By Lucy MacDonald

Although the attempt was impressive, Storm Eunice has failed to cause enough damage to the roof of the O2 Arena in London to deprive boxing fans of a Sunday night special.

With plenty of British boxing fan-favourites in action, Lawrence Okolie will headline the event, making a second defence of his WBO world cruiserweight title in perhaps his toughest test to date. His opponent, Michal Cieslak, is a serious contender, with the only loss on his professional record to the WBC world cruiserweight champion, Ilunga Makabu. 

Many fans have commended the heavy hitter from Hackney for taking on any contender that can offer a good and competitive fight. Other fans have questioned the decision to fight Cieslak as it seems to be quite a substantial risk without any unification reward. He addressed their concerns.  

“I’ve had 17 fights, 14 by KO, on the weekend it’ll be 18 and 15 by KO. Everyone can say what they want about the opponent until after I’ve beaten them and then we’ll be onto the next one and we’ll see what everyone says about him.

I think power is secondary, it’s more so for fans and my opponents to watch and see what I’m doing. In the ring, as I’m going to show on Sunday, there’s so many other things that I do that are overlooked. It all ends in a KO which is why people care about the power.” 

32-year-old Cieslak from Poland made his thoughts on the fight, and his power-punching opponent, very clear when speaking for the media.  

“To be honest, I don’t care what other people think like media or supporters, I’m focused on myself and on what I’m going to do Sunday.

Today I’m focusing on myself so I’m not interested on how hard he punches and how strong he is, I’m going to do what I have to on Sunday and I’ll be celebrating then.”

Outstanding amateur and Olympic gold medallist, Galal Yafai, will make his debut on the undercard. Promotor, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, signed Yafai fresh from his success at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He aims to fast-track the 29-year-olds career and has delivered his new signing with an immediate opportunity to fight for the WBC international flyweight title in a ten-round contest. Although fighting for the first time as a professional in a ten-rounder poses risk, Yafai insists that this will have no impact on his ability claim victory.   

“It’s what I’m used to when I went to the Olympic games, fighting the best in the world. I don’t want to fight someone who’s come to survive or to say they’ve fought me or on a Matchroom bill. I want to fight people that are going to test me, to progress me and make me better. I’m sure I’ll show that on Sunday.”

His opponent, Carlos Vado Bautista, is equally as ready to put on a show and eager to take the WBC title back to Mexico. 

I’m really happy to be here on this excellent bill, it’s going to be a great night. To be fair whether or not Galal is making his debut, it’s not relevant for me, all I know is he’ll be ready, I’ll be ready as well and we’re going to have a war.”

After a string of setbacks in his career, Dave Coldwell-trained featherweight Jordan Gill is delighted to finally be challenging for the European title as he takes on Karim Guerfi this weekend. ‘The Thrill’ was last in action in December against Alan Luques Castillo at the Echo Arena in Liverpool where, disappointingly, he suffered a deep cut to the head, causing the fight to be stopped and pronounced a draw.

From France, his opponent, Karim Guerfi, pulled off a stunning victory over Andoni Gago to claim the European title and will arrive in London this week to make his first defence. Gill is confident that Guerfi will be fighting with this belt around his waist for the first and final time, as this is an absolute must-win fight for him.  

“That’s why I win, I’m looking forward to it, it’s a big challenge and I thrive under pressure. The pressure is on, I’ve got to win this fight but I’m looking forward to it.

There’s always disappointment and ups and downs, I’m a stayer and I’ll just stay until the end. I turn up to the gym every day and just do what I have to do, I feel like this is what’s meant to be for me, I don’t know when I’m going to get there but I will in the end. I’m looking forward to this fight.

Guerfi, a very cheerful character, who was clearly elated to be here in the UK and fighting on a Matchroom show, merrily addressed the media.  

“I’m happy to fight on this Matchroom show, probably the best promotor in the world. I’m ready for this fight, I really believe in myself and to prove who I am and why I’m a champion. Jordan Gill is a good technical fighter but I’m ready for him. I hope on Sunday it will be a great fight.

Anthony Fowler will commence his campaign in the middleweight division against Lukasz Maciec on Sunday. ‘The Machine’ made the decision to call time on his career at 154lb following defeat to fellow Liverpudlian and rival Liam Smith as they headlined the M&S Bank Arena in their home-city back in October.     

“I’ve made the weight so easy this time, I’ve got a new nutritionist who has been a great help to me. You’re going to see a different animal on Sunday night, now I’m in the ring fully fuelled, in the best shape of my life and so mentally focused. I know this guy has never been stopped but come Sunday night I’m going to stop him; I’m going to break him down and stop him.

