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Boxer Lawrence Okolie has had an incredible rise to the top after grafting at his local McDonald's as a youngster - now enjoying success as a world cruiserweight champion who's been backed by the likes of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
Okolie, 28, was brought up in Stoke Newington in Hackney, London, an area known for its high levels of crime and violence.
The boxing star, who believes kids often benefit from finding an outlet - whether that's through sport, a youth club or anything else that serves as a 'positive' influence - said his own trajectory changed when he saw Anthony Joshua competing at the 2012 Olympics while in the staff room on a break at McDonald's, where he worked as a teenager.
In Joshua, who was born three years earlier, also to Nigerian parents, he saw someone whose life wasn't all that far from his own.
Speaking to LADbible, he said: "It gave me a kick. It made me think 'You know what, that guy comes from an area like mine, reminds me a little bit of myself and he's done it. Here are the steps he took, why can't I take those exact same steps in my own way?'"
Okolie, who has teamed up with McDonald's to launch a new campaign designed to improve the life chances of thousands of young people, described watching AJ as one of the pivotal moments of his life.
"I believed, and I pushed and now we're here," he added.
When asked if he felt getting into a sport like boxing could help young people, Okolie said: "Getting into sport, getting into a youth club, something that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, a sense of hard work and determination - anything that could really give you a positive distraction because it's when you're given free time with nothing to do, nowhere to go, that you can be led astray into more negative thinking.
"The more positive outlets there are, the better."
Four years after watching AJ smashing it on the TV, Okolie was on his way to Rio with Team GB for the 2016 Olympics.
The rising star decided to turn his passion into a profession, signing with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport to compete as a cruiserweight, finding that Joshua also went from being a sporting star he admired to his very own mentor.
"It was amazing, and it still is amazing, because he's someone I look up to and someone that I reference a lot," Okolie said of Joshua, who he joined recently at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the undercard for his fight against Oleksandr Usyk, himself making the first defence of his WBO cruiserweight title against Dilan Prašović.
He even went on to spend time at Tyson Fury's training camp in LA, where he said he was not only able to learn new skills from the Gypsy King, but also boost his confidence.
"It was good to see a different style of boxing," he recalled.
"Obviously, I had been in there with AJ and they're both great fighters in their own way, so it was good to see how Fury approached boxing at that time and his mindsets, to pick his brain on different things.
"And it boosted my confidence - AJ is my friend and mentor so [him saying] 'You're going to be world champ one day', you're kind of just 'Oh, okay, thanks man, you're meant to say that!'
"But when you get it from outside sources - like, the Fury camp had nothing to gain. Fury and his team were like, 'Mate, you are destined to be a world champion'.
And Fury's not the only big boxing name to back Okolie, who says he's also received support from the likes of David Haye and Derek Chisora.
Okolie continued: "You've got people like former cruiserweight and heavyweight champion David Haye - he's come out and watched me in training and said the same thing: 'You'll be a world champion, you'll be one of the best to come out of Britain'.
"And that was someone who doesn't need to say it at the time saying it, so there's a lot of there's been a lot of people."
Suggesting he believes these are prophecies that will one day come true, he added: "I've proved everyone right my whole life."
Featured Image Credit: McDonald's
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