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Lawrence Okolie 4/11 to bring back 'The Sauce' and become a two-weight world champion

Make no mistake about it, Lawrence Okolie's WBC bridgerweight title bout against Lukasz Rozanski on Friday night could be career-defining; John MacDonald explains the importance of the bout for the English fighter.

Lukasz Rozanski v Lawrence Okolie

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If you were to watch a highlight-reel of Lawrence Okolie, you would see a skilled, explosive boxer, and a fighter who more than justifies odds of 4/7 to add another KO success to his record this weekend.

However, such videos only tell a fraction of the story.

For all of the natural athleticism and power ‘The Sauce’ possesses, historically, he has primarily been involved in messy, scrappy bouts.

An inability to box to at close range has been his Achilles’ heel. Without the skill set to fight on the inside, nor the footwork to evade danger, the Londoner would resort to clinching his opponents.

Due to his natural physical advantages, it was an effective, if not aesthetically pleasing, tactic.

Okolie has hard to watch, but make no mistake about, he's even harder to beat.

This was the case as he rose through the ranks domestically, picking up the British and Commonwealth cruiserweight titles.

A link-up with Shane McGuigan refined the raw talent which led to the Hackney native representing Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The partnership bore fruit as the Londoner produced the most accomplished performance of his career to that point, halting Yves Ngabu, to capture European honours.

Their success continued as, in just his 16th fight, Okolie became a world champion, by stopping Krzysztof Glowacki in in the sixth frame to claim the WBO strap.

Two successful defences followed before the 31-year-old opted to part company with Eddie Hearn, who had guided him from his debut to the pinnacle of the cruiserweight division.

Another significant change occurred at that time as Okolie replaced McGuigan with SugarHill Steward.

Having signed with BOXXER, Okolie defended his belt against David Light, in an underwhelming showing. Old habits returned as ‘The Sauce’ had a point deducted for excessive holding, but still won widely on the judges’ scorecards.

Last May, a massive domestic dust-up followed as the WBO champion put his title on the line against Chris Billam-Smith.

Ahead of the bout, Okolie had spoken of his desire to unify the division, but a shock defeat put paid to any such aspirations. The Olympian was floor on three occasions and had two points removed for clinching, which, ultimately cost him the fight.

The man from Hackney had a rematch clause, but it was not one he opted to use. The fight had been an ugly affair and a second go around would have been a hard sell.

In the intervening year, Okolie has made several changes - Steward has been replaced by Joe Gallagher and the fighter has opted to move to bridgerweight.

A move up in weight could be beneficial. Okolie had a large frame for cruiserweight and the extra 24lbs afforded to him may result in him being stronger and better able to fend off smaller boxers.

When the WBC introduced bridgerweight, in 2020, it was controversial; the last thing observers of the sport wanted was yet another division.

In the intervening years, the sanctioning body’s latest strap has only been contested twice.

Perhaps a maligned fighter and an unpopular weight class may be a match made in heaven. Okolie’s profile would add legitimacy to the belt, while ‘The Sauce’ can avoid arduous weight cuts, before finally moving up to heavyweight.

This theory will be put to the test on Friday, as the Londoner challenges, WBC titlist, and 11/5 underdog, Lukasz Rozanski, in Rzeszow, Poland.

The Pole has the type of profile that Okolie has traditionally struggled with: shorter, aggressive and aiming to fight at close-quarters.

Rozanski looked impressive as he captured the belt last April with a first-round knockout over Alen Babic. If Okolie is unable to deter the forward march of his opponent, it could be a difficult night, and the 7/2 on offer for another Rozanski stoppage will become incredibly appealing.

However, in Gallagher, ‘The Sauce’ may have found the trainer to help him over come his deficiencies.

The Mancunian specialises in coaching his fighters to fight on the inside and has led the likes of Scott Quigg, Anthony Crolla and Callum Smith to success on the world stage.

Defeat is simply not an option for Okolie. Were he to lose, it is difficult to see where he goes from here.

Perhaps, it could be the time where it all comes together for the Olympian and the whole will be equal to the sum of its parts.

Lukasz Rozanski v Lawrence Okolie

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