Richard Riakporhe questions Lawrence Okolie and ‘ready to dance’ for WBO title

Richard Riakporhe questioned Lawrence Okolie’s mental strength after he lost his WBO cruiserweight title and was knocked down three times during his defeat to Chris Billam-Smith in May.

Riakporhe, who is the second-ranked fighter in the WBO standings, highlighted Okolie’s lacklustre performance and questioned if issues behind the scenes played a part in the defeat.

Having switched camps earlier this year, Okolie was up against former trainer Shane McGuigan in Billam-Smith’s corner which Riakporhe believes gave him a mental disadvantage going into the bout.

“On Okolie and his performance – I don’t know, I feel like there are underlying issues that he needs to deal with because I think he’s better than that for sure,” Riakporhe said.

“Prior to the fight McGuigan was talking about mental aspects of Okolie, which we didn’t know because he’s never been tested in that regard, and that (loss) pretty much confirmed that for me. From the way he performed there may be – I’m not saying 100 per cent but maybe there’s something going on with him.

“He was training with Billam-Smith, he left his former coach McGuigan and he’s now preparing his stable-mate to beat him based off flaws that he’s noticed over the years. That’s a very difficult task if you ask me.

“If a man has sparred 300-400 rounds and you also have Okolie’s former coach in your corner that knows everything about him then you have got an advantage.”

Okolie was deducted two points for persistent holding on the night – a style Riakporhe criticised in the aftermath of the fight.

And Riakporhe called for officials to clamp down on the “very dirty tactics” which he insisted are tainting boxing’s image.

Chris Eubank Jr v Liam Smith – AO Arena
Riakporhe questioned Okolie’s clinch-heavy style and called for stricter officiating in the future (Nick Potts/PA)

“I was surprised, I didn’t think he (Billam-Smith) was going to be able to knock Okolie down,” Riakporhe added.

“But Okolie’s style of boxing with the holding he does is pretty strange. In my opinion that’s not the noble artform of boxing for me.

“It’s some 1940s or 1930s boxing style with the grappling and holding back like in the Jack Johnson era. That’s not boxing.

“Like anything, you need to train to exploit that, but really I think that shouldn’t be allowed and that’s very dirty tactics. It’s not boxing, the referees need to be very firm, it’s not fair, it’s not good for the fans and it’s bad for boxing.”

The south London fighter vowed it is only a matter of time before he gets his hands on cruiserweight gold as he eyes a shot at the title later this year.

“My main takeaway from the fight is just further conviction that I’m the number one and that I’m the best in my mind,” he said.

“This year (is when I will be champion). I’ve already spoken to my team and I’m ready to dance this year, it’s going to be big.”