picture courtesy of Anthony Wood INSTA: @coldwatermornings

Cruiserweight up-and-comer Lewis Oakford discusses his boxing journey and plans to make it to the top with Matt Tansini

Sporting superstars often start out young, almost as soon as they can walk. Richard Williams planned out his daughters’ tennis success before they were born. Anatoly Lomachenko mapped out other sports his infant son could master which would help in the ring. The ideal trajectory for any young boxer is either through a big promoter such as Matchroom, or by achieving amateur success in competitions like the Golden Gloves or that greatest of prizes, the Olympics.

These early outings build up a boxer’s profile, giving them a springboard to bypass the small-hall grind and launch themselves straight into prime time action, where money and fame abounds. Vasyl Lomachenko, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, Joe Calzaghe: these names and many more have trodden this path.

But what about the other end of the spectrum, the fighters who are trying to reach the top the old-fashioned way? A quick dash through the amateur ranks, a gradual professional build up in the small hall, regional and national titles, and then perhaps a hard-earned shot at the big time? For all the adulation given to sporting megastars, fans everywhere still hold a lot of candles for tales such as this. And this difficult path is exactly the one that Lewis Oakford is looking to follow.

The 32-year old has not had an easy route into boxing. Speaking to Southpaw Jab after his recent regulation victory against journeyman Robbie Chapman, Oakford describes a “start stop” boxing journey.

Growing up in Hackney, Lewis first encountered the sweet science at a youth club in Shoreditch. “I definitely enjoyed boxing”, the fighter says, “but I never really managed to stick at it when I was young. I wanted to try out other sports.” He returned to boxing at 14, this time starting to spar, and while he utilised the training to keep fit, it was only in 2013, at the age of 20, that Oakford started to take boxing more seriously.

Oakford started fighting as an amateur, but he often struggled to find opponents. “Fighters would often drop out a day before or even on fight day.” he recounts. “Once I even went to York Hall for a fight, weighed in and everything, and my opponent’s coach told us his fighter was pulling out!”

Despite these difficulties in match-ups, Oakford persevered. He entered a novice tournament for fighters with less than 10 contests, and managed to win. Lewis eventually compiled a record of around 16 fights as an amateur, and in 2019 he decided to go pro. However, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and, like many other fighters, Oakford’s aspirations were put on hold. Although he got back in the gym as soon as he could, another obstacle was to land in his path: the Wycombe fighter found himself in trouble with the law, and ended up serving a short prison sentence.

picture courtesy of Anthony Wood INSTA: @coldwatermornings

And so, in 2022 at the age of 30, Lewis Oakford finally managed to start his professional boxing career. Time might not be on his side, but he is hoping to combine his experience and skill with a renewed focus and determination, wanting to change his life for the better. 

In two years, Oakford has compiled a 5-0 (0) record. Together with coach Matt Hirst, who also trained him as an amateur, he has developed an eye-catching Soviet boxing style, focussing on his speed and impressive reach. “My walk-around weight is around the cruiserweight level”, he explains, “so I only have to drop around 4kg for a fight. It means I’m always going to be lighter than my opponents, but I work hard on cardio and sprinting to make this into a strength.”

However, while it may be easy to follow this approach in 4-rounders, Oakford acknowledges tougher tests lie ahead. “When you’re under the lights, there are certain parts of your identity as a boxer that don’t make it in with you”, he says philosophically. “Styles make fights as they say, so it might depend what kind of fight strategy you have to adopt. I’m trying to get comfortable with my style in longer fights to press my advantages.”

To overuse a boxing truism, Father Time is undefeated, and Oakford is aware that the clock is not on his side. While fighters such as Joe Joyce have continued to rise despite their ‘advanced age’, Oakford knows that, without the advantages mentioned above, he needs to take some risks to get ahead. Fighting Ross McGuigan, then 3-1 (0), in only his second bout was one such risk, and one that paid off. “I know my abilities and how good I am,” he says, “I wanted to make a point that I could beat better fighters, and I won every round as well.”

He may only have fought up to 6 rounds so far, but in the gym Lewis is racking up names on his resume. He regularly spars with some of the biggest British names in the division, such as Isaac Chamberlain, Richard Riakhporhe, David Adeleye and Deion Jumah. “I want to push myself, I want to fight guys who will make me pay for my mistakes and make me better. I believe I can take on and beat the top cruiserweights. When I see Riakhporhe, Billam-Smith, Okolie fighting for big titles, I feel like I belong in that realm.”

His coach Matthew Hirst reiterates this, "Yes we lost two years through COVID, like many fighters, so we are keen to get moving but I believe Lewis has the ability to move out of the small hall quickly and onto bigger shows where he will become a fan favourite."

"We took fights early doors many wouldn't because we have belief. Lewis has sparred top cruiserweights in the UK and not looked out of place so this gives me great confidence he can be pushing for British honours early next year."

To further raise his stock, Oakford has also utilised social media, notably calling out Tommy Fury when he was ranked higher than the Love Island alumnus. “I would love to take that fight,” he says, “Fury wants to be a boxer, and if he wants to go down the traditional route and win belts, the only way to do that is beating people around your level, otherwise what are you doing? You can’t sit around fighting youtubers forever.”

Oakford feels that 2024 can be a big year for him. The Chapman victory hopefully will pave the way for domestic title fights, he feels.  “I want the Southern Area Title this year, we’re just waiting for some news at the moment, and if that doesn’t happen obviously I’m happy to take another fight. I want to keep busy, and I’m more mature and focussed now.” Despite now being a pro, Oakford continues to be plagued by unreliable opponents. Chapman was the third change in opponent for that fight alone, but he has developed a sanguine attitude to the unpredictability of boxing. “Everything happens for a reason”, he reflects.

Like many small-hall fighters, Lewis has to balance his training with a conventional job. He currently works for a furniture company, coming back from work each day and going straight to the gym for several hours. “I don’t give myself a chance to sit down and let tiredness take hold, I aim to get everything done, all my training, so when I go home I can just relax.”

Another 2024 aim is to move to boxing full-time with the aid of sponsors, and soon he hopes that televised fights will help with that. Oakford strongly believes all his effort will pay dividends, and is happy to be patient. “I want to go as far as I can, I have to dream big. If I can get the results that I believe I can, I will keep getting banked higher and higher, and if I could fight for a European or even a World title, I would grab that opportunity with both hands”.

There is no question that Lewis Oakford has experienced major setbacks in his career. However, rather than diminish his passion, these tribulations have further hardened him into a serious competitor. As he looks towards the end of the year, titles beckon and Lewis looks to make his mark on British boxing, making up time, fast.


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