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Beterbiev and Ortiz Kept on Truckin’, but Lawrence Okolie Stole the Spotlight

Arne K. Lang

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On Saturday, WBC/IBF light heavyweight champion Artur Beterbiev and welterweight Vergil Ortiz Jr kept their perfect knockout skeins alive. Beterbiev, now 16-0, and Ortiz, 17-0, have yet to face an opponent that proved capable of staying the distance. The weekend’s most impressive showing, however, was turned in by Lawrence Okolie who won the vacant WBO world cruiserweight title with a dominant performance over former title-holder Krzyzstof Glowacki.

Born in London to Nigerian parents, Okolie, 28, was raised by a single mother in government subsidized housing in the East London borough of Hackney. In his late teens, he was obese; his weight ballooning to 260 pounds. He was inspired to take of up boxing after watching Anthony Joshua win the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic games. At the time, he was flipping hamburgers at a McDonald’s. (When he visits his former workplace, you won’t find him ordering a Big Mac. He’s become a vegan, embracing a plant-based diet.)

Although Okolie started his boxing career late, he proved good enough to make the Olympics. He competed for England as a heavyweight in the 2016 Rio games where he advanced to the second round before being eliminated by Cuba’s Erislandy Savon.

Okolie brought a 15-0 (12) record into his match with Poland’s Glowacki who had lost only twice in 33 pro starts, those coming at the hands of Oleksandr Usyk and the man that would be recognized as the top dog in the division when Usyk left it to campaign as a heavyweight, Latvia’s Mairis Briedis.

The bookies installed Okolie a 3/1 favorite, but there were certainly doubts about him. His ascent up the ranks was reminiscent of another Hackney man, Anthony Yarde, who won his first 18 fights by knockout against suspect opposition before Sergey Kovalev burst his bubble, taking him out in the 11th round. Moreover, although Okolie was undefeated, his style wasn’t winning any new fans. Some of his fights were frankly boring.

Lawrence Okolie stands six-foot-five and has an 82-inch wingspan. This reporter was reminded of Alfonso Ratliff, a fighter from Chicago who briefly held the world cruiserweight title. Ratliff stood six-feet-four and in common with Okolie had come down from heavyweight. He was good enough to grab a world title, but in truth he was nothing special.

Based on his showing on Saturday, Okolie figures to accomplish much more than did Ratliff. He has the chance to be very special.

Against Glowacki, Okolie controlled the first three rounds with his jab before bringing the heavy artillery. He ended the fight early in the sixth with a booming right hand. Glowacki beat the count, just barely, but was in no shape to continue and the fight was waived off.

The Pole was an empty vessel. This was his first start in 21 months but, as ESPN’s Nick Parkinson said, rust had nothing to do with it. Glowacki was out of his league.

Okolie is co-managed by Anthony Joshua. This was his fourth fight with Shane McGuigan who has been working on getting Okolie to take advantage of his length which will, in turn, improve his power as his punches will carry more force if delivered straight-on. McGuigan believes that Okolie is far from a finished product. In a conversation with British boxing journalist Tris Dixon, McGuigan said that when Okolie left the amateur ranks he “was only 35-40 percent of what he can be” unlike most elite British amateurs who take up the sport at an earlier age and have less room to grow when they turn pro.

Down the road, it’s easy to envision Okalie comfortably carrying 30 to 40 more pounds on his six-foot-five frame. But first he’d like to follow Usyk’s example and unify the cruiserweight division.

The other title-holders of note are WBC champ Ilunga Makabu, the Congolese southpaw who fights out of South Africa, and the aforementioned Briedis (IBF). If Okolie had his druthers, Briedis would be next on his schedule, but the Latvian, now 36 years old, is reportedly contemplating a move to heavyweight and may not care to wait around for a unification fight.

Regardless, Okolie made a big jump in public esteem this past Saturday and stamped himself as a force to be reckoned with at 200 pounds and above.

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Tyson Fury Roared and Deontay Wilder Remained Silent at their L.A. Presser

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TSS special correspondent LAUREN RODRIGUEZ was on the scene for the Top Rank Promotions press conference in downtown Los Angeles on June 15 at which the third meeting between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder was formally announced. Here is her report.

