“Life hits way harder than boxing ever will.”
When Mikael Lawal says that, he speaks with authority.
“For anybody. I don’t care who you are, how tough you think you are, it will break you if you allow it to,” the British champion continued. “You have to be strong mentally, more than physically.”
He has seen things that no one should have to see. Those cruel experiences have shaped him into a fighter.
“A lot of people just see the success stories. But before you can get to that success story, you’re going to go through hell,” Lawal told Sky Sports.
“And I’ve had to die just to get to the place of peace that I am in right now. I’ve failed so many times. So I’ve had to learn a lot through all these situations.”
Lawal has faced death in the worst possible way. When he was a child he watched his mother pass away. He would spend a period of time homeless on the streets of Lagos.
Once in the UK he eventually found a way forward through boxing.
“Losing my mum at such a young age, it messed me up. Because that was my rock,” Lawal said.
“I was 13 years old, I saw her die. Right in front of me. People don’t understand that. So it’s hard.
“After that I went into a place of darkness. I started getting worse. I started getting addicted to certain things I shouldn’t have been addicted to, just trying to find an escape.
“I just had to face all my fears, face what I needed to face just to be who I am. So now I understand what life’s about.
“I understand you have to go through all these trials and tribulations just to make it and I’ve accepted life for what it is.”
He believes boxing Isaac Chamberlain, for the British and Commonwealth titles at York Hall in the headline event on Sky Sports this Saturday night, will be a moment of clarity for him.
“It finally makes sense,” he said. “I know what I’m fighting for, I know this is my purpose and that’s what I’m trying to fight for.
“I think only the strong come out on top. And that’s what I want to show on the night and when we fight. I want to show him that I’ve been through a lot, I can take a lot more.
“It’s all about timing in life. Even timing when you get the shots off, timing’s everything. I’ve been waiting on this time to come and now I’m going to showcase what I can do.
“I’ve got the will to win. I’ve got the will to fight for my family, fight for what’s important to me. That’s all that really matters.
“You have to go through a lot in this life. I’m still going through a lot, but I’m still fighting and keeping strong and that’s what matters.”
Expect Chamberlain to be inspired in this fight as well. He is convinced it will set the winner up to challenge for a world title next year.
“I think the WBC or the WBA,” he told Sky Sports. “I think those will be the available ones.
“He [Lawal] can come back, he’s a good fighter. I’m moving on and up. I could definitely fight for a world title off this fight, and do a unification with Chris Billam-Smith, in Bournemouth’s stadium or another stadium.”
Billam-Smith, now the WBO world champion, beat Chamberlain in a thrilling contest last year. Chamberlain’s only other loss came against Lawrence Okolie, who went on to become a world champion too.
That is where Chamberlain considers London rival Lawal lacking. The British champion has not had that kind of experience.
“I’ve been here before. I’ve been in with harder punchers than him. I know what I’m on. I know what I can do. He’s still finding himself in there,” Chamberlain said.
“There’s certain things that only experience can teach you. I have more experience and it’s going to play big in this fight.”
Lawal has sparred Oleksandr Usyk and Tony Bellew (the latter revealed it was Lawal who broke his rib ahead of his rematch with David Haye). But the standard of his boxing, he feels, has been disregarded.
“People have spoken about me, this and that. I’ve allowed it to get to me so many times and tried to perform for other people. I’m past all of that,” the British champion reflected.
“All I’m doing right now is trying to make myself proud and trying to do what I can for my family. That’s what matters.”
His fearsome power, though, cannot be overlooked. “I can punch. I think it’s a gift from God. I’m just using that tool the best that I can,” he said quietly, the threat no less clear for being understated.
But Chamberlain has faith that he is capable of out-punching the puncher. “I can hurt him. He’s never actually been touched. He’s never been touched on his chin, he’s never been touched on his body, he’s never been hit hard. So we’re going to have to see,” Chamberlain insisted.
“I think I’m stopping him. I visualise a stoppage in one of the great performances in York Hall, one of the greatest performances York Hall has ever seen.
“A star will be born.”
Another York Hall classic?
The Louis Greene vs Sam Gilley fight for the Commonwealth super-welterweight title on the undercard could also be a classic York Hall clash.
Green, the champion, is a throwback fighter. He has suffered losses, all at a good level, and each time come back.
Harry Scarff beat him last year. Green just moved up in weight, travelled to Poland to hand Tomasz Nowicki a first defeat.
He would then go to Scotland to win and defend the Commonwealth title, defeating Dean Sutherland, who had also never lost before, and Paul Kean.
He won those last three bouts all inside the distance too.
For him, that is what boxing is supposed to be. “Our profession is to fight,” Greene told Sky Sports. “I take what’s offered and you have to do it the hard way and I believe he [Sam Gilley] has been in the same position.
“Sam, the last boy [he fought] was 10-0 and he stopped the boy. The one before that, he had a good record and he stopped him as well.
“You have to respect them more than a man who’s gifted everything, I believe.”
“It’s a good hard fight,” he continued. “You’ve got two boys, one champion, one wants to be champion and they’re both in their primes, on a big platform. They’re going to get in there and mix it up. I think it’s brilliant.”
In fact he sees it as an antidote to the state of the contemporary sport. “Boxing’s got a bit of a shadow over it at the minute,” he said. “It’s becoming a bit of a game and a bit of a mockery. Anyone can turn professional now. I think it’s a liberty.
“The way that people are kicking off at conferences. It’s more about the social media side behaving like that than it is the fight. It’s not about the fight. It’s about everything outside of the fight that seems to matter. They behave like this and they’re not willing to fight anyone.
“Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward didn’t need to badmouth each other and that was the greatest fight in boxing,” he reflected. “Humble gentlemen. You ain’t got to be a mug.
“I want to be in these fights. I want to be in big exciting fights. I don’t mind getting cuts and my face smashed a little bit, retiring ugly, I don’t mind it. I want to be in them fights.”
Watch Mikael Lawal vs Isaac Chamberlain live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm.