By B24 Staff: This weekend, Matchroom Boxing returns to the O2 Arena in London as they present a Sunday night of world championship boxing, live on DAZN.
Thankfully, for the good of boxing fans, not choosing to clash with Josh Taylor vs. Jack Catterall on Saturday, means that we get a double dose of world title action on British soil.
The reigning WBO cruiserweight world champion, Lawrence Okolie (17-0) will look to defend his title against Michael Cieslak (21-1), remain undefeated, and take a step towards bigger fights with a win in his home city of London.
The 29-year-old has carved a journey of epic proportions. From humble beginnings of working at McDonald’s (a well-documented job placement that is mentioned every single time he ventures through the ropes) to capturing a world title, his is a real-life story that can inspire an entire generation of youngsters from England’s capital .
The 2016 Olympian has settled into life as a professional, navigating only minor bumps in the road since turning pro in 2017. Huge at the weight, once the 200-pound division is conquered, expect the champion from Hackney to move up to the sport’s marquee division.
Trained by Shane McGuigan, Okolie is heavy-handed with a huge reach and can be awkward to measure; conundrums none of his professional opponents have been able to conquer to date. ‘The Sauce’ sometimes appears rough around the edges, and his rawness belies his immense capabilities, but he has risen to every challenge. His full potential isn’t truly known yet.
Interestingly, Sunday’s main event isn’t Okolie’s first time headlining the O2. Back in 2018, under vastly differing circumstances, he battled local rival Isaac Chamberlain in just his eighth paid contest. The Daily Mail’s Jeff Powell’s scathing fight report stated that, “as a wrestling match, it would have been thrown out by the WWE,” as well as saying, “both men came into this ludicrously over-hyped nonsense unbeaten in their short careers but with their skills undeveloped by weak opposition.”
Okolie prevailed by decision, but more negative reaction soured his subsequent challenge for the British cruiserweight title.
In front of a massive global audience and a buzzing Wembley Stadium, Okolie and Matty Askin embarked on a sloppy and boring 12-round fight disguised as a wrestling match. Yet again, he left victorious, although his reputation had been dented by the booing public in attendance, as boxing fans pondered why Okolie deserved to be headlining at the O2 and boxing in prominent slots on Anthony Joshua pay-per-views events.
Since that night, however, the prospect-turned-champion has answered his critics in emphatic fashion. A procession of stoppage wins saw him add Commonwealth and European straps to his British belt. His stock rose significantly and a shot at a world title had been earned.
Last year, battle-hardened veteran and former holder of the WBO cruiserweight world title, Krzysztof Glowacki, ventured to Wembley Arena in hopes of claiming back his then-vacant old title belt. Alas, Okolie laid out the durable Pole with a massive right hand in the sixth round in what was his star-making performance. Sadly, it was in front of no fans due to the pandemic. The moment and championship crowning deserved so much more.
An easy knockout win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium underneath the Joshua/Usyk fight leads the reigning champion to Michal Cieslak this Sunday night.
The Polish challenger’s best win came against Youri Kalenga – a respected fighter who held an interim cruiserweight belt – and Cieslak’s only loss was on points to the current WBC champion, Ilunga Makabu. Boxrec ranks the 32-year-old as a top-ten cruiserweight.
With 14 knockouts amongst his 17 wins, expect Okolie to add to that statistic on Sunday. He’s previously dropped and stopped foes with big right hands, body shots, counter rights, and counter left hooks. When he misses, he can look a little wild and sloppy, but when the punches connect – they knock people out.
Should he get the job done, many will hope that a long-talked-about unification clash with IBF champion, Mairis Briedis comes to fruition. Bridis’ upcoming April title defense vs. Jai Opetaia has been reportedly delayed by around 2-3 weeks due to the Latvian contracting Covid-19. Unfortunately, he seems more intent on landing a fight with the sport’s newest cash cow, Logan Paul, so don’t hold your breath on seeing Okolie vs. Bride soon.
Topping the undercard is Jordan Gill’s bid for the European featherweight championship against Karim Guerfi. Their first scheduled date fell through after the four-time EBU titleholder pulled out. Gill, a silky and skillful featherweight is a class act but likely lacks the firepower to keep the Frenchmen at bay. He’ll have to box at his absolute best for 36 minutes to upset the champion.
Elsewhere, Olympic champion Galal Yafai debuts in a 10-rounder for a regional WBC flyweight strap; English heavyweight champion, Fabio Wardley gets a run out against American Daniel Martz; Anthony Fowler looks to bounce back from his defeat to Liam Smith when he faces Lukasz Maciec, and Campbell Hatton returns to the UK for his sixth bout after fighting in Spain last time out.
Also, Olympian Cheavon Clarke makes his pro bow; undefeated Australian heavyweight Demsey McKean boxes in the UK for the first time; and the slick light-heavyweight John Hedges aims to stay undefeated in a six-rounder.