By Francisco Salazar
Eye on the prize. In this case, there are two things Ola Afolabi is eyeing.
He is eyeing victory over a last-minute replacement and a shot at a world title belt.
With so much on the line and having the experience of being in this situation before, Afolabi can not pass this opportunity, no matter if the going gets tough.
The cruiserweight contender faces Anthony Caputo Smith in a 10 round bout at Madison Square Garden in New York City, N.Y. on Saturday night. The bout will headline the non-televised undercard of a K2 Promotions/ Gary Shaw Productions card.
Afolabi was scheduled to face unbeaten Pawel Kolodziej in an elimination bout, but Afolabi claims Kolodziej had promotional issues and believed he did not want to fight outside of his native Poland.
So Smith gets the call. While Smith began his professional career winning his first 13 bouts, he has lost three out of his last five. Despite the recent setbacks Smith has faced, Afolabi is not overlooking him and is taking the fight seriously, considering there is so much on the line.
"From what I'm hearing, we win this one, I'll become (the) mandatory anyway, even though it's not an elimination fight," Afolabi told Boxingscene.com in a recent interview. "Because everyone from number one to 10 has said no to fighting me. I don't know much about Anthony. I know he fought BJ Flores in his last fight. A lot of people were saying he won that fight and they gave the fight to BJ. So I'm not going to take him easy like that."
"I don't take anyone easy. I've seen one fight of his on YouTube. I know he comes forward, goes to the body, and throws jabs. He's 15-2 (15-3 is Smith's record). You can't sleep on him, even if he was 15-10, I wouldn't sleep on him. But he's definitely a good fighter. I expect him to be fast because he was a light heavyweight and now he's a cruiserweight. So I'm expecting speed and aggression."
Afolabi is coming off a 12 round majority decision victory over Lukasz Janik on November 2, also inside Madison Square Garden.
Throughout his career, Afolabi has scored some solid wins over reputable and worthy opposition, including Eric Fields, Enzo Maccarinelli, and Valery Brudov.
He is most known for his three fights against Marco Huck, where he has a draw and two losses against him. Many boxing reporters believe his May 2012 draw against Huck was actually a victory for the Afolabi, who resides in the Los Angeles area and is originally from London, England.
While his boxing skills are underrated and is never one to shy away from competition, Afolabi wants to be known more for fighting more consistently and having that career-defining win. It is possible, considering he is at or near the top of the cruiserweight division.
"There's been times when fighters turn it up on me and instead of turning it back up, I go into a defensive mode," said Afolabi, who is promoted by K2 Promotions. "With the fights against Huck, he's the wrong person to do that (against) because he never stops throwing. Being in there with him three times, I've learned that, I decided to fight back. If you fight a bully back, they crumble. I knew this mentally, but i didn't put it to action in the ring. When I put it into action, I'm one of the best cruiserweights in the world. I get good results. That tells me that I need to be more aggressive."
If the other guy is really aggressive, I can either make him miss and counter or I can be aggressive back. It just depends on the fighter. It's totally more exciting to go toe-to-toe with somebody, but even though I'm learning to fight that way, it's not my natural style. So basically I'm going to go in there and see whatever he brings to the table, we're going to counter. I'll be aggressive to start and see what he has and if he hangs in there, then we got a fight on our hands."
At 34 years of age, Afolabi can not afford any defeats on his path towards a world title. With his margin of error slowly decreasing, Afolabi has to be on his game.
But that does not mean he can not find self-motivation through his experiences as a fighter. Whether it was fighting in a ballroom or a sold-out crowd inside a soccer stadium in Germany, Afolabi appreciates what he has accomplished thus far.
But he still wants more and he believes he will become a world champion. A win over Smith continues him on that path.
It humbles me because i see all of it (the boxing game) and i know they're not there for me. I want them to be there for me. That's motivation in itself. When we start putting on a good fight, they (fans) get excited. It's like a drug. I get a big high and I want more of it. I know I'm not successful yet. I've done a lot of boxing when I'm coming from no amateur career, just walking into a gym and then winning belts but it's not where i want to be yet. I still don't own a house. So that's how i stay level."
"I'm not there, so I'll just keep going until i get there."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for Boxingscene.com since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing