Lawrence Okolie had pictures of David Haye on the walls of his bedroom as a teenager and has hopes of emulating his childhood hero by unifying the world cruiserweight title before going on to be a big name as a heavyweight.
Okolie makes the first defense of the WBO title he won by beating Krzysztof Glowacki in March when he faces Dilan Presovic, of Montenegro, his mandatory challenger in the chief support to Joshua-Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. The Londoner is a huge favorite to win and he then hopes to add to his collection of world title belts, promising that he is already badgering Eddie Hearn to make the fights.
“The unifications are the way as long as politics don't get in the way,” Okolie said. “This is a mandatory and once this is out of the way, Eddie knows what I want.
“I had pictures of David Haye on my wall as a kid, with all the belts and I want to recreate that picture of myself. In the cruiserweight division, probably the best champion been David Haye as he unified three out of four belts and then went up to heavyweight to win a world title.
“I want to go down as the best cruiserweight in Britain and when I won the world title at a reasonable age there is an opportunity to do that and undisputed. Outside of Haye, you would probably say Usyk and Evander Holyfield. I want to add myself to the list of the best ever, it would be nice.
“It’s a couple of years to go down as one of Britain's best cruiserweights so I have to go make it happen.”
Okolie says he has been inspired since teaming up with Shane McGuigan as trainer, who worked at one time with Haye himself.
“They've seen loads of world champions come in and out of the gym like Carl Frampton, Josh Taylor, David Haye so in the actual gym there isn’t much chance to stand out.
“Becoming undisputed is the aim. As much as I'm defending a world title, it still feels like the semi-finals, it feels like this a final eliminator. I need to go in there to get the big fights that I want which is me against another champion.”
Okolie has made giant strides in recent years since he early professional career, when he relied too much on power and ended up involved in two high-profile foul-filled stinkers against Isaac Chamberlain and Matty Askin.
“It was a lack of experience and my mind sets [the were the problem],” he said. “The tactics were very different. I had the attributes to win those fights by big margins but it is about the little adjustments to make stuff a lot easier and more devastating.
“I try to not bang on about my inexperience because I decided I wanted to be a world champion and I pushed for it, so whether I did it with lots of experience or little experience, I have to show I deserve to be here and to continue to dominate.
“Glowacki was winning world titles and defending them while I was still in Hackney, I wasn’t even on the GB team. A few years later, I’m there beating him convincingly.
“It is using the lack of experience and making up for it whether that is with tactics, training methods or whatever. No matter what I’m going to be behind people of a similar age in terms of experience but I have to show that's not everything. Sometimes natural ability, talent and hard work can work.”
Presovic is not a big name, but Okolie insists that he is taking him seriously.
“This isn't a big name, but I remember people who slipped up with lesser opponents,” Okolie said. “He’s coming with his own ambition. I know from my experience of what it is like in training camp when you don't have a world title but are aiming for one, you get a bit more out of yourself.
“I don't see myself as a world champion and defending it, I see myself as a mandatory challenger who is trying to get into the spot to have unifications.
“I don't pray to my world title, it’s just a belt in my house. I’m ready to win a boxing match and I’m ready for a guy who is throwing punches at me.”
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.