Alan Dawson – London
Cruiserweight contender Ola Afolabi has been stood up seven times en route to his September 10 date with late replacement Lukasz Rusiewicz. Afolabi and Rusiewicz provide the chief support to K2 Promotions stablemate Vitali Klitschko’s heavyweight title clash with Tomasz Adamek in Germany, and London-born Afolabi spoke exclusively with On The Beak about training camp, his 200lb rivals, learning from new trainer Fritz Sdunek, and being an avoided fighter.
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Afolabi at Klitschko's training camp
It won’t be long before Andre 3000 will have to revisit his lyric sheet to apply Tipp-Ex correction fluid over his answer to what’s cooler than being cool? ‘Ice cold’ was the initial answer, but Ola Afolabi is ahead of it. The man is happy-go-lucky with a dapper dress sense and a fine sense of humour outside of the ring, but meet him inside that square circle and you better watch out for his bastard of an overhand right or he’ll knock your bloody block off.
The 31-year-old has next to no amateur career to speak of, was propelled into the professional ranks for need of money, but has – in the past – credited his foundations in the sport to defending himself against seven boisterous older brothers… two of whom are boxers, together with his father, who was also a fighter.
His 17-2-3 record with 8ko may, on the face of it, seem like he lacks power, but since signing with K2, training with Sdunek and sparring the Klitschko siblings Wladimir and Vitali, Afolabi has developed multiple aspects of his game – including strength.
Afolabi was slated to box undefeated Polish sensation Pawel Kolodziej but a car accident sustained by the national star inhibited his ability to train effectively. K2 attempted to draft in Mateusz Masternak, another highly-rated Polish cruiser, but he rejected the offer as it was deemed too short notice to take on someone as dangerous as Ola.
Considering the amount of time it took to find someone willing to take on Afolabi (Rusiewicz was only confirmed the middle of this week – four days prior to fight night), a natural lead question to ask Ola concerned his approach to training when an opponent is not confirmed: “It’s okay when you don’t know the opponent… that way you can just keep training hard, but when you know the opponent and you study for his specific style and then he pulls out, that’s when it’s more difficult because you’re trained specifically for him,” Afolabi said to On The Beak.
“I’ve had seven potential opponents this camp,” he added. “They’re either scared or scared! We have found a last minute guy, he has nine wins and ten losses but I must still take him seriously as a man with nothing to lose can be dangerous. This fight will just be an eight rounder to keep me active and not waste a good training camp.”
So how has training been? “Training camp is training camp: a lot of hard work and a lot of hard sparring. Training with Fritz has totally changed and improved my style. I have trained with world class trainers before but never with one that has as much time or spends as much time with me personally than Fritz, so I learn more.”
Fritz Sdunek is an esteemed trainer in central Europe who, as well as Afolabi, trains Vitali Klitschko (42-2-0, 39ko) and middleweight ruler Felix Sturm (36-2-1, 15ko), both of whom hold major championship belts and it won’t be long before Ola joins them as the chipper prizefighter is currently ranked second best cruiser by the WBO, third with the WBA, seventh by the WBC, seventh in the IBF and ninth with The Ring (ninth also by On The Beak).
Afolabi announced his arrival on the world circuit in 2009 when he dropped the jaws of onlookers by knocking out Enzo Maccarinelli at the MEN Arena. Enzo had dominated the scorecards up until the middle rounds due to a higher work-rate, however, by the eighth and most notably the ninth round, fatigue crept in, his defence became leaky and Afolabi sensed the stoppage. Body-shots lowered Maccarinelli’s guard and he staggered the Welshman with an uppercut before finishing him with a hard overhand right.
Along with perhaps Giovani Segura in Mexico and Arthur Abraham in Germany, Enzo Mac in England was the most high-profile fighter operating in the world on that night. He was a 20 to one odds-on favourite to defeat Afolabi, so for Ola to win by knockout was a headline-grabbing feat. He became an interim champion with the WBO due to the win and was therefore granted a shot at full WBO titlist, Marco Huck, whom he dropped a closely-contested decision to later that year.
Ola with heavy bag at Austrian base
Afolabi then committed to K2 and bounced back while operating under their banner and fighting on Klitschko undercards. He beat Sandro Siproshvili by way of decision when Vitali out-pointed Shannon Briggs in 2010, he stopped Lubos Suda in five rounds due to cuts on the same night Vitali embarrassed Odlanier Solis in the opening stanza earlier this year and then Ola got his own first round knockout – struck once more with the overhand right – against Terry Dunstan when Wladimir silenced David Haye.
This weekend he again partners up with one of his sparring partners, Vitali, as Klitschko takes on Adamek when he goes to work with Rusiewicz, however, Afolabi stressed that he is ready to headline a show himself and is gunning for vengeance against Cap’n Huck.
“Next year I see myself knocking out Marco Huck. Till then I’ll fight any big fight,” Afolabi vowed, clearly not short on cojones.
Ola has fought predominantly in the US, latterly in Germany and only once in England, but was swift to note: “I prefer to fight where I am loved the most, which so far is UK and Germany, but I represent the UK.”
At it’s coolest, ice cold is absolute zero. British fight fans are already warm on Afolabi, evidenced by their raucous ‘winter wonderland’ chanting of “There’s only one Afolabi… walking along, singing a song, walking in an Ola wonderland,” at his last contest, so should he continue to spark opponents out, upset odds and fortify his standing amongst the division’s elite, then Britain will long continue to support a hero in a weight class that may be on the cusp of heating up.
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