British boxer Lawrence Okolie is the current WBO heavyweight champion; holding an undefeated professional record of 18-0, 14 of those wins by knockout.
The former Olympian, who has also held the Commonwealth, British and European heavyweight titles during his career, will put his WBO belt on the line again when he makes a mandatory defense against New Zealander David Light on 25 march at the AO Arena in London.
M&F got to sit down with “The Sauce” at his fight camp in Florida to learn more about his punching power and accuracy, his life as a champion versus being a challenger, and why Okolie thinks he doesn’t. is not a natural athlete.
You’ve been boxing since you were a young man, but when did you decide to invest your whole life in being the best you could be?
I must have been 19, really, because it was during the 2012 Olympics. I was watching Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell and even Usain Bolt go on and win gold medals, but especially Joshua and Campbell, and Nicola Adams, and seeing them raise their hands at the end of an Olympic final… and especially Anthony Joshua, because he was someone who I thought looked like me and was from a similar neighborhood, I really thought, “ Oh, if he did, why can’t I ” ‘ then, I really gave up and quit my job at the time, at a fast food joint, and from there, I keep on going.
As a young man, did this decision mean you wouldn’t have fun with your friends? How was it?
Yeah. It still continues now. Obviously I like hanging out with my friends, I’m still a human being, I like all the same stuff, but there are times, especially at camp, where I have to say, “That looks good , but I have to say no.” Or [people will say] “So and so is here,” but I still have to say no.
It’s very, very difficult, but I figure in terms of sport, you only have a chosen period of time to achieve what you can, so I never want to look back and regret being went to that party or I stayed and had a drink with that girl, or I did this or I did that. I think the best thing to do is stay disciplined, train as hard as you can and no matter what, win, lose or draw, as long as you’ve done your best, it’ll be that way.
Who were the heroes who inspired you along the way?
I think it’s a mix between David Haye and Anthony Joshua; Brits, big guys, powerful punchers, who also handled big chances really well. So now when I’m in my fights I’m just like ‘these guys have been here before, I’m just in the same vein.’
You are known to have a very precise jab. Do you think it’s something you were born with or do you need to work on the mind-muscle connection to really refine it?
Yeah, I think that’s about the time you took. I was not at all athletic when I was a child. I was actually overweight to the point of needing to see a doctor, who explained to me the various problems I was going to develop if I didn’t get back in shape. So, it wasn’t like I was a naturally gifted athletic (fighter). You just have to work on it. I think in boxing in particular, as a sport, it’s about putting yourself in difficult and uncomfortable situations where it’s dangerous, where you have to learn, “Oh, if I don’t give (a kick fist), things will happen.”
For accuracy, in particular, you’ll hit the pads where there’s a small target or you can focus, when in combat, on not just hitting someone (anywhere), but on a specific part of the body like the shoulder as opposed to the whole arm. I might want to hit the top of the head, or the chin, or go for the right side of the cheek.
How could someone improve their own punching power?
Train the striking muscles. For example, enlarge your shoulders or strengthen your lats. Or you can do more push-ups so you can punch harder. It’s all about knowing which exercises work for you. Some people’s bodies are built to be long and stretchy, while others are shorter and more compact.
What you wear at the gym must be very important to you and you are a BohooMan ambassador. What do you like about this line of clothing?
You know, it’s comfortable. It’s breathable. They have different tricks for different sessions. So when I’m in the weight room, I wear a different set than I do in boxing. When I box I want to have my shoulders free. There are days when I feel like sweating and retaining sweat, so I wear the most cotton. Other times I want it to be more sport specific, so I’ll wear an active top that wicks sweat. I wore their stuff before we ended up being partners.
You haven’t eaten meat, fish or dairy since 2016. This is for both ethical and nutritional reasons. This is a preference that seems to work well for you!
They got me on lentils, legumes and chickpeas. Then it’s just mixed with sprouted this and sprouted that, but you have to do it. It helps me feel fit and full of energy. I made a promise to myself that while I’m boxing, I won’t eat meat or drink alcohol. I followed him and everything has been fine so far.
People often say it’s harder to be the champion than to be the challenger. As a champion, what do you think of this?
For me, I always fight and train like I’m a challenger. It’s different. When you’re the champion, it’s not the same hunger and the same hunt, it’s more that you have something that you want to keep and I kind of see that as a responsibility to keep that now, a responsibility to act like a champion and train like a champion. It’s a different energy, you just have to find different motivations.
Could the unification of your title be one of these motivations?
Of course. The only problem with that is that the other champions have to say, “Let’s do it. I like to test myself and I like to feel my heart beating.
You will defend your WBO cruiserweight title against David Light (18-0-0) on March 25. How are you feeling right now?
I’m in the fight camp now. Today was a workout, and I’ll be doing weights in about an hour and a half. That’s why I look so rough in the face. I haven’t had a haircut, none of that, I’m good to go. I just push myself to the limit and that’s it. Always fierce.