Lawrence Okolie could not have been more thrilled to provide a title opportunity for his former stablemate.
That point was emphasized by the unbeaten WBO cruiserweight title during the final pre-fight press conference ahead of his upcoming defense versus Chris Billam-Smith. The fight represents a homecoming for the challenger, with their Sky Sports main event airing live this Saturday from Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth, England.
For the defending champ, it’s a springboard for greater things to come.
“I’m coming to make an extremely big statement on the weekend,” Okolie insisted. “As much as I love and respect that other side, a lot of stuff has been brought up around destiny and world titles (with Billam-Smith fighting) here in Bournemouth. I’m my own man on my own journey.
“There’s stuff that I want and need and I’m ready to fight for it. We’re going to find out what’s what and who’s who.”
Okolie (19-0, 14KOs) will attempt the fourth defense of the title he has held for more than two years. The 2016 Olympian for Great Britain claimed the belt in a March 2021 sixth-round knockout of former titlist Krzysztof Glowacki but has since failed to separate from the rest of the cruiserweight pack.
Back-to-back workmanlike performances in wins over Michael Cieslak and David Light hardly resonated with the viewing public. Okolie hopes to raise his appeal, which motivated the decision to face the fan-friendly Billam-Smith (17-1, 12KOs) alongside whom he used to train and spar during his time with trainer Shane McGuigan.
It was why he answered the call when asked of his availability to return to the ring just nine weeks after his points win over New Zealand’s Light in a mandatory title defense on March 25 in Manchester, England.
“I think all of this talk about world title fights wouldn’t happen unless I said I would put my world title on the line,” noted Okolie. “Nobody can put me in that position as a world champion. It’s obviously something that I wanted myself. I’m looking forward to this weekend.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox