Okolie defends WBO cruiserweight title with comfy but drab decision win vs. Light

Lawrence Okolie punches David Light during their 12x3 WBO World Cruiserweight Title fight at AO Arena on March 25, 2023 in Manchester, England.

He threatened a furious finish in rounds ten and eleven but David Light’s durability saw him survive, as WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie shook off ring rust and made the third defence of his title during a solid debut under new trainer SugarHill Steward in BOXXER’s Manchester main event.

Okolie marks return with anti-climactic decision win

Lawrence Okolie celebrates victory over David Light after their 12x3 WBO World Cruiserweight Title fight at AO Arena on March 25, 2023 in Manchester,...
Okolie celebrates after ending 13-month layoff with a second successive decision victory
  • Okolie rates display five out of ten, needs to stay active: “I definitely felt ring rust… he had a good tactic and went to work inside, it was hard for me to shake it off, end of the day though, no excuses – just have to get better.”
  • “It was tough to get my timing. For me, I’ll fight anyone, if they watch me and think I’m rubbish, come and find out,” the champion warns cruiserweight contenders, other cruiserweight titlists
  • Australian IBF titleholder Jai Opetaia (22-0, 17 KOs) among those criticising him on social media, WBO light-welterweight titlist Josh Taylor says other boxers will lick their lips and namechecks Chris Billam-Smith

Love or hate him, you’ve got an opinion on Lawrence Okolie.

The cruiserweight division is booming, Britain’s world champion back in the fold after a well-documented absence, and yet there was a sense of inevitability about how things would unfold in Manchester on his return to Sky television.

Either he’d blast unheralded mandatory challenger David Light out in a few rounds with a highlight reel KO, or flatter to deceive as naysayers point to this latest display as justification for their ongoing criticism of his negative fighting style.

For context, Okolie wants to unify the division before moving up to heavyweight in the not-too-distant future. On the basis of this display, there’s much work to do.

The champion started intensely in R1, jabbing to the body early and using his physicality to frequently shrug the Kiwi off when they engaged up close.

Swinging recklessly upon occasion and throwing overhands saw him susceptible to counterpunching, but you could see what he’s said has proven true: a conscious belief about his knockout power.

One-two combos through the guard were Okolie’s modus operandi early in R2, peppering the body and trying to maintain distance better against an opponent who kept coming forward.

He landed a chopping right hand late in the second and was having increased success against Light, who couldn’t close the distance fast enough and found himself being reactive as a result.

Especially after being warned for holding midway through the third, Okolie seemed more circumspect in that stanza as Light acquitted himself better while landing a series of left hands too.

Light-heavyweight prospect Ben Whittaker, who shares a trainer with the 30-year-old, said it best after four rounds:

The 20-0 contender was defending tightly and wasn’t exactly worried about the punches flying at him every so often.

Moving to the left and smothering Okolie’s patented right-hand was identified as a possible strategy to frustrate the champion: certainly easier said than done.

Okolie banked rounds with seeming ease behind the basics, despite Light’s attempts to counter and outwork him, though the feeling among analysts ringside was a familiar one of frustration watching a champion failing to produce much excitement.

Josh Taylor and Barry Jones suggested Okolie was running out of ideas, while his trainer lamented his reticence to keep jabbing and utilising body work before R9.

The ninth was perhaps his best round yet, but Light had to absorb a flurry of powerful rights early in the tenth as Okolie let loose with punches and the 31-year-old swayed on unsteady legs.

Durability was the name of the game for The Great White, who had to survive that sequence and another lethal series of combos late in R11 wobbling him once more as Okolie landed more big rights and an uppercut to boot.

The champion had a point deduction later in the round and ended without much fanfare in R12, the result long beyond doubt.

Rest of the main card

Frazer Clarke punches Bogdan Dinu during their 8x3 Heavyweight fight at AO Arena on March 25, 2023 in Manchester, England.
Clarke (right) improved to 6-0 with an abrupt stoppage win over short-notice opponent Dinu

Heavyweight prospect Frazer Clarke had an early night in his first eight-rounder against short-notice opponent Bogdan Dinu.

A head clash saw him bloodied between the eyes late in R1, though he established a piercing jab and showcased good body work early on.

That foreshadowed the finish for the Olympic bronze medallist, as Dinu complained to his corner about a rib injury after the second-round and the contest was swiftly ended before R3.

During his post-fight interview, Clarke spoke of an eagerness to return again on May 6 in Birmingham and had modelling appointments next week, but not anymore after sporting such a big facial laceration – an eventuality that comes with the territory.

Former WBO world heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who boxed Clarke 13 years ago this month when both were amateurs, said he’s “doing what he needs to be,” as he continues to progress in the pro ranks.

Then – not for the first time – Johnny Nelson got excited when the prospect of a prospective matchup against British champion Fabio Wardley was mentioned.

Wardley (15-0, 14 KOs) returns next weekend on the Anthony Joshua vs. Jermaine Franklin undercard, facing Michael Polite Coffie (13-3, 10 KOs) for the vacant WBA Continental heavyweight title.

Speaking of fellow Olympic bronze medallists, 28-year-old featherweight Karriss Artingstall scored her third straight points win as she improved to 3-0 after outboxing Linzi Buczynskyj over six rounds (60-55).

Michael Gomez Jr earned a controversial split decision win over Levi Giles to earn the vacant English super-featherweight title, inflicting the 26-year-old’s first pro defeat in a TV debut for both boxers where both had periods of success.

It was a competitive matchup but one marred by some unsavoury events during Friday’s weigh-in, which he subsequently apologised for afterwards.

Five months after scoring a second-round TKO win over Ben Ridings for the vacant Central Area title, 26-year-old super-middleweight talent Callum Simpson maintained his stoppage streak.

Having scored two knockdowns, he needed just a round more to find the finish against Portugal’s Celso Neves – who gave unbeaten middleweight contender Felix Cash all sorts of problems over eight rounds back in December.

Undercard results
Super-middleweight: Aaron McKenna bt. Jordan Grant (60-54)
Super-middleweight: Shakiel Thompson bt. Robert Talarek (59-54)
Light-middleweight: Harvey Lambert bt. Casey Brown (40-37)
Light-middleweight: Samuel Antwi bt. Omir Rodriguez (60-55)
Lightweight: Frankie Stringer bt. Jakub Laskowski (58-55)
Super-featherweight: Rhys Edwards bt. Brian Phillips (60-55)

Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via Sky and BBC Radio 5 Live broadcast