Saturday, June 10, 2023  |


Billam-Smith hoping he has Okolie all figured out ahead of Bournemouth stadium fight

Photo by Lawrence Lustig/ Boxxer
Fighters Network

After approximately 300 rounds of sparring, WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie and Bournemouth challenger Chris Billam-Smith will fight for real on Saturday night.

The former McGuigan’s Gym teammates have a cordial relationship but there will be no room for sentiment at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium where 15,000 of Billam-Smith’s supporters hope they will cheer their man to victory.

Of course, sparring is sparring but the fighters are clearly very familiar with one another.

“I think towards the end, I started figuring him out a lot better,” Billam-Smith recalled of their sessions over the years, before Okolie left to be trained by SugarHill Steward. “Before the [Michal] Cieslak fight [Okolie w pts 12 in February 2022] I was really pleased with how the spars were going. I never thought in boxing you know if you’ve got the measure of someone until you’ve had a whole camp to fight them. You never think that with someone in your gym but towards the end, I was really happy with how it was going.”

Billam-Smith recognises that will not mean anything on the night but he does believe that under McGuigan’s stewardship he is still getting better.

“I’m definitely an improving fighter,” said Billam-Smith. “Certainly massively since he [Okolie] left the gym and I think that will be a surprise for him on fight night. With him, maybe he’s plateaued a bit or he’s in a transitional period of changing his style, which can be difficult. I can’t really comment on Lawrence too much but I’m definitely improving.”

Okolie has been known to feature in some drab encounters, and Billam-Smith will he hoping he gives his Bournemouth faithful plenty to cheer through their fight. Could Okolie’s negativity spoil the type of fight it could be? Billam-Smith is accepting responsibility of how the fight unfolds.

“Once again, that’s down to me,” the South Coast man continued. “It could be a really thrilling fight, in terms of me dominating, but I think there’s always a danger with Lawrence of doing what he’s done but like I said, that’s down to me. [It] Doesn’t matter what Lawrence does, I’ve got an answer for it. And that’s all that matters. As I said, it’s down to me to make this fight my fight and that’s what I’ll be doing.”

For many, it was a shock when the fight went from being first discussed to sign in the space of a couple of weeks. It always seemed like that Billam-Smith would land his stadium world title fight, but WBA champion Arsen Goulamirian was strongly-linked as the man in the opposite corner.

Billam-Smith admits he was not sure Okolie would take the bait.

“Yes and no,” he said. “I think he took it at the time because he was getting slated for the David Light fight and the negativity. People [other challengers] are going to want to fight him [for the title] but people aren’t going to want to watch him, and it’s a business. And that’s the issue. And they needed Lawrence to go in with a ticketseller and that’s where we’re at now. The town has got behind me, there are 15,000 people coming to the fight and if you sat back and think about it, where would Lawrence have gone? You could have gone unification but we could not get Goulamirian over to fight me.

Boxxer, who promote both Billam-Smith and Okolie, also have leading challenger Richard Riakpohre on their books. He is the only man to have defeated Billam-Smith as a pro. What about Okolie-Riakporhe. Logical?

“Potentially,” Billam-Smith considered. “But I’m sure Richard wants his own title and would he [Okolie] have taken that fight, who knows? Neither of them are massive ticketsellers. I think that fight would have done better than their previous fights [at the box office] but neither of them are the A side when it comes to ticketselling and I think it makes it difficult for that fight.”