The third fight between Tyson “Gypsy King” Fury (30-1, 21 KOs.) and Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) will go down July 24th in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena. This continued mash-up between the two comes 16 months since their last bout. The first fight, in December 2018, ended in a draw and their second in February 2020, ended in a victory for Fury in the 7th round.

Fury carried the press conference while Wilder remained largely muted.

The WBC champion Fury remains undefeated, a status he is adamant in maintaining. The heavyweight boasted a white suit patterned with images of himself in a crown and wearing the belt he won off Wilder.

“This is a reminder of what happened to him last time, this is a remembrance suit of Deontay Wilder’s ass-kicking.”

The “Gypsy King,” an entertainer, left little words unsaid as he berated his silent opponent.

“It shows how weak a mental person is, it shows the emotional effect the last fight had on his life… I was worried about him after the defeat I gave him,” said Fury.

An Alabama native, Wilder has a 93% knockout rate, the highest rate for any heavyweight.

Wilder wanted no part in other questions from Q/A moderator Christina Poncher, or the media, as he remained silent with headphones and sunglasses to shield him from questions.

Wilder’s trainer, longtime friend and former heavyweight contender Malik Scott answered very few questions for the fighter as tensions rose.

“He’s very stubborn, like most legends and gifted people they have their things with them. As long as he gives me what I want in the gym, I don’t care about the stubbornness cause we’re going to get this done,” said Scott.

If it’s one thing Fury and team all agree on, it’s that history will repeat itself in this third fight come July.

When it comes to what we can expect this time, Fury’s trainer SugarHill Steward stated, “All I have to say is, over time, he [Fury] now has power to knock a man out with one punch. His boxing IQ is one-punch knockout power.”

In Gypsy King fashion, we will have an entertaining show come next month. Fury intends on moving his weight all the way to 300, so he can give Wilder a bigger knockout in the ring and fans a bigger show.

“This time I’m hoping to take him out early, one, two, three rounds max.”

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Tokyo-Bound Aussie Heavyweight Justis Huni Stops Rugged Paul Gallen in the 10th

Arne K. Lang

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Had Justis Huni fought Paul Gallen two months ago, the match would have been trashed as little more than exhibition. During his record-tying 19 years in rugby, Gallen evolved into one of Australia’s most well-known sporting personalities. When Gallen took up boxing in 2014, it was thought that he did it as a lark; as a way of cashing in on his name recognition. And his first 11 opponents were a motley bunch of former rugby players, MMA fighters, 40-somethings, and boxing novices.

Then came the night of April 21, 2021. In a shocker, Gallen demolished former WBA heavyweight titlist Lucas “Big Daddy” Browne in less than two minutes. “Gallen transformed from a rugby league player to a bona fide prize fighter before our very eyes,” said prominent Australian sports journalist Andrew McMurtry.

That knocked Lucas Browne out of a lucrative match with Justis Huni and vaulted Paul Gallen, who turns 40 in August, to the head of the queue. They met Wednesday night (Australia time) at a convention center in Sydney and Huni, five-and-a-half inches taller, 15 pounds heavier, and the younger man by nearly 18 years, saddled Gallen (11-1-1) with his first defeat.

Heading into the fight, Gallen conceded that the heavily favored Huni was faster. However, he thought that he could wear the bigger man down. “If I get through those first four to five rounds, I’ll be in his face the whole time and I think I can knock him out late,” he said.

It proved to be the other way around. Huni dominated the fight and when he knocked Gallen down in the 10th with a big right hook, the referee stepped in and stopped it. But Gallen, who had a bum shoulder from his rugby days and thought that he fought most of the fight with a broken rib, showed tremendous heart.

It was the fifth professional fight for Huni (5-0, 4 KOs) who won the Australian heavyweight title in his pro debut. Of Dutch, Swedish, Samoan, and Tongan heritage, he quit school at age 15 to give boxing his full attention and will represent Australia in the Tokyo Olympics which start next month.

Brisbane-born Huni is already being talked-about as the best-ever Australian-born heavyweight. The rap against him is a lack of one-punch knockout power which won’t be a detriment in Tokyo.

In undercard bouts of note, Brisbane middleweight Isaac Hardman (11-0, 9 KOs) scored a 4th-round stoppage of Emmanuel Carlos (12-2) and middleweight Andrei Mikhailovich, a Russian residing in Auckland, New Zealand, advanced to 16-0 (9) with a second-round stoppage of previously undefeated Alex Hanan (13-1).

