, a responsibility to act like a champion and train like a champion. It’s a different kind of energy, you just have to find different motivations.
Could unifying your title be one of those motivations?
Of course. The only problem with that is the other champions have to say, “Let’s do it.” I enjoy testing myself and I enjoy the feeling of my heart beating.
You’ll be defending your WBO cruiserweight title against David Light (18-0-0) on March 25. How are you feeling right now?
I’m in the fight camp now. Today was a sparring session, and I’ll go in and do weights in around an hour and a half. This is why I look so rough in the face. I haven’t had a haircut, nothing like that, I’m ready to go. I’m just pushing myself to the limit and that’s it. Always ferocious.