Hackney-born cruiserweight boxer, Lawrence Okolie, or, “The Sauce”, has had a busy few years. After winning, and impressing, as an amateur at the 2016 Olympics qualification rounds, the boxer-turned-rapper has now cruised his way to a perfect 15-0 record, and now, he’s lining up to win his first world title against an experienced Kryzsztof Glowacki, at Wembley Arena later tonight.
Life hasn’t always been plain sailing, however. Before punching his way to the top, Okolie describes himself as a shy, Mcdonald’s-working teen that often backed away from the opportunity to fight in the school playground. He was an easy target during his academic years, he’s admitted, but the cruiserweight knockout artist now speaks with supreme confidence, convinced that it’s his time to be the champ.
But boxing isn’t all The Sauce takes his hands to. Okolie has now begun to pay attention to the music world. Expressing his interests in grime pioneers Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Skepta while growing up, he now takes pointers from new-gen stars, D Block Europe, Kwengface, and many more as he aims to add music success to his cabinet of accolades.
Recent times have seen a brief crossover between black music and boxing: heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua being the main advocate of this. See Stormzy perform during AJ’s Dillian Whyte ring walk, or more recently, his bout with Kubrat Pulev bout saw Potter Payper’s “Purpose” take centre stage.
But this weekend, Okolie is expected to walk out to his own latest release “TKO”, a steady rap performance that could prove to be a turning point in the collaboration of two major industries.
We caught up with Lawrence Okolie over the phone to talk all things growing up in Hackney, music, and boxing.
First of all, how have you been? Life has been a strange time for everyone over the last twelve months so I’m interested to hear how you’ve adapted.
“The blessing is that I’ve been able to create a home gym, so that’s been good. There’s been no sort of stress of whether I’m going to be able to make it to the gym or what-not.
“I just got into the back of my house and do my, you know, my runs, and my weights in the back of the house at home. But, fortunately, athletes have still been able to train in gyms, because of the government guidelines, so I’ve been doing that mainly. But yeah, obviously I’ve got this world title fight coming up, so I’ve had to stay training to make sure I’m properly prepared for that.”
Every boxing fan grows up dreaming of being a world champion. You’ve got the chance to write your name in the history on Saturday night. How does it feel to finally have this chance?
“I feel blessed, you know. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into it, and I’ve ticked all of the boxes up until this point. I’m just trying my best to not get too caught up in the occasion, and I know it’s an exclamation point on my career, and on my life really! But, ultimately, I’m just trying to see it as just another fight, and get in there and do what I’m meant to do – that’s it!”
I don’t want to put any extra pressure on you, but I think you’ve got this one in the bag! [laughs]
“I’m the same, you know! I believe it’s my time. You know, with COVID, and with lockdown happening, I’ve had bits and bobs going on, but I just personally believe that this is my time.”
Of course, one of the main reasons we’re talking today is because of your recent ventures with music. How important has music been to you, growing up?
“It’s been an important part, you know. If you’re talking about rap music specifically, it’s been around since I’ve been young. It’s a popular type of music in the area I’m from in Hackney, East London.
“It’s just something that has been connected with me in terms of sports: going for runs, music’s in my ears – I’m in the gym, music is pushing us on. So, during the lockdown, it’s been nice – obviously, I’ve done stuff prior with music when I was young, but it was nice to go to the studio during the lockdown.
“I could get my mind away from the fact of there being no real freedom and no flights, and just have fun, you know? It was kind of a thing where, it wasn’t a joke, but it was for the fun of it. It was the vibe of like “how much is it? £30 an hour? Alright, I’ll go.” Then it turned into people around me saying my voice was good, and some of the stuff I was saying was decent, too.
“For me initially, I didn’t see the point because I thought, “I’m a boxer, will people even take it in,” so I thought during my life, I’m just going to enjoy myself. If I can come from McDonald’s, to become British, Commonwealth champion, to compete for a world title, and god willing, win it, then why can’t I drop some music as well?”
