The Friday Faceup

Chris Billam-Smith (left) and Isaac Chamberlain face off on Bournemouth beach before Saturday’s big cruiserweight clash.
Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER

The cruiserweight division (200lbs/14st, 4lbs) has never been glamorous. Stuck between light-heavyweight (175lbs/12st, 7lbs) and the unlimited enormity of the heavyweight division it has suffered a bit of a middle-child syndrome. Despite having some elite champions emerge from it such as Evander Holyfield and Oleksandr Usyk, it’s been difficult to love.

This indifference has been worldwide, but also in Britain, albeit a lesser degree. In recent years we’ve seen Carl Thompson, David Haye, Enzo Maccarinelli and Tony Bellew elevate themselves beyond the masses, but generally no soon has a champion gained some success and momentum than he’s talked of moving up to heavyweight, where the big bucks lie.

Now think re-set. The cruiserweight division in the UK is hot !

First, we have sanction belt ‘world’ champion Lawrence Okolie (18-0, 14 KO’s), as currently recognised by the WBO. Then there’s big hitter Richard Riakporhe (15-0, 11 KO’s) the current WBC#8 and IBF#2 ranked challenger. Closely followed on the rails by European and Commonwealth champion Chris Billam-Smith (15-1, 11 KO’s) and the man he faces tomorrow on a big show in Bournemouth, England, Isaac Chamberlain (14-1, 8 KO’s).

Taking place in the Bournemouth International Centre (BIC), the so called ‘Battle on the Beach’, is a crossroads fight between popular local man Billam-Smith against tough Londoner Chamberlain.

The latter is on the comeback trail having notched up five victories since a disappointing showing when competing at championship level against Lawrence Okolie in February 2018. The fight was a stinker and the now 28 year old has had to quietly rebuild. His last outing was in December 2021 blowing out Dilan Prasovic inside a round and looking impressive in so doing.

Billam-Smith, 31, going by the nickname of ‘The Gentlemen’, has taken the gamble to switch from the Matchroom promotional company to BOXXER to secure bigger fights and a world title shot. He’s well placed as a double-belt champion, and has just a sole defeat on his record to Richard Riakporhe on a split decision back in July 2019. That loss looks more impressive with every knockout Riakporhe has notched up since their contest.

A Riakporhe v Billam-Smith rematch is a natural if the latter comes through tomorrow and would sell out a large venue. The local man’s dream is to box at Bournemouth Football Club’s stadium in a big fight, which could feasibly be for a world title further down the line.

In tomorrow’s stacked card, promoted by BOXXER and shown live on Sky Sports from 8pm, Team GB Tokyo Olympics silver medallist Ben Whittaker will make his much anticipated professional debut. He meets capable Greg O’Neill (6-6-1, 1 KO) from County Durham in a six rounder. The slick Whittaker has been training stateside with much renowned SugarHill Steward from the Kronk Gym setup and the light-heavyweight from Wolverhampton, England is an exciting addition to the British pro ranks. Much is expected and we are confident he will gradually build and deliver. His launch tomorrow should be nothing but entertaining.

Team GB captain and fellow Tokyo medallist Frazer Clarke (1-0, 1 KO) returns to the ring for his second professional outing following his stunning first-round stoppage win on the undercard of Khan vs Brook in February. The big heavyweight has a wealth of elite amateur experience, having sparred with and competed alongside Anthony Joshua and Joe Joyce in recent years.

The third Team GB Olympian on the card is Caroline Dubois (2-0, 1 KO) who aims to impress again in a six rounder against beautifully named and experienced Tanzanian Happy Daudi.

Big hitting Joe Pigford (19-0, 18 KO’s), from Southampton just along the coast, also appears in a challenge for the vacant WBO European super-welterweight championship.  The bill is topped off with cruiserweight Mikael Lawal (15-0, 9 KOs) looking for his sixteenth career win, Hassan Azim (3-0, 2 KOs), brother of Adam, and also local boy Lee Cutler (10-1, 7 KOs).

As to the main event, we expect an excellent contest which should go into the championship rounds (10-12) and we see Billam-Smith with the more complete skillset and, buoyed by his vociferous home support, forcing the referee to intervene and stop the contest in the eleventh. It should be very competitive and the whole card an excellent watch live and on Sky Sports.

Saturday night also features the second return fight of super-welterweight Josh Kelly (11-1-1, 7 KO’s) in a ten rounder against Argentinian Lucas Bastida (18-1-1, 10 KO’s) in Newcastle, England.

Kelly represented Team GB in the 2016 Rio Olympics and after an early setback in the pros, losing to quality campaigner David Avenesyan at welterweight, is now continuing his rebuild. This is a good test for the Sunderland man and will gauge where he’s at. The Wasserman Boxing promotion also features impressive Harlem Eubank (14-0, 6 KO’s) and Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Pat McCormack (1-0, 1 KO). It is available on Channel 5 in the UK, free to air.

With the start of amateur boxing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, the weekend is loaded with excellent action. The Games are available on the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) over the next eleven days and the boxing will build towards the finals next weekend with all GB nations individually represented.

Enjoy now, what promises to be a great fight weekend.

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