Chris Billam-Smith drops Lawrence Okolie three times, wins WBO cruiserweight title by majority decision
New WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith lived out his dream, winning a world title in front of his hometown fans in the football stadium of his hometown team that he has supported since he was a child.
A crowd of more than 15,000 roared him to an upset win on Saturday over his former gymmate Lawrence Okolie at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium in a fight that was odd, peculiar, untidy, messy but also strangely engaging.
Okolie was dropped three times and docked points in two of the rounds, while picking up an assortment of warnings for holding, pushing, falling in behind his punches, hitting behind the head and also using his head.
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In a fight that was arguably dramatic owing to a lack of definitive drama, Billam-Smith had his hand raised following a majority decision, winning on two cards 116-107 and 115-108, while a third card scored bizarrely level at 112-112. It seems there’s always one.
Billam-Smith is now 18-1 (12KOs) and former Olympian Okolie is 19-1 having lost for the first time in his career.
Referee Marcus McDonnell played an important role.
The winner called the night “perfect” and after the decision dropped to his knees in tears where he was hugged in an emotional embrace by his wife, Mia.
“I haven’t really got the words at the moment,” said Billam-Smith. “It was a gruelling fight, physical, I’ve been pretty ill this week but Shane [McGuigan] came up with a game plan… We knew we’d find the shots and in that fourth round that changed the momentum of the fight. It’s crazy. I can’t believe it.”
Shane McGuigan said Billam-Smith’s illness had nearly caused him to pull him out of the fight, but Billam-Smith said he would not let 15,000 fans down and that the fight could not be rescheduled.
Okolie had his moments in the contest but finally his negativity was his downfall as hemorrhaged points throughout the fight.
The fighters were old friends and sparring partners, with trainer Shane McGuigan guiding Billam-Smith – who he has trained through his whole career – to victory over his old client and Billam-Smith’s former sparmate. The two estimated sharing 300 gym rounds in the past.
Billam-Smith was often trying to get untracked and the Bournemouth crowd popped for his every success in a South Coast.
A big Billam-Smith left hook sent Okolie sprawling in the fourth, and further knockdowns in the 10th and 11th did not look anything like as clean [Okolie’s trainer SugarHill felt that was the only legitimate knockdown and Okolie admitted it was a good shot], particularly the second one, and points were stripped from Okolie in rounds five and seven.
Even though the challenger only needed to stay on his feet for the final two or three rounds, his tactics did not change and he allowed Okolie moments of success, with the champion landing big shots but unable to make the inspired Billam-Smith crumble in front of his fans.
“As long as I lose convincingly and try my best, I feel good,” Okolie said afterwards, who said he wants to go straight into a rematch.
“He did a lot of good stuff in there. I was maybe a little too tense letting my shots go. When I was there forcing it, it wasn’t there. I’m not that fussed, I’ll come again. I’ll definitely be pushing for a rematch.”
Hill said Okolie sometimes smothered his work and didn’t let his second phase attacks go freely when asking what they could work on.
Okolie praised Billam-Smith’s strength on the inside, and the slashing hooks he landed.
“For me, it’s just another step,” said Okolie, who said he was feeling inspired by the journey of Lennox Lewis, who avenged the two losses in his pro career. To his credit, Okolie fronted up in the press conference and called the experience “good character building.”