All fighters dream of becoming a champion, believing that it takes a mix of ability, hard work and luck. A reasonable assumption on the surface, which drives them to commit the best years of their lives to training, often in gruelling conditions. But experience in the sport quickly reveals that other – darker – factors are in play.
The scenes of mafia men paying off judges to score fights in their favour, or threatening boxers to ‘take a dive’ are fantasies that belong in the minds of Hollywood film writers. Corruption in its most blatant forms has been eradicated. But the game is far from fair – there are scripts in professional boxing that have to be followed.
The superstar with corporate sponsorship on television networks must reign supreme. The home fighter, who sells the majority of tickets, should beat the lesser-known away fighter. The young prospect who is being invested in, and whose future success could bring riches to his backers, must be protected. The popular British newcomer must learn his trade against journeymen, usually eastern European; being tested, superficially, but never beaten, developing a seemingly impressive undefeated record as glory beckons. And that script is faithfully adhered to up and down the country.
But there are some, perhaps only a few, away fighters who reject the pre-written narrative. The label journeyman – however honourable for some – does not match their skill and ambition. They enter the ring as underdog, refuse to accept their role as secondary character in the unfolding drama, and come to fight. Most importantly, they come to win. Every punch thrown in their direction is countered with full-hearted commitment. These fighters are dangerous, not only to their favoured opponents, but to the promoters and institutions that back them.
Enter Kamil Sokolowski. A Polish heavyweight based in Devon, England who has a record of nine wins, 15 losses and two draws. Unremarkable, at best. But Sokolowski’s record has been scripted: the losses disguise his competitiveness; and on several occasions have been given when he clearly deserved victory. A cruel, frustrating reality for the Pole, who is as good as many top British heavyweights, but is time and time again on the receiving end of poor decisions.
I caught up with Sokolowski to discuss his life in the sport, reflecting on his enduring frustrations and resilience:
“I came to the UK in 2014 with my wife and son. I moved here for work, cleaning caravans, which was tough. And I went into the local boxing club. I had never boxed before. I was a kickboxer in Poland and had 85 fights amateur and professional. I fought for the world and European titles but lost, unfortunately”.
“I had a good trainer at the amateur club, Glenn Adair. He taught me how to adjust to boxing, get better technique and he sorted my professional licence. Glenn sadly had an accident and couldn’t train me anymore. So I have been working with Gavin Lane for the past three years. Gavin has really improved my footwork and breaking old kickboxing habits. I train everyday and I am getting better all the time..”
“I was introduced to Nigel Christian and he became my manager. Nigel saw that my attitude was that I am scared of no-one. I will never turn down a challenge. I even fought Dillian Whyte in my second fight!”.
“My career has been tough. I always fight in the opponent’s hometown. His promoter organises the event and so his fighter should win. If I clearly win then I get a draw. If I win a close fight then the opponent gets the decision by a point. It’s politics. Many times people have come up to me after a fight and said ‘I can’t believe you lost, you deserved to win!’ but what can I do?”.
It’s a testament to Sokolowski’s character that he continues to show ambition. He would likely fight more often and be paid more frequently if he performed the role assigned to him and many other Polish fighters in the UK. But he continues to rebel.
“The most important thing in my life is my family, but I also love boxing. I am a lorry driver now and the hours are better. I get up at 4.30am every morning to run, do my shift, come home to spend time with my son, and then go to training. This is the life of a real fighter”.
“After fights my brother calls me from Poland to ask about the result. Sometimes I tell him that I won the fight but lost the decision. He asks why I keep doing it, but I love the sport. When I lose and don’t deserve it, it can make me sad, but it only makes me train harder”.
“They class me as a journeyman but I am more than that. My record is not very good and sometimes that puts big promoters off. And a lot of promoters are put off because of the way I fight. They tell my manager that I am ‘too tough’. I just want opportunities, and for it to be fair, and I will fight anyone”.
In December 2018, Sokolowski faced Nick Webb, a well known English heavyweight ambitious to become a force in the division. Sokolowski knocked him out cold in front of his shocked supporters. A few months later, Sokolowski faced former world champion Lucas Browne in Scotland. Browne was the popular choice and had a major fight with Dave Allan scheduled soon after, headlining a show live on Sky Sports. Sokolowski dropped him to the canvas in the second round, busted his nose and out-boxed the famous Australian for large spells. It wasn’t enough, Browne’s hand was raised victorious, ensuring his big-money bout with Allan could go ahead. That is the brutal reality Sokolowski faces – conclusively knock out your opponent to remove the need for scorecards, or be at the mercy of home judging. Still he perseveres.
“I have a fight with Alex Dickinson on 15 June. I am training very hard for this. He is a full time boxer and wants to be in the top ten so he will be motivated. But I am number 11 and it is my ambition to be in the top ten. So he won’t beat my dedication”.
“I am 33 years old now and maybe I won’t be champion. But I want to fight the best and I want it to be fair. I am number 11 in UK without promoter and sponsors. I work very hard with my team and am grateful to my manager for opportunities”.
“Whatever happens, every boxer that fights me knows they have had a real fight. I will not give anyone an easy night, I am never easy money. I think fans are starting to know that and know my surname. I am proud of that”.
Boxing, particularly heavyweight fighting, is one of the most brutal human endeavours. Up to twelve rounds of 200-plus pound foes aiming to render each other unconscious is preceded by weeks of back-breaking preparation. Every fighter knows the risks in the ring, but they should understand the dirty politics out of it. Some, like Sokolowski, refuse to accept the tired script and fight on courageously. We hope Sokolowski achieves his dream of being signed by a promoter, fighting on an even field. In any case, we admire his rebellion, becoming a cult-like figure as he wins the respect of fans if not the scorecards.
Article by Jamie Sokolowski | Photographs from Kamil Sokolowski, Instagram