The unbeaten Lawrence Okolie is in the process of boiling himself down to 200 pounds for a WBO cruiserweight title defence against unheralded New Zealander David Light at the AO Arena in Manchester on Saturday, March 25. The 12-round bout, plus undercard action, will be broadcast by Sky Sports in the U.K.
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While Okolie has fulfilled his dream of becoming champion, the cruiserweight division has always been something for a segue. The 30-year-old power-puncher is 6-5 with a reach of 82 inches. In terms of height and wingspan, that makes him larger than former heavyweight kings Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.
Not surprisingly, the glamour division beckons for Okolie, whose strapping frame is virtually bursting at the seams.
“The whole making weight stuff is quite annoying and I walk around naturally quite heavy,” Okolie told talkSPORT back in September 2021.
“It’s about picking the right time. It’s a different sport at heavyweight than cruiserweight.”
Since that interview, Okolie has made two defences of the belt he won at the expense of Kyzystof Glowacki (KO 6) in March 2021. Without breaking a sweat, the heavy-handed Londoner blasted his way through the previously undefeated Dilan Prasovic (KO 3) before outpointing Michal Cieslak (UD 12) in February of last year.
Not only would the move up allow Okolie to fill out to a more natural weight, it would also bring about huge financial compensation. Potential multi-million dollar paydays with the likes of Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Joe Joyce, and Deontay Wilder would be life-changing.
However, the one heavyweight that Okolie has played down facing is former two-time champ Anthony Joshua. Until recently, Okolie was represented by Joshua’s firm 258 MGT, but that tie ended when the cruiserweight champ signed up with Ben Shalom’s BOXXER.
Despite the business split, Okolie appears to be steering clear of a matchup with his friend and mentor.
“Yeah it is pretty much still the case until me and him have had a different kind of conversation,” Okolie told GiveMeSport last month.
“But right now it’s all good. There’s still loads of big heavyweight fights out there. I think you know unfortunately he is no longer a world champion, which creates a different dynamic.
“And, you know, I like to be quite realistic when it comes to boxing. And I think that you know the current crop of world champions are all 34, 35, 36. Not that much older than myself but old enough that they will be out of the game in the next year or two.”
In the meantime, Okolie must make weight and take care of Light, who will be contesting his first world title bout. There’s nothing on the challenger’s resume to suggest that he can spring the upset, so the champion is expected to win handily. According to SkyBet, Okolie is a -500 favourite to retain his title for the third time, while Light is a +350 underdog.
Has a cruiserweight champion ever won a heavyweight title?
It hasn’t happened as often as you may think.
The first fighter to achieve the feat was Evander Holyfield, who became the undisputed cruiserweight king in 1988 before launching an assault on the heavyweight ranks. Two years later, “The Real Deal” knocked out Buster Douglas to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
Next up was British star David Haye. After unifying at cruiserweight in 2008, “The Hayemaker” added plates of muscle to his already impressive frame and targeted the big boys. And they didn’t come any bigger than 7ft 2ins, 316lbs colossus Nikolai Valuev, who held the WBA heavyweight title. Haye utilized his superior speed and athleticism to outmanoeuvre the Russian behemoth and secure a 12-round majority decision triumph in November 2009.
The most recent example of cruiserweight to heavyweight supremacy was achieved by reigning pound-for-pound king Usyk. The Ukrainian wizard won every available title at 200lbs on the road before moving north in 2019. After acclimatizing to heavyweight with two wins, Usyk challenged then-unified champ Joshua in September 2021. In amazing style, the fleet-footed southpaw outboxed “AJ” to secure a 12-round unanimous decision in London. Almost one year later, Usyk won a direct rematch via split decision in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
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