Fighter of the Month – March 2021

An accolade without an interim or regular, international or super alter ego. Just a plain old pat on the back and well done this month. Perhaps an honourable mention or two but otherwise a straight forward award for the fighter who impressed this writer the most during the month of March.

A competitive field as boxing returned to, essentially, full capacity, but limited in viewership by the audience restrictions in certain countries. It has a bearing on outcomes, the lack of fans. Fighters feed off the energy, judges are influenced by crowd responses, it is an intangible variable and one that has played out across the sporting sphere, with upsets in many sports reflecting the loss of home advantage for many teams and individuals.

There were solid outings for the great and good, performances that surprised the cynics and courage from those over matched and under paid too.

It would be remiss to overlook the accomplishment of Clarissa Shields, becoming the unified and universally recognised champion of a second weight class. She dominated Marie Eve Dicaire over 10 rounds for the Light-Middleweight (Super-Welterweight) Championship and drives home the case for Female fighters at elite level to box 3-minute rounds. The extra minute would bring knockouts, and boxing needs the prospect of knockouts to build profile and interest.

Staying with the female theme Jessica McCaskill was impressive too, handling veteran Ceceilia Braekhus with verve and confidence on the Estrada v Gonzales under card. She won the five Welter world title belts in the process. Five. What has the sport done to itself, moreover, what have we, the great viewing public, tolerated in our name?

The Estrada and Gonzales fight was a fantastic advert for the sport, irrespective of the belts. Gonzales was loved by the commentary teams for his technique, punch picking and aggressive style. Particular given his veteran status and operating beyond his optimum weight. The Nicaraguan is an exemplar for young fighters. Precise, assured under fire and simply an all round great fighter. However, there was something of the myopic about this perspective by broadcasters, Estrada was matching him on the whole and had success close, and at range. It was a close fight and a terrific advertisement for the sport, so often diminished by its own matchmaking.

Particular credit also, to Lee McGregor who demonstrated his enormous improvement to win the European title in just his 10th fight. He looked destructive, entertaining and made for TV. He came close to getting the nod this month. As did Maxi Hughes who won on the same card, outboxing, outmanoeuvring and ultimately out punching Paul Hyland Jnr. to win the British Lightweight title.

Nick Webb smashing Erik Pfiefer deserves credit, as did Ted Cheeseman overcoming some demons beyond the right to reclaim a British title in rugged and robust style. This writer has a soft spot for the Big Cheese.

But the winner this month, of the Fighter of the Month, is Lawrence Okolie. Becoming the WBO’s world champion in his 16th professional fight. From the kitchens of a burger joint to an Olympics and then a world-title, well a quarter of it, is remarkable. His performance was commanding, in his own idiosyncratic style. A confection of Nelson and Audley in the past, but now rebuilt with greater self-confidence, more leverage on his shots and a more crowd pleasing style. He proved a lot of critics wrong and excited many more about what his potential in this division and the one above may yet be.

He will have tougher tests than Krzstof Glowacki, but that wasn’t the read going in. Okolie dismantled him and rendered the tough southpaw a redundant force.

Congratulations to the Londoner.

Boxing opinion and insight by David Payne

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