It wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t always fair, but Lawrence Okolie won his WBO cruiserweight title defence against Michal Cieslak. ‘The Sauce’ battled through several flagrant fouls from his challenger to take a clear decision on an awkward evening at London’s o2 Arena. With a tricky but ultimately successful night behind him, Okolie can look forward to a bright future. Ahead of him lay several potentially lucrative options as he looks to further his 18-fight career.
The biggest obstacle in Okolie’s way is 6’1, Latvian and dressed as Super Mario. IBF and The Ring champion Mairis Briedis made quite the stir in London last night, as he responded to the Paul brothers’ digs by dressing as the Nintendo mascot. While the outfit was comical, his intentions were serious. The 37-year-old wants to meet Okolie in a cruiserweight unification match.
It would be a tough ask for the Hackney hitter. Briedis would be the best fighter Okolie has faced by some considerable distance. Conversely, Okolie could make no such claim to be the best Briedis has faced. That distinction would lay with the one man to defeat ‘The Latvian Punisher’, current WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk. Okolie is a world champion, but Briedis represents a different level to any fighter he has mixed with before.
That’s not to say Okolie cannot exist in that rarefied air. He is unbeaten in 18 fights, with 14 knockouts, and has won his three world title bouts. The time is right for the 29-year-old to step up to the elite level, and in the cruiserweight division that means fighting Briedis.
Ilunga Makabu is another fighter in Okolie’s crosshairs. ‘The Sauce’ name-checked the WBC champion during his post-fight comments. Makabu had looked set to meet Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, but with the Mexican now scheduled to fight Dmitry Bivol, the Congolese star is available to fight. Makabu is an easier mission than Briedis, and Okolie might prefer this route to capturing another title belt.
Another recent flirtation for Okolie has been the idea of a move up to heavyweight. The WBO cruiserweight champion insists such a step will only come when he has realised his ambitions at 200lbs, with a heavyweight bout unlikely before 2023. But Okolie has targeted a competitive level of heavyweight for his eventual bow in the glamour division, telling the Daily Mail “It would have to be a fringe world level kind of guy” for him to consider stepping up.
As it stands, cruiserweight looks set to be Lawrence Okolie’s home for a while yet. Makabu and Briedis offer two exciting opportunities to add title belts to the mantle, as well as posing top-level challenges for a fighter who has still not found his ceiling. The scary thing about Okolie is that so far he has seemed limitless. Power, guile and ring IQ have made him a handful for every man he has ever faced. 2022 could be the year that he tests those attributes against the very best.
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