I look back and I showed a lot of weakness that fight [Smith], I showed a lot of flaws that I needed to correct. I think making that weight took a lot out of my performance, I was really disappointed how I faded in the fight so fast but I had a really bad struggle getting down to the weight.” 

Despite Fowler’s positive reflection upon making weight and the move up to 160lb, his Polish opponent in Lukasz Maciec is convinced of nothing other than his own success.  

“I know that this is a big opportunity for me, and I will intend to make the most of it.

“I will be able to defeat Anthony Fowler and I will show this on Sunday. I will showcase boxing of the highest level.”

Unbeaten Brit, Fabio Wardley, will take on Daniel Martz in a ten-round contest at heavyweight. Since his pro-debut where he defeated Jakub Wojcik on points, Wardley has had an impressive string of 11 KO victories. He eagerly awaits the opportunity to fight for the British title and a there has been plenty of talk this week of a head-to-head with 25-year-old heavyweight contender, Nathan Gorman. 

“There’s a lot of talk about me moving and going towards the British Title clash with Nathan Gorman, I’ll never look past the opponent in front of me. I’ve still got a job to do on Sunday, get through that okay and quickly look towards bigger and better things.”

Last in the ring back in October 2020, Daniel Martz complimented the career of Wardley but also warned him of his experience, “he’s really good, but I’ve been in the ring with a lot of top guys and put in a lot of good work at home. I’ve been staying in shape, waiting for the call, and now I’ve got it, here I am. 

Cheavon Clarke will make his pro debut on the card, looking to make a statement and overwhelm Toni Visic under the lights at the O2. The Team GB cruiserweight signed a long-term promotional deal with Matchroom and feels this is the right time for him to commence his professional career.  

“It’s exciting, I’m ready to go. It’s been very similar to the GB experience, there’s more media and people watching. I’m looking forward to getting started.

People always speak about the amateur experience; this is a different game so regardless of what experience I’ve got I’m starting over now, and I’ve got to treat is accordingly.

Campbell Hatton, son of British boxing legend Ricky Hatton, takes on Joe Ducker at the O2 this weekend in the lightweight division. Being the son of one of British boxings greatest-ever comes with a large but demanding fanbase. With high expectations stemming from his father’s successful career, the pressure took its toll on the 21-year-old and was evident from his first few displays in the ring. However, with each fight, young-Hatton is showing vast improvement and developing his confidence.  

“It was more of what we’re used to seeing in the gym when I boxed last time out in Bilbao, it was a lot more relaxed and composed – it’s going to be the same this time. That’s the mindset I’m going in with for the rest of my career, I’m not going to be rushing my work, I’ve learnt from my mistakes so I’m looking forward to building on my last performance.

Joe Ducker, from Leicestershire, certainly did not seem phased by the presence of the Hatton clan, as he calmly addressed the media, expressing his thoughts on the fight ahead.  

“It’s just another opponent to me, I think I’ve been in with better so I’m just here to do my job.”

The undercard will also see light-heavyweight prospect John Hedges go toe-to-toe with Poland’s Aleksander Nagolski. After a short yet successful run as an amateur, Hedges, a 6ft 5in southpaw, has continued to develop and impress since making his professional debut in 2020.  

“I think if you look at my recent performances I’m getting better, I think the main thing is I’m gradually maturing each fight and filling the weight out. At the minute, light-heavyweight is good enough so I’m going to stay there for a little while and hopefully make a name for myself and show a massive performance Sunday night.”

Heavyweight Demsey McKean will also feature on the card as he takes on Ariel Esteban Bracamonte. McKean, an Australian southpaw, relocated to Essex from the Gold Coast to advance his boxing career. Training under the world-class guidance of Tony and Peter Sims, the 31-year-old looks to make it 21 wins out of 21 fights this Sunday.  

“We don’t have that quality of sparring back home in Australia. I’ve never done this much sparring for a prep ever, three times a week over here with high quality opponents, I just can’t wait to get in there.

We’re gelling with Tony at the moment, building up that relationship and working very well together too. I’m very excited for the future and what it brings, I just can’t wait to showcase all these skills on Sunday.”

Bracamonte will be making his first appearance back in the UK since his defeat to fan-favourite David ‘The White Rhino’ Allen at the Manchester Arena in 2018.  

All the above action will be available via DAZN on Sunday, 27th February from the slightly earlier than usual time of 5pm.  

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