RATHER than lazily call Joe Gallagher the repair man, or suggest he is boxing’s go-to fixer-upper, it might be better comparing him to someone like Quentin Tarantino, whose favourite thing in the nineties was to revamp the careers of actors and actresses deemed to have faded into obscurity. This Tarantino managed to do with not only John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, but also Pam Grier and Robert Forster in Jackie Brown, and Gallagher, in the boxing world, has a habit of doing similar.

In the past the Manchester trainer has played his part in the unlikely turnarounds of Matthew Macklin, Paul Smith, and Anthony Crolla, and now, in 2024, Gallagher is at it again. This time the fighter is Lawrence Okolie and this time the project is a simple one: bring out the best in a former WBO cruiserweight champion many people have decided to write off.

They appear as an unlikely couple in so many ways, Okolie and Gallagher, yet the more you think about what Gallagher can offer and what Okolie needs, the more this link-up starts to make sense. Moreover, when you take into account how it came about, as well as Okolie’s current situation, it begins to make even more sense.

“He did some sparring with Joe Parker before Parker fought Deontay Wilder, and I was there in the gym and he asked me to help him in the corner,” Gallagher explained to Boxing News. “I said, ‘Yeah, no problem.’ I did a couple of things in the corner with him, said a few things, and he went out and carried out the instructions.

“Then he came over to Saudi earlier this year and did a bit of training with me. We got on well. He’s very coachable and takes things on board. He learns very quickly. He listens and adapts well. I said to him, ‘I need to get you over to Manchester – Champs Camp, Moss Side – and put you through your paces there as well.’

“With Lawrence it has organically grown. We get each other and he understands what he has to do. I also wanted to see at the beginning of it all whether Lawrence was doing it just for the sake of doing it or whether he had that grit and that fire in his belly to prove a point. I said to him, ‘You’ve got to question yourself.’ Once we got news of this next fight (against Lukasz Rozanski in Poland), we knew we were going into a right cauldron of an arena and I said to him, ‘You have to know you are doing this for the right reasons.’ He has to want to prove a point. So far, that’s the feeling I am getting. He has done everything I have asked of him in training and I really feel he has that fire in his belly.”

Okolie loses his WBO cruiserweight belt against Chris Billam-Smith (Getty Images)

Thrown in at the deep end, relatively speaking, the first test for Okolie and Gallagher will indeed arrive on May 24 in Poland of all places. That’s where Okolie will challenge Lukasz Rozanski, a native of Rzeszow and the current owner of the WBC bridgerweight title, and that’s where Okolie’s career will, for as long as the fight lasts, hang in the balance. Win and Okolie, 19-1 (14), is back; back with a belt around his waist and back on the radar of many fighters, either at cruiserweight, bridgerweight, or heavyweight. Lose, however, and Okolie, now 31, knows he will be a fighter easy for the boxing establishment to quickly forget.

“This is like Matthew Macklin’s first fight with me,” said Gallagher. “He was coming off a close decision against Geard Ajetovic and a lot of people were saying, ‘He’s not going to do anything, Macklin.’ His first fight with me was against Wayne Elcock and we absolutely ripped the title away that night. In his next fight he won the European title and then he went on to fight Felix Sturm for the world title and should have become world champion.

“It’s the same here with Lawrence. This is our first fight together and there’ll be no warm up for it. We’re going into a cauldron and he’s going in there off the back of losing his world title and receiving a load of social media stick. His back is against the wall, career-wise and fight-wise, and he’s going into a new division and not fighting a mug, either. He’s fighting someone who is destructive and powerful and has just destroyed Alen Babic in a round. He’s there as a world champion. They obviously think Okolie is the right opponent for a successful defence in Poland and we have to go in there and go for the knockout and prove people wrong. We have to show them that Okolie isn’t finished. Far from it.

“It’s an exciting project. I like it when they say, ‘He won’t do anything,’ and then they go on to do something special.”

Joe Gallagher watches on from the corner at York Hall, Bethnal Green on December 3, 2021 (James Chance/Getty Images)

To do “something special” one imagines Okolie will have to listen a little less to himself and the intrusive voices in his head and a bit more to Gallagher, someone adept at making a fighter feel 10-feet tall. Do that and the Londoner then has a chance to make the most of some exceptional physical gifts, as well as the kind of power most fighters would do anything to possess.

“There are things Lawrence can do, that he has shown me he can do, and there are also things he has to learn and understand,” said Gallagher. “He needs to learn and understand why people accuse him of hugging and he needs to look at the reasons why he does this or does that.

“We’ve just been breaking it down together and understanding things. We then put him in those positions all the time to make sure he doesn’t do this or do that. It’s a work in progress, of course, and it’s a results-based business. Come May 24th we’ll find out if the result is the right result.

“He’s an Olympian and has been a world champion, yet people think he is finished. When you look at the likes of Matthew Macklin, Paul Smith, Anthony Crolla, they have all been written off by people at some stage but have come back and proven those people wrong. It’s another one of those let’s-go-and-show-the-world-they’re-wrong stories.”

Although still on chapter one, the early signs are encouraging.

“He’s been here in Manchester (at Champs Camp) for a good four weeks,” Gallagher revealed. “He’s enjoying being in the gym and being around the other fighters. He’s been sparring Callum Johnson and Jack Massey and is also training alongside young and hungry kids. I think he likes being in a team environment again, which is something he relished in the GB format. He thrived in that environment, didn’t he? Maybe he isn’t a kid who likes to train on his own.”

As easy as it is to poke fun, both at Okolie and his new trainer, if you take the time to ask any Joe Gallagher-trained fighters the perks of being involved with him you will soon discover that one of them is usually this: never do you feel either alone or unsupported.