Lawrence Okolie drew a line under 13 turbulent months out of the ring with 12 workmanlike rounds inside it against David Light to retain his WBO cruiserweight title.
Since his last outing, against Michal Cieslak in February 2022 where he won via unanimous decision, Okolie has changed promoter, trainer, moved to Dubai and then relocated to America to work with Sugar Hill Steward before this fight.
In the meantime, Light had worked his way into the mandatory position as a result of upsetting Brandon Glandon in December but he had been given almost no chance of securing a second shock in a row.
In truth, he never really got close here and the cards actually flattered him a little. Michael Alexander had it 116-112 while Deon Dwarte had it 117-110. Jean Gauthier’s 119-108 was closest to the money. It’s worth noting that these scores accounted for Okolie’s point deduction for holding in the 11th.
“I’d give myself probably a five or six out of 10 for the performance,” Okolie said. “I don’t know if it was just a bit of ring rust but I’ve shaken it off now.
“He was very tough. I always believe between 7-9 are my rounds to get people out of there and that was when I was starting to hurt him but I couldn’t get that last shot to drop him.”
When asked who he wants to fight next, with unification options and even a move up to heavyweight on the horizon, he said: “I’ll fight anyone. If people watch me and say I’m rubbish, come and fight me and see for yourself.”
Okolie ringwalked to the Nas song ‘Hate Me Now’ which looked like a clear message to his former promoter Eddie Hearn, with whom he has shared a public war of words in recent weeks.
The pair had enjoyed a fruitful relationship together since Okolie turned professional following the 2016 Rio Olympics. He won British, Commonwealth, European and world titles with Matchroom but he has since left and described Hearn as ‘vindictive’ during this fight week.
This was Okolie’s first fight under the Boxxer banner after they won the purse bid for this mandatory challenge of Light. Before tonight, Okolie was 18-0 with 14 quick and the most common pick was another KO for the big-punching Londoner whose efficiency of power could well improve under Steward, the fourth trainer of his career already.
But in the early rounds at least, this was by-and-large the Okolie of old. Always heavy handed and dangerous but often struggling to find his range. Light, meanwhile, was doing little to make an impression on Okolie but he was doing well to stay out of any real trouble.
By the fifth, Okolie was starting to measure Light with his jab before attempting to land his trademark right hand. A couple got through but the challenger took them well and continued to march forward in a bid to close the distance.
After the eighth, Steward was asking Okolie to throw more right hands to the body and ‘The Sauce’ did exactly that, jabbing high but then shooting low as he attempted to put a serious dent in Light. But it did not come until early in the 10th when it looked as though a knockout was imminent when three right hands in a row landed on the button.
But Light somehow regrouped and Okolie seemed hesitant to empty the tank in search of a statement knockout. It looked like it was coming again in the 11th when more bombs from Okolie pushed Light back onto the ropes but again the New Zealander’s chin somehow held up to the questions.
The 12th round came and went with Okolie simply unable to put the Light out at the Manchester Arena.
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