That’s a very good point. Would you say that music helps you mentally, is it fair to presume that it’s a different release than punching the heavy bag, or sparring?
“Yeah, of course, it’s a different kind of release for me. I’ve become almost addicted to going to the studio, and writing, it’s something I’m trying to get really good at.
“It’s a good release, like as a boxer, unless I’m doing interviews, you don’t really see me talking, I just have a fight then I’m gone. But with music, it’s given me the opportunity to talk about another side of my life. Everyone always sees just the training and the fighting, but there’s another side of my life that I love.
“But with my music, I like to tell people about the journey that I’ve taken. I’ve gone the legit way as I’ve always worked, I’ve never sold drugs, I’ve never been to jail. I’ve just trained hard and been a good athlete. So if I’m going to flex with it, at least it’s a good flex.”
Yeah for sure. Who were you listening to during your time growing up in Hackney?
“I was listening to the same stuff as everyone growing up really. Dizzee Rascal, Wiley. Skepta was one that I really enjoyed. Even now, I still listen to artists in a fan way, as much as I meet them. You know, D Block Europe, Kwengface, I still listen to them all now.”
UK music has become so popular now, it’s effectively become modern-day ‘pop’. Some would argue that it is partly becoming a little saturated. How do you see the current state of UK rap today?
“I think it’s really good. I mean, there was a time when I was only listening to American artists, but now, we’ve got our own music scene. Whether that be rap or our take on afro-swing, I don’t think the UK music scene is saturated at all. Every week, someone new is coming up with a sick song, and the ones that are at the top are at the top for a reason.
“I don’t think there’s this urge for musicians to fly over to America to make it happen. Musicians can stay in the UK now, have fruitful careers, make money and create a fan-base literally here at home.”
The online world has become so much more important for helping boxing grow. Take Viddal Riley for example who has taken boxing to the online space. How important do you think this is in helping boxing grow?
“I think it’s extremely important. I personally love it, even the likes of KSI, I know they’re only in it for the shows and stuff, but they’re bringing so much attention to the sport. But someone like Viddal, he’s someone I used to spar before the Chamberlain fight, and he’s actually a really talented boxer.
“Obviously, he’s used YouTube to bring attention to that, and that’s super lit. But, yeah, if he could rack up some fights, anything is possible. He’s actually really really good – he’s a smart man.
“But I think in general it’s the future, if you look at someone like Ryan Garcia, he’s got a massive following in America, but unfortunately, he’s beaten one of my stablemates, but it’s like wow, look at what this young guy is creating.”
We’re really beginning to see a crossover between black British music and live sporting events. Most recently, Anthony Joshua walked out to Potter Payper’s “Purpose” for his fight with Kubrat Pulev. How does it feel to see this style of music being pushed onto the world scale at such big events?
“I think it’s impressive. I think it’s important to bridge the gap. With musicians and athletes, a lot of us come from the same struggle and from the same places, so it’s great to see that gap come together. I think it’s important to keep the whole culture going and alive. The more interactions that athletes have with musicians, actors, positive business owners, the more crossovers that happen, the more the whole industry gets bigger and draws more awareness.”
Now, we’re all expecting you to walk out to “TKO” this Saturday. When creating this record, and effectively living the life of a rapper when shooting the video, etc, how did it feel going through the whole experience of something that is effectively really new to you?
“It’s calm. For me, I’m just trying to not put too much pressure on it and just enjoy it. Obviously, I’ve done a lot of stuff on camera before: interviews, and fights in front of thousands, if not millions of people watching all over the world, so I’m just used to performing.
“It doesn’t feel like anything too new. It is slightly different though, because, with boxing, I know I’m one of the world’s best, but with music, I’m just entering in. So with music, there are still little bits that I’m working on – but I like that, it’s the same with boxing, and with anything. I love to improve. Long story short, I’m excited.”