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Lawrence Okolie opens up on leaving Tyson Fury's trainer for a fresh start after his first loss… as he vows to bounce back by becoming Britain's first bridgerweight world champion

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This time last year, Lawrence Okolie had just completed the third defence of his WBO cruiserweight title in a lopsided points win against Canada’s David Light, and a unification fight appeared the next logical step.

Instead, he opted to take a different route by defending his title once more against former stablemate and domestic rival Chris Billam-Smith just nine weeks later, and things did not go to plan.

Fighting in Billam-Smith’s hometown of Bournemouth, Okolie never looked at the races and was knocked down three times while also being docked two points for holding on his way to a defeat on the scorecards.

Ten months on, and Okolie, now 19-1, is yet to return to the ring. But that will change on May 24, and he has opted to jump straight back in at the deep end.

The 2016 Olympian will face WBC bridgerweight champion Lukasz Rozanski in his homeland of Poland, bidding to become Britain’s first champion in the division that was only created four years ago.

Lawrence Okolie (right) took on his former stablemate Chris Billam-Smith (left) last year

Lawrence Okolie (right) took on his former stablemate Chris Billam-Smith (left) last year

Okolie was knocked down three times and docked two points as he lost to his domestic rival

Okolie was knocked down three times and docked two points as he lost to his domestic rival

He has reacted to that loss by splitting from Sugar Hill Steward (right), who also trains Tyson Fury

He has reacted to that loss by splitting from Sugar Hill Steward (right), who also trains Tyson Fury

Okolie has thrown himself straight back in at the deep end by agreeing to fight the unbeaten Pole Lukasz Rozanski

Okolie has thrown himself straight back in at the deep end by agreeing to fight the unbeaten Pole Lukasz Rozanski

During his time away from the squared circle, Okolie has made some key career decisions, confirming his days at cruiserweight are done and leaving Sugar Hill Steward – who also trains Tyson Fury – to team up with Joe Gallagher.

Explaining the reasoning behind switching trainers, Okolie revealed that Gallagher’s drive to win convinced him that he was the man for the job. 

‘I think Joe’s a great trainer, he’s been trainer of the year in the past,’ Okolie told Mail Sport.

‘I trained with him when I was sparring Parker for Wilder and he was in the corner while I was doing that. His mindset is very much “I don’t care what you’ve got on outside of the ring, I don’t care what you’ve done, we’re here to work and you need to work to win this particular fight”. So he’s got the right mindset. 

‘We’re also going to Poland so you want someone in your corner that wants to win as much as you do and he cares about it so I think it’s the perfect match for this.’

The clash with Rozanski will represent a fresh start for Okolie, but he will have to go back over some old ground by travelling to his opponent’s backyard for a second successive fight.

He fell short against Billam-Smith last time out, but is confident he will get things right when he takes on the unbeaten Rozanski, who has won 14 of his 15 bouts inside the distance.

‘I think I’ll handle it very well,’ Okolie said as he looked ahead to travelling to enemy territory once again.

‘I’ve had the experience of boxing at Bournemouth where there were 15,000 Bournemouth fans that were all hoping that I lost, and for me it’s a great opportunity to right that wrong, mentally, where I go to someone’s back garden and I get the job done. 

Okolie has teamed up with Joe Gallagher (pictured) and is convinced he is the right man to guide him to victory against Rozanski

Okolie has teamed up with Joe Gallagher (pictured) and is convinced he is the right man to guide him to victory against Rozanski

Rozanski will be fighting in front of his home crowd and has won 14 of his 15 fights by knockout

Rozanski will be fighting in front of his home crowd and has won 14 of his 15 fights by knockout

‘I think it will be a great story to tell my kids and I think I’ll relish it. This one here, I know it’s going to be a hostile environment, I know I’ve beaten four or five Polish guys, a lot of their top guys, I know that they’re going to be thinking that this is the time that they can get me, so I’m really pumped to go in there and make an incredible statement.’

Okolie has now moved up to the 224lb-limit bridgerweight division, but he still has his eye on the weight class below. 

Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe are set to fight each other later this year for the former’s world title, and Okolie revealed he would welcome a dust-up with either man if they can be tempted up to bridgerweight.

He also has his sights set on a move to heavyweight in the not-too-distant future, and believes his fight with Rozanski will prepare him for the step up to boxing’s blue-riband division.

‘It’s all about taking it one fight at a time, but winning this fight well where this guy was once a heavyweight who’s come down to bridgerweight, it would be a good step in the right direction against a short, stocky, thick-set small heavyweight,’ Okolie added. ‘And then when it’s time to go up I’ll build into it over the next year.’

The heavyweight division has come alive in recent months, with Fury and Anthony Joshua both involved in huge crossover fights with Francis Ngannou over in Saudi Arabia.

Fury will face Oleksandr Usyk in an undisputed match-up just six days before Okolie steps in the ring with Rozanski in arguably the biggest heavyweight fight this century.

Okolie expects his step up to heavyweight to come after Fury, Usyk and Joshua have called time on their careers, but the 31-year-old is excited to get himself into the mix sooner rather than later and potentially become a three-weight world champion. 

‘I think it’s the best heavyweight scene that we’ve seen in decades. It’s good to see the likes of Eddie [Hearn] and Frank Warren working together. I think the heavyweight division is amazing right now,’ he said.

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are set to fight for the undisputed heavyweight title in May

Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are set to fight for the undisputed heavyweight title in May

Anthony Joshua has also returned to form, and Okolie has hailed the current state of the heavyweight division

Anthony Joshua has also returned to form, and Okolie has hailed the current state of the heavyweight division

Okolie wants to get himself into the heavyweight title mix in the future after securing a world title at bridgerweight

Okolie wants to get himself into the heavyweight title mix in the future after securing a world title at bridgerweight

‘I do think it’s only got another year, 18 months left of it because you’ve got the likes of Anthony Joshua, Usyk, Fury, they’re all pushing on to that point where they’re about to potentially step out or they’ll start to take a decline so the likes of [Joseph Parker, [Daniel] Dubois and so on, those names are going to start coming up and starting to get world titles. 

‘It will be interesting to get into the mix. I think those names that I mentioned before are so well-established, they’ve paid their dues so they’re only going to fight against each other for eight-figure paydays. The rest of us that are coming up after will have to duke it out.’

Okolie’s willingness to challenge himself against the very best is to be admired, and now he faces his ultimate acid test.

Another defeat would be tough to take, and could leave him wondering where to turn next. But a win would put him back on top, with some huge fights on the horizon.

It’s sink or swim time for Okolie, who is determined to prove that one loss will not define him.