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Three Pros are Joining the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, Ruffling Some Feathers

Arne K. Lang

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USA Boxing, the agency that controls amateur boxing in the United States, has a rule that prohibits professional boxers from competing in their tournaments. That rule remains in effect, but yet three pro boxers – middleweight Troy Isley, lightweight Keyshawn Davis, and featherweight Duke Ragan – will suit up for the United States in the forthcoming Tokyo Games. The announcement, which fell largely under the radar, came on June 7.

USA Boxing is subservient to AIBA, the sport’s international governing body, and to the International Olympic Committee. The Boxing Task Force of the IOC changed the rules to allow Isley, Davis and Ragan to compete and the honchos at USA Boxing are none too happy about it.

Blame the Covid-19 pandemic which forced the postponement and ultimately the cancellation of several qualifying tournaments including the “Americas” tournament in Buenos Aires at which boxers from 42 national federations – including the United States — would be competing for the Olympic slots allocated to this region. A total of 286 boxers from around the world will compete in Tokyo in the eight men’s and five women’s weight divisions with the coveted slots dispersed among four Continental Regional Divisions.

With no tournament, the Task Force redesigned the quota allocation process using world rankings to determine the national squads. The rankings were formulated using a point system from events held between January 2017 and October 2019.

The re-jiggering opened the door for Isley, Davis, and Ragan to rejoin the team. Isley and Davis had their first pro fight in February of this year. Ragan turned pro in August of 2020.

Team USA protested that the BTF allocation was unfair to the boxers that finished first in the final domestic qualifying tournament (December 2019 in Lake Charles, Louisiana), but their claim was denied. Isley and Ragan were knocked out of that tournament before reaching the finals; Davis finished first when his opponent in the finals took ill and had to pull out, but he was subsequently booted off the team, reputedly for missing too many practices which he attributed to a family health emergency. That unfrocking has been rescinded.

Before he left the team, Keyshawn Davis was considered the U.S. boxer with the best chance of winning a gold medal in Tokyo. A southpaw, he earned his spurs at the Alexandria Boxing Club in North Alexandria, Virginia, which was also the home gym of Troy Isley who lived right down the street.

The common thread between all three of the returnees is Kay Koroma who coached Davis and Isley at the Alexandria club where he was the top lieutenant to the club’s patriarch Dennis Porter and at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where he served as an assistant to Billy Walsh. Duke Ragan, who hails from Cincinnati, is Koroma’s nephew.

Koroma came to the fore in 2016 when he earned raves for his work with Olympians Claressa Shields. Shakur Stevenson, Charles Conwell and others. But Koroma, one of the hottest young trainers in the sport, won’t be available to work with the 2020/21 team before it heads off to Tokyo. “My plate is too full,” he told The Sweet Science.

Koroma, like many of his former pupils, turned pro himself. He continues to work with Shakur Stevenson, whom he has known since Shakur was 13 years old, he assists veteran coach Al Mitchell with Mikaela Mayer and he recently replaced Ronnie Shields as the head trainer of rising heavyweight contender Efe Ajagba.

Isley, Davis, and Ragan comprise three-fifths of the men’s Olympic team. Super heavyweight Richard Torrez Jr and welterweight Delante “Tiger” Johnson flesh out the quintet.

USA Boxing released a letter to its membership expressing frustration over the decision of the IOC Task Force which killed the dreams of seven boxers who hoped to snare an Olympic berth at the Buenos Aires tournament or, barring that, the Last Chance tournament in Paris which was also a casualty of the pandemic. The letter can be read at the USA Boxing web site.

The seven boxers who were fenced out are:

Darius Fulgham (heavyweight, Houston, TX)

Rahim Gonzalez (light heavyweight, Las Vegas, NV)

Joseph Hicks (middleweight, Lansing, MI)

Charlie Sheehy (lightweight, Brisbane, CA)

Bruce Carrington (featherweight, Brooklyn, NY)

Anthony Herrera (flyweight, East Los Angeles, CA)

and

women’s flyweight Andrea Medina (San Diego, CA).

USA Boxing insists there are no plans to allow professionals to compete for the United States in the 2024 Olympiad and beyond. This is a one-shot exception forced by a unique circumstance. But, needless to say, when it comes to amateur boxing, nothing is etched in stone.

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