Lawrence Okolie successfully defended his WBO world cruiserweight title a second time by unanimous points decision, but was made to work for victory by Michal Cieslak on Sunday.
Okolie (18-0, 14 KOs), 29, from London, England, was taken to points for the first time in eight fights by Cieslak (21-2, 15 KOs), 32, from Radom, Poland, at the O2 Arena in London. Okolie deserved his victory, by scores of 117-110, 116-111 and 115-112, after forcing a count in the fifth round, but Cieslak showed plenty of courage in a second unsuccessful world title attempt after he lost to Ilunga Makabu on points for the WBC title in 2020.
“He was tucking under the right hand very well, he had a lot of grit, and it was hard to find the right shot,” Okolie said.
It was a scrappy fight at times, and referee Michael Alexander certainly earned his money with the amount of holding he had to split up.
Okolie, who is managed by former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, is targeting a unification title fight against one of his rival champions, Makabu, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Africa, or Mairis Briedis (28-1, 20 KOs), the IBF titleholder from Latvia. Briedis was ringside in London and is scheduled to fight Jai Opetaia in Australia on April 6.
“I believe so,” promoter Eddie Hearn said, when asked if Briedis vs. Okolie is likely for later in the year.
“I believe it’s a fight we must see. Lawrence is going to move up to heavyweight but we must get the unification fights.”
Okolie wants the unification fights to happen quickly as he is planning on stepping up to heavyweight.
“It’s getting harder for me to make the weight so I just hope we can make the fights,” Okolie said.
Cieslak, who had plenty of support from England-based Polish fans, absorbed a big right hand in a difficult opening round but Cieslak then worked his way back into the fight.
However, Okolie pierced through Cieslak’s high guard in the fifth round with a snaking right hand, which dropped the Pole to one knee for a count. That count encouraged Okolie to let go of his hands in the sixth to put Cieslak under more pressure.
But Cieslak showed real heart and made things difficult for Okolie in the seventh round before Okolie had a good ninth round, full of precise shots and an effective jab.
Okolie was really impressive in the tenth, repeatedly landing big right hands and keeping his defense tight behind the jab.