One of the most refreshing or most startling things about cruiserweight champion Ola Afolabi is that he has absolutely no filter. The Ring Magazine #4 ranked champion and current interim World Boxing Organization titleholder always says exactly what is on his mind good or bad. This, and the fact that he has the mind of a witty urban satirist is one of the things that makes him very interesting to follow if you are lucky enough to be one of his many facebook friends and/or followers.
Whether the topic for discussion is the increasingly long list of high level opponents that refuses to fight him for the IBF Eliminator (as of February 19th on his facebook feed it was 5 cruiserweights all ranked no less than #9 in the world), unapologetic autoerotica of the 1968 Alfa Romeo tipo 33 stradale variety, learning to play the saxophone, or hilariously funny ruminations on the overreactions of Angelinos to driving in the rain in LA, it is always fun to take a dip into the effortlessly cool pool that is the universe of Ola.
AFOLABI: (via facebook Feb 12): “What’s wrong with these boxers these days? We have gone through the IBF’s top ten to make this eliminator fight happen on April 26th. Three guys have said yes, then no within days and the rest just don’t want nothing to do with it. These are people in their mid to late twenties and early thirties. How do they make money if they don’t fight? They’re grown ass WOMEN, they have responsibilities….”
AFOLABI (via facebook Feb 26): “It’s so weird to see adults that don’t know how to run. Their form is so fucked up, all stiff and looking crazy. Were they never kids? It’s like they came out of the womb at 30.”
AFOLABI (via facebook Feb 28): “Motherfuckers in Los Angeles need to stop acting like Godzilla’s in town when it rains. ‘OMG!... It’s raining! It’s raining!!!!” Shut the funk up and learn how to drive bro.”
Just reading Afolabi on the internet gives you the feeling that Afolabi is not only the boxer that you admire for his professional chops, but the guy that you would really want to hang out and kick it with in real life. However, being the consummate professional that he is, this would be tough even if you were lucky enough to know him. As a contender driven to become the undisputed World Champion in the cruiserweight division, his life simply doesn’t allow for much other than the job:
AFOLABI: “I’m bored out of my mind. As a boxer all I have to do is train and fight. When the fight is over you go into that limbo where there is no training, there’s no getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go running, there’s nothing scheduled for you to do. So you kind of have to learn to live again and by the time you start learning to live, then the next fight so you’ve got to go into camp. Our lives are not very like a regular person’s life. So as a fighter social media is kind of a way to do. It’s one way to stay sane. If I have feelings or something I post on facebook just to have a discussion about it. It either gets me angry or it gets me in a good mood – but either way it takes me out of that funky vibe I was in. So it’s kind of like therapy for me. If somebody has some feedback they can put it in. I just do it cause it’s fun for me.”
Looking at the way that Afolabi has approached his career, it would appear that the throw it all out there and learn from what comes back method is a winner. Unlike most who have ascended to the heights of Mr. Afolabi, Ola had no amateur career. With a record of 20 wins, 3 losses and 4 draws, Mr. Afolabi’s record belies no special grooming or efforts to create or protect a snowy white undefeated record. In these days of inflated records and ready to order media sculpted undefeated champions, Afolabi’s whole tact has always been about learning on the job with no excuses for the lessons learned along the way.
AFOLABI: “My amateur career is pretty much my professional career. I got in there and I’ve always been a stubborn kid and I’ve always been a strong kid so I could take punches. If I couldn’t take punches I wouldn’t be as good as I am today. Because I do get hit. My whole career has been a learning process.”
To date, that learning process has led Afolabi to no less than the great and storied Madison Square Garden - a place where he dreamed of fighting as a child. If things go as scheduled, he will live this dream twice. Currently Afolabi’s IBF Eliminator Fight, while lacking a willing opponent is once again set for the Garden. In reminiscing about his first trip to the Garden and his win there against Lukasz Janik, Afolabi’s joy is so unadulterated that it is almost palpable:
AFOLABI: “You grow up watching fights. You hope that you will fight there one day. You dream that you will, but when it happens it’s truly unbelievable. From what I’m hearing, I’ll get to go there again. I’m excited.”
Watching Afolabi’s pivotal wins from his early days in 2005 fighting Orlin Norris to 2013 in Madison Square Garden vs. Lukasz Janik or his brutal trilogy spanning four years fighting Marco Huck, he is a true study in mastering many different styles before coming full circle to his own. In 2005, Afolabi was a much more elusive fighter who favored the ropes and slipping shots before countering as a path to winning. Today he is a much more aggressive in your face fighter – clearly to great success. Interestingly enough he was less of an aggressive pressure fighter during the early years because he thought his own true style wasn’t up to par. It took some growing up and indispensable time training in Germany with the Klitschkos for him to finally see that conditioning versus style was the key to unlocking his best. This was a lesson many would have learned less publicly and more gradually in the amateurs, but Afolabi has never been one in need of a private room to work through his issues.
AFOLABI: “That (the change in style) started happening when I started training with the Germans. They are much more the stand up aggressive style over there. I owe credit. They helped me a lot but you can’t change what you are good at. I always thought my style wasn’t good enough. It was my conditioning that wasn’t good enough. Working with the Germans, they got me in great shape and now I really know if I pick my own style and I get in really good shape I have a better shot. My last fight I went back to my old bull kind of chest only copycat style and it didn’t work so I’m just going to get my condition as hard as I can get it and I’m going to do what comes naturally to me. If it’s enough I’ll hold it and if it’s not life goes on. It’s not that big of an issue.”
Though Afolabi may seem cavalier here when it comes to winning versus losing, it is something more complex entirely. On closer inspection the truth of the matter would seem to be along the lines of the old fashioned adage that it isn’t the destination but the path that takes you there.
AFOLABI: “I don’t have any doubts. Most people think losing makes you the worst fighter in the ring. Most of the time if somebody loses it doesn’t mean that the guy that beat them is better. I know it sounds weird but I’ve seen fighters who were better than other fighters show up and they just weren’t 100 percent that night. It could be something going on at home, or it could be something in their mind, whatever. Doing it as a professional you’re supposed to let that go but we’re human beings. We say we’re supposed to let it go but we can’t.”
As with most things Afolabi, one would be well served to delve deeper in order to crack the surface of what he is saying to find the deeper hidden meaning and potential words to the wise underneath. Though he doesn’t always like the weight or the responsibility of the handle, behind all of the flash and gift of gab Afolabi is quite a deep and thoughtful soul:
AFOLABI: “A lot of fighters get into the ring so afraid to lose that they put themselves in a box. I go into the ring knowing there is a chance that I could lose. There’s a chance I could get knocked out. Okay. I understand that but my goal is not to make that happen. So I just go in and give it 100 percent. I’ve seen guys like Broner - he was undefeated. He goes in there and he fights a guy who has a plan of his own and as soon as he gets hit he’s like whoa. Now he’s just thinking about losing the fight and now he can’t fight his fight because his undefeated record is on the line. I don’t give a fuck if I have six or seven losses. As long as I’m winning fights and I’m getting paid that’s all that matters. Forget the politics. You get in there all you should be thinking about is your opponent and winning. You shouldn’t be thinking about your undefeated record, your next fight, the last fight, how you did. Fuck it. Just go for this one. That’s all that matters.”
While Afolabi doesn’t give much weight to the occasional loss as a measure of overall worth, at the other end of the spectrum he gives great weight to his legacy when it comes to his full body of fights, opponents and the manner and order in which his career losses are to be avenged. To this end, he cites overall career strategy as the determining factor behind not calling out his most public adversary Marco Huck in the face of so many dropped out and unwilling opponents as his upcoming IBF eliminator contest looms:
AFOLABI: “I don’t want to just be known for those (Huck) fights. We got the IBO right now even though it’s considered one of the smaller belts. We’re gonna go elimination for the IBF. If we get the IBF, then we can fight Huck again because I will have established something. We’ve got two belts on our side he’s got one belt. There’s a reason to fight. I’m not gonna fight him for his belts again. We’re gonna come together and try to unify it. That would be the only situation I’d see us fighting in. But if he wants my belt, come and get it.”
Surprisingly and almost implausibly, towards the end of this interview it would seem that Afolabi might have some reservations about having been a little too candid:
AFOLABI: “I just get to talking – I have no filter. I just say what’s on my mind…”
But classic Afolabi, before the thought of holding back is truly explored or even finished, poof, it’s gone in 60 seconds.
AFOLABI: “I’m sure you’ll write it in a way that readers can read it. I don’t care.”
Ola Afolabi doesn't fear losing.
by Kylie Krabbe
Photos by Joe La Russo & Soren Krabbe
March 7th, 2014
Ola Afolabi at the Wild Card Boxing club,
Photo by Soren Krabbe