This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine

HIS right hand hits the mitt with an audible crack. It reverberates through the Peacock gym. Lawrence Okolie is a tall, broad cruiserweight and he hits with real force. With trainer Brian O’Shaunnessy he prepares to challenge Luke Watkins for the Commonwealth title in what will only be Okolie’s ninth professional contest. He spoke to Boxing News ahead of that June 6 showdown.

What’s on your mind?

You’re put under a lot of pressure, not only from yourself but from society to perform. To deliver excitement and stuff like that. Sometimes you start focusing on what the world wants from you, you get overwhelmed. You have to focus on what you want from yourself. And what I want from myself is to win and to get a knockout.

It seems to me you’re driving your career forward quite quickly, was it your decision to go for the Isaac Chamberlain fight so soon, to go for the Commonwealth title against Watkins?

You’ve got to push yourself because what people don’t realise is boxing’s not a glamorous life, training day in, day out, no cameras, no lights. Just taking beatings, giving beatings, you want it to be worth something. So what I want it to be worth is titles. A hard fight – I don’t want it to be a hard fight but I want it to be against good fighters so if I’m getting up to do the runs that I do, knowing I’m going to box journeymen, it doesn’t make sense to me. So I have to make it worth something.

How hard has this camp been?

This one’s been hard. Obviously I had time off after the Chamberlain fight, so getting myself back into training was difficult in the first couple of weeks. Once you’ve been training for so long, it’s easy to snap back into it. But ultimately there’s been good sparring, I’m in good shape, that’s it really.

Who have you been sparring with?

For this one I sparred Dereck Chisora, Frazer Clarke, Scott Forrest up at GB, Solomon [Dacres]. Strong guys. Pushing, pulling, putting big shots in. Obviously now it’s sharp work. I don’t feel Luke Watikins is very, very fast. I think he’s good. Good speed, good power… But he’s not amazing.

What type of fight do you think it’s going to be?

I think it’s going to be two ways. Either it’s going to be vicious or it’s going to be a little bit more cool and technical. I think if he comes out the way he’s come out for his other fights, it’s going to be over in three or four rounds. I expect him to be motivated and having worked on me in particular so it could end up being a little bit more difficult. It’ll be a good fight. It’s that classic thing with a short worker trying to get in with a tall fighter. So the clash of styles should work well.

Luke Watkins, I don’t want to undermine him because he’s a good fighter, but I personally don’t think he’s ever been in the ring with someone as good as me – that’s the bottom line – and with my kind of attributes. Sparring, I mean Chamberlain sparred [Oleksandr] Usyk in the build up to my fight. It means something but… Basically everyone that I’ve sparred in this camp is better than Luke Watkins. I don’t think Luke Watkins has sparred [anyone] better than me in this camp.

Lawrence Okolie

Did Chamberlain go into his shell after you caught him early on?

Yes. The same thing is likely to happen to Luke Watkins. Very, very likely. I don’t even consider myself a massive puncher. But I understand people. I can sit here and tell you I’m going to do this, that and another. But when you get in the ring and someone else is beating on you, it changes your mindset… I’ve had it myself. I’ve thought I’m going to do this, that and the other, when you get in the ring, you understand it’s not going to go that way.

I actually thought I was going to stop [Isaac] in the first few rounds. I believed he was going to go for it, if that makes any sense. In the build up we didn’t like each other, I saw his fight with Wadi Camacho, so I thought when the going got tough, he was going to go for it and I was going to stop him. I said in the build up his greatest attribute was his biggest weakness, which is heart and determination. But in the fight he decided not to show it.

Was that fight frustrating in the end?

It was awkward because he kept slipping under my shots. But ultimately I knew
I was winning the fight, I was alright with it. I would be more worried if it was a close fight with Chamberlain. Same with Luke. If it’s a close fight I’ll be a little bit worried.

You must be looking at Matty Askin and the British title?

He’s ranked top 10 to 12 in the world. So it would be good to win the Commonwealth, probably defend it once, twice and then have the showdown with Askin if he’s still British champion.

He [Askin] is good. He’s a good, seasoned professional. He’s not the type of fight you rush because you know, unless you knock him out, it’s going to be a hard fight. He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to move around the ring. He knows how to box. A good fight.