Superfit Galal Yafai ready to go the distance on 10-round pro debut after Team GB star’s gold medal heroism at Tokyo 2020
GOLDEN boy Galal Yafai booked a rough debut on Sunday – having been Team GB’s shock Olympic star.
The Birmingham fighter, 29, was crowned flyweight champion in Tokyo last summer to cap off a Cinderella story, after working at a Land Rover factory.
Almost all of Yafai’s amateur fights – who have contested two Olympics – were scheduled for three rounds and a pro bow is usually an easy four or six.
But the superfit youngest of three boxing brothers boldly embarks on a ten-round clash against Carlos Bautista at London’s O2 as he attacks the 8th Division.
Before facing the Mexican, he smiled: “I agreed with the idea. I’m in pretty good shape and I think I can do all ten laps.
“I hope it doesn’t go all the way to the end of the ten, but I’m sure I’ll be fine if it does. I don’t want to get all the guns out in the first few laps and do pop a joint.
“There are a lot of expectations on myself, but Olympic gold is now in my past.”
Jumping deep is hopefully the stepping stone Yafai needs to clinch a world title in just ten fights.
But he’s seen enough of the dark side of boxing — in his own amateur fights and in the careers of brothers Gamal and Kal — to know it won’t be easy.
He said: “I think I’m good enough to be world champion, 100%. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
“There are always ups and downs in boxing. I saw first and second hand with my brothers.
“So I’ll just try to work hard and see what happens.”
Sections of the O2’s roof were blown off by Storm Eunice, but repairs were successful and Sunday’s show began.
Yafai said: “I’m used to fighting in empty arenas in places like Bulgaria and Hungary, being bored all week in hotels, so this is all a good change.
“It’s a lot more fun, we were put up in a nice hotel and I’m just ready to go now.”
Hackney’s WBO heavyweight champion Lawrence Okolie, 29, headlines against Michal Cieslak.
And he insists he didn’t panic when the venue’s roof exploded.
Prior to his fight with Polish slugger Cieslak, 32, Okolie said, “I was actually pretty calm about the whole thing.
“I thought the worst-case scenario would be the fight being moved and maybe it could be delayed.
“But I never try to let anything get to me – I like to take it all as it comes.”
Meanwhile, Okolie still can’t help but laugh when someone calls him world champion.
He won the heavyweight crown last March and is now the proud owner of a flawless 17-0 start to his career.
His story is even more surreal as he was bullied because of his obesity as a child and just ten years ago worked at a McDonald’s and considered a career in social services.
The inspirational turnaround of flipping headliner burgers at the O2 always puts a smile on his face.
He explained: “It’s starting to feel a bit more normal to me, but I always laugh when someone calls me ‘the world champion’.
“I always felt like I was supposed to do something, but I didn’t know what it was. I was considering becoming a manager at McDonald’s and because my mother is involved in social work, it was also something I was considering.
The 14th 4-pound ace is eager to unite against one of three other champions with WBC, IBF and WBA belts.
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But he found it to be a frustrating struggle and so could move up to heavyweight sooner than expected.
He warned: “Everyone knows I want to unify the division and ideally go for undisputed with all four belts.
“But if these other champions shun me, I’ll go up and have real dance partners.”