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Viddal Riley Dares to Take Hard Road Through Challenging Cruiserweight Division

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Viddal Riley is at the beginning of a long journey that he hopes will culminate in a shot at a cruiserweight world title. But don’t expect him to look for any shortcuts.

Britain’s top cruiserweights have been involved in an unofficial round robin for years. The busy, underrated division has provided an entertaining series of fights between ambitious boxers who haven’t been afraid to put their unbeaten records on the line.

The list of fights involved is too long to list here, but current WBO titleholder Chris Billam-Smith, former titlist Lawrence Okolie and Richard Riakporhe all emerged from the bun fight fully prepared to test themselves at the highest level.

Riley (10-0, 6 KOs), 26, has accepted that the hard path is the right one to take, and this Sunday he will defend his English title against dangerous former British belt holder Mikael Lawal.

“There’s a benefit to being challenged and there’s a benefit to being tested,” said Riley, who is a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. “You’ve got to be great. And as my club say, ‘To dare is to do.’”

Rather than taking the scenic route and crossing the bridge from domestic level to world class, Ellis Zorro and Jordan Thompson have both recently attempted to jump the chasm. Neither fighter could be faulted in any way, shape or form for taking the opportunity to challenge IBF cruiserweight titleholder Jai Opetaia, but having watched both men fall short in violent fashion, Riley has had his belief reinforced that he needs to be battle-hardened before stepping in with the division’s best.

“That was a visual representation of what can happen if you do skip levels,” Riley said. “I’ve always had this mentality, regardless of their outcomes at world level. But that was just solid proof that you need to run the tests before you go up there.

“I think there’s something about being tested. There are a lot of good cruiserweights in the country, and being in the era where I can mix amongst them, I just think it’s the right thing to do. If I’ve got the ultimate goal of being a world champion, you’re gonna get thrown in with these guys at some stage. And fighting guys who are beneath my level and not going to test me is gonna set me up worse down the line.”

Six months have passed since the skilful Riley won the English title and took the unbeaten record of Liverpool’s Nathan Quarless. An accomplished junior amateur, Riley outboxed the boxer and notched up 10 valuable rounds. He is expecting a much more physical encounter Sunday.

The normally dangerous Lawal was a shadow of himself when he lost his British title to Commonwealth belt holder Isaac Chamberlain last October. A focused Chamberlain quickly hit his stride, and Lawal never came close to knocking him out of it, losing the belt in his first defence.

Riley is expecting a more familiar version of Lawal to enter the ring at the O2 Arena on Sunday. Riley has been calling for a fight with Chamberlain and is determined to further his case by doing an even more impressive job against Lawal than Chamberlain did.

“I think [Lawal] had a mental thing to deal with [against] Isaac because he felt he’d been thrown in the deep end, having to make his first defence against somebody who’s operated at a higher level than him,” Riley said. “But also, I think the style plays a big part. As we know, styles make fights. People think me and Isaac box similarly. I don’t think so. I think the only thing we have in common is movement and athleticism. I know that gives Lawal trouble, and I’m better than Isaac, so I expect to deal with him in a better fashion.

“I’ve got more power. I’m smarter and I’ve got better technique. I give myself the upside in terms of the fashion I win compared to Isaac.”

Riley is prepared for an aggressive, desperate Lawal but believes that his own versatility will prove to be the deciding factor Sunday – and also through the rest of his career.

“If he wants to make my life easier, he can be as reckless as he wants,” Riley said. “Now that he’s hungry, he’s determined and he’s gonna be focused. He does have a point to prove, and I’m sure he’s gonna do everything in his effort to prove that point. If you try hard, you die hard.”

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