Gritty challenger David Light had to endure some punishing power punches to go the distance with Lawrence Okolie.
But Hackney’s WBO cruiserweight world champion Okolie was a dominant victor over 12 rounds.
He took a unanimous decision victory and ultimately manhandled Light, hurting him in the late rounds of the fight but never dropping him.
Okolie was returning to action after more than a year out of the ring with a new trainer in his corner, SugarHill Steward.
He was eager to serve a warning to domestic rivals, the other champions in his division and even of his own potential to move up to heavyweight.
In Light, though he had a mandatory challenger who not only earned this opportunity but who had long targeted Okolie and his belt, preparing specifically for his chance to topple the Londoner and become a world champion.
During the introductions, even during the anthems, Okolie stepped into the centre of the canvas, ready it seemed to take command of the ring at the earliest possible moment.
Much taller than his challenger, Okolie’s first attack was to jab to the body, then he sent his right hook into the New Zealander’s side, punching the mid-section to throw off his opponent.
Light had no choice but to try to burrow forward and get up close to Okolie on the inside. They grappled in clinches early on. But throughout Okolie was looking to hit. The right hand flew down and Light stepped back from it just in time.
Still, Okolie launched his right at him in the second round. He hit it to the head, the body, then the head again. Okolie caught him flush too as the challenger tried to canter forward.
A solid one-two hit, its impact on Light a sign of the power behind those punches.
Nevertheless Light steadied himself. Okolie would tap him with his jab and then unleash the right in a sudden explosive burst.
Light however managed to reply, driving his left into Okolie, a shot that, if only for an instant, Okolie seemed to feel.
These moments of success for the New Zealander were only fleeting. Still with cussed determination Light carried on pushing himself forward, slugging his right hook into the side of Okolie’s head and working to disrupt the champion when he could.
But Okolie is a difficult man to fight. His long arms wrapped up Light when he stepped in and he used his size to lean his weight down on the shorter man.
The jab pawed at Light but then all of sudden Okolie’s right would flash over targeting the head but then, after the next jab, thud heavily into the body.
While Light punched at him with single shots, Okolie made it hard for him to sustain any combinations.
In the ninth round the challenger did clip Okolie with a right hook and Light dredged up the energy to press forward after his tormentor. But he was frustrated.
If he had taken some heart from that effort, Okolie snuffed out any of the New Zealander’s optimism in the next round. He slung a hard hook into the body and then cracked his right hook into Light’s head, finding the mark and finding his range. He blasted the right fully in again, showing how dangerous he could be.
Even in the 11th round, just after Okolie had a point deducted by referee Bob Williams for holding, all of a sudden he had Light badly shaken himself.
Somehow the gritty challenger kept himself upright and Okolie could not find any further breakthrough.
Light took Okolie to the cards, where the Londoner won by scores of 116-112, 119-108 and 117-110.
“David Light was extremely tough and he had a good tactic of moving around to his right,” Okolie said.
“But, at the end of the day, there’s no need to make excuses – just get better.
“I just couldn’t get the last shot to drop him and get him out of there because he was very tough and very good with his hand defences.”
The champion did finish with a warning for any future opponents.
“I will go in the ring and fight anyone,” he said. “If they’re watching this and they think ‘Lawrence is rubbish, I can do this, I can do that’, come and find out.
“I’ll put it on the line against anyone.”
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