By Paul Mason
This Saturday (February 3rd) at the O2 Arena, London, sees two men in the main event with no previous headlining experience, one Southern Area Title between them to their name, and a combined sixteen fights on the slate. Hot Cruiserweight prospects Lawrence Okolie (7-0, KO6) and Isaac Chamberlain (9-0, KO4) go head to head in order to settle a simmering feud. Sky Sports televise live in the UK. Fear not belt fans, as the spurious WBA Continental Cruiserweight Title will be on the line!
Lawrence Okolie has yet to go past the six round mark as a professional, and Saturday will be over the Championship distance of twelve rounds. Born in Hackney in 1992, Okolie represented Team GB at the 2016 Rio Olympics, losing out to Cuban great Erislandy Savon after winning through a preliminary round. Rather than wait another four years to try again in Tokyo, Okolie turned professional only ten months ago under the tutelage and management of Anthony Joshua and the promotion of Matchroom and Eddie Hearn. The 0-2 Geoffrey Cave was to be the opponent at the Manchester Arena, and he was duly stopped in under twenty seconds. Three weeks later, Lukasz Rusiewics was stopped inside a round in Glasgow, followed by Rudolf Helesic in just over a minute at Bramhall Lane, Sheffield, on the Kell Brook v Errol Spence Jr card.
Russ Henshaw would be Okolie’s next victim would be Russ Henshaw, and he lasted just over two minutes at the O2. “The Sauce” was taken the six round distance for the first time against the wily Blaise Mendouo at the York Hall in September 2017. Okolie won comfortably enough on the cards, and knocked Mendouo down in the fourth but had to settle for a wide points victory. Since then Okolie has fought twice, a third round stoppage win over Adam Williams on the Anthony Joshua v Carlos Takam card in Cardiff, and a second round stoppage of Antonio Sousa back at York Hall in December 2017.
Isaac Chamberlain by contrast, has had more rounds under his belt, and has been a ten round distance once. Ted Bami trained Chamberlain turned professional in January 2015, outpointing the well-travelled Moses Matovu over four rounds at Saturdays venue. The 0-4 Jason Jones was next in Leeds, and four rounds and a points win were banked. Martyn Grainger and Igoris Borucha followed, both points wins over four, before Chamberlain laboured to a sixth and final round stoppage over common opponent Russ Henshaw, again at the First Direct Arena in Leeds. “Chambo” would step up in his next fight, outpointing Wadi Camacho over ten rounds to win the Southern Area Cruiserweight Title at the York Hall. This was more impressive as Chamberlain dislocated his shoulder midway through the third round.
His last three fights have come against boxers with a combined record of 11-25-2, but Chamberlains stoppage power has started to come through. Imantas Davidaitis was stopped in three in March 2017, Ryan Crawford was sopped in two at the O2 in July, and in his last bout, Ossie Jervier was stopped in the sixth of an eight rounder.
Although these are two relative novice boxers, at least it’s refreshing to see them meeting early on in their careers. For the loser, there are plenty of places to go, and the winner can continue on with their education and fledgling career. This despite Chamberlain touting Okolie’s “CV” around in Okolie’s local newspaper for a new job following Saturday’s contest. It would be also interesting to see how ticket sales do for this one. Although Okolie is from Hackney and Chamberlain from Brixton, it would be a surprise to see the O2 full for a main event between two fighters not necessarily as well known to the armchair viewer.
I’m torn to pick a winner of this one as Chamberlain has fought in better company and fought more rounds, than his opponent. But I feel Okolie is a special talent, and may just be able to rise to the big occasion this weekend, despite his lack of experience, and only 15 rounds in the bank compared to his opponent’s 43. I think this will be initially a cagey affair, and then a brawl might ensue leading Okolie to be able to pick off his cross London foe. My prediction is for Okolie to pull out a deserved points win, and may even be capable of stopping Chamberlain later on in the contest.
In an intriguing, either ends of their career fight on the undercard, Bermondsey’s Ted Cheeseman (12-0, KO8) will take a significant step up when he meets gatekeeper, Carson Jones (40-12-3, KO30) at Super Welterweight. The WBA International Title is on the line.
Watford’s impressive thus far Reece Belotti (11-0, KO10) meets Ben Jones (22-6-1, KO10) in the first defence of the Commonwealth Featherweight Title he won by stopping Jason Cunningham at the York Hall back in October.
Paul Butler marks time waiting for a World Title shot with an outing on the card, while Joshua Buatsi and Charlie Edwards also feature.