Lawrence Okolie huffed and puffed but couldn’t get rid of Poland's Michal Cieslak, as he retained his WBO cruiserweight title with a unanimous decision to potentially set up a unification fight against WBC champion Ilunga Makabu or IBF champion Mairis Briedis, who watched from ringside and joined Okolie in the ring afterwards. 

The fight was messy, with referee Michael Alexander dishing out almost non-stop warnings for holding and a whole host of fouls. Okolie had Cieslak on the floor in the fifth round, but couldn’t keep him there as he became over-reliant on his right hand and smothered his work. 

There was almost no feeling out process as the two charged into each other at the opening bell and then when Okolie landed a big right, the pair almost fell through the ropes as Cieslak held on. 

Okolie, who was walked to the ring by Anthony Joshua, has been guilty of being right-hook happy in the past and that was almost all he was throwing as he dived in from distance. 

Cieslak was already marked under the left eye and the second round became very messy as the pair held and Okolie smothered his work. 

In the third, Okolie kept at distance and pawed out the jab but was caught by a hard left hook. Cieslak seemed to be waiting to counter with the left, but Okolie switched his right downstairs to land well, although referee Alexander was a busy man separating them when they became intertwined.   

The Polish challenger had a better fourth round, although he was told off for punching on the break, and they both earned another warning after they kept going at the end of the round. 

Okolie’s breakthrough came in the fifth, as he dropped Cieslak to one knee with a right that sneaked around his guard and caught him in the chin. He took his time to follow up, but another right near the end of the round had Cieslak’s legs shuddering. 

Cieslak gamely came forward in the sixth round, while Okolie waited for an opening to present itself. Okolie looked a bit more anxious in the seventh round, but Cieslak managed to smother his shots as he tied him up again. 

There were more signs of frustration in the eighth as Okolie, who was throwing only left jabs and big rights, found little room to throw his big shots. There was more holding in the ninth, but as Okolie wound up for one big left hand he was caught by a left from Cieslak. 

He got through with the right again in the tenth, but there were as many warnings for holding as clean punches landing, as Alexander stopped the action again in the eleventh to dish out another lecture. 

The tank ran dry for Okolie in the last as he held on. He was leaning on Cieslak so much that he fell to the floor when the Polish boxer moved out of the way. Cieslak tried to get after Okolie in the last, but Okolie was happy to see out the round. 

Bob Williams scored it 117-110, with Leszek Jankowiak having it 116-111 and Bence Kovacs closest of all at 115-112. 

Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.