Saturday night at the fights; Okolie, Ortiz and two crazy guys called Lopez

Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better

Richard Hooker, English theologian, 1554-1600

It would be easy to be cynical about the Lawrence Okolie story. Too much of Saturday night television has leant on the ‘journey’ of whoever the wannabe singing or dancing hopeful was that particular weekend. The tears, the back story, the setbacks, the dead grandma. It can become repetitive and contrived. But as Eddie Hearn demanded in post fight interview, following the Londoner’s exemplary victory over Krzysztof Glowacki to win the WBO title, Okolie’s tale merits retelling.

The fat kid in McDonalds, a perfectly respectable career for many let it also be said, inspired by heroes Usain Bolt and Anthony Joshua to chase something bigger, something more. Boxing, as it so often does, provided the vehicle for the revolution Okolie wanted. No barrier to entry in boxing you see. Show up, and someone will teach you, will care.

He began. And while last night represented a huge step in his career, winning a quarter of the world title, it was the first step eight years ago that required the most gumption.

Okolie wasn’t the only winner on an entertaining evening of boxing as the action swung from London to Texas.

Okolie has undoubtedly improved. And there should be acknowledgement and credit for the evolution not only in his style but also his effectiveness for both the fighter himself and trainer Shane McGuigan, who has again added something to a fighter’s reportoire and resolve. The clinching has ceded control to use of the jab, which at his height and reach should be his primary weapon, and in that process Okolie has become a significantly more dangerous and therefore entertaining fighter. Nerves were perceptible as he entered the ring but by the second round he had established himself as the leader in the bout, dictating the range and pace of the fight to a competent former champion.

Technical flaws remain, but not every fighter adheres to the accepted doctrine. Many embrace their lack of convention and utilise it to disorientate opponents looking for the customary tells and angles. Glowacki was rendered inert by Okolie’s use of the left hand and a swinging right hook to the body. He is, himself, a peculiar fighter. Boxing with his weight tipped over his back foot, turned entirely side on, with feet set wide. Any counter attacks he launched were from too distant a starting point and he lost leverage in the leap. The Pole also tended to punch singularly, against a man with reach advantage and a high chin, this looked a tactical mistake, offered Okolie time to parry or slip knowing nothing was following.

Glowacki was poor. Or was made to look so. Okolie found a relaxed and busy rhythm and though it was curious that he circled to his right, and therefore toward the Glowacki backhand, it seemed part of a strategy rather than naivety from the 28-year old. The final blow, a right hand behind a loose combination floored the bloodied veteran and the WBO belt was secured. Congratulations to a man who listens, seeks improvement and has achieved much in precious few fights as both Amateur and Professional.

Talk of heavyweights seems premature despite Okolie’s clear improvement and natural height and it was a delight to hear the man himself call out Maris Breidis, the division’s baddest bad ass. Kudos for that too. The WBO usually afford their champions a buffet of banality within their rankings. Chasing Breidis would destroy that convention. Something Okolie has become adept at.

In Texas, Vergil Ortiz announced himself as a force to be reckoned with in the Welterweight division beating down the capable Maurice Hooker in 7 frisky rounds. Ortiz retained poise beyond his years, investing to the body as Hooker alternated between boxing and moving and holding his feet and exchanging shots on the inside. The youngster now has a par of credible victories in his last two fights, beating Samuel Vargas in 7 and now Hooker, who held a belt at 140 pounds.

Watching ringside were Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, the pair stubbornly refuse to compromise on terms and as a result their fight loses appeal and zest with every passing day. Crawford suggests it is no longer on his agenda. One wonders if there is anything on that agenda at all.

Hooker was forced to retire with a suspected fracture to his right hand or wrist. Of greatest refreshment was Vergil Ortiz calling out the self-same Terence Crawford, stating that it mattered not to him whether he was ready or not, he wanted to find out by taking the fight. What Crawford does with that challenge will be interesting to observe. For the admittedly outstanding Welter seems hard to stir. As does my own interest in his next fight.

The slugfest between Marcelino Lopez and Jairo Lopez at 140 pounds was an enjoyable one too. Marcelino looked like a marble column. As wide as he is tall. While Jairo Lopez was the looser, longer but less substantial right hand side of the bill type. Definition doesn’t win fights, low body fat doesn’t win fights and muscles don’t make you a puncher. But it was hard mot to assume Marcelino would walk down the taller man.

Their exchanges were withering. Jairo seemed to always have to catch the last shot and was dropped multiple times by the stone faced Marcelino, but showed depth of character and will that make this writer a fan of his. He is the type of opponent British fighters with pretty records would be advised to secure, he would beat many of them, so it’s an unlikely scenario, but he would provided a stiff test they so often resist, as he did for the experienced Marcelino Lopez.

He too, is a worthy watch. Jairo finally succumbed and stayed on the floor in the 5th.


Boxing opinion and insight by David Payne

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