Back in April we said the cruiserweight picture was starting to look a little clearer with the announcement at a BOXXER press conference of Lawrence Okolie defending his WBO world title against compatriot Chris Billam-Smith in the latter’s hometown of Bournemouth, England. This Saturday (27th) the time will arrive.
Billam-Smith, known as ‘The Gentleman’ is one of a triumvirate of world ranked 200 pounders based in the UK. Inside the world top ten he is joined by the only man to beat him, Richard Riakporhe (16-0, 12 KO’s), who waits in the wings for the victor, or for an alternative title shot.
Top man, as recognised in the division, is New Zealander Jai Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO’s). This, by virtue of beating Latvian Mairis Briedis late last year and now being the man with most titles, also considered by The Ring magazine as their champion. Rumour yesterday was that Opetaia is about to step up to full heavyweight to face WBC and ‘lineal’ world champion Tyson Fury. This, if it happens, will further open the door to British and world cruiserweights to the big titles.
Lunchtime today, both Okolie and Billam-Smith met for a final time on a dais on Bournemouth beach’s pier for the last pre-fight press conference.
The ‘Sauce’ Okolie (19-0, 14 KO’s) is a 2016 Team GB Olympian and has answered all questions so far as a pro. He arrives only nine weeks off a recent WBO title defence in Manchester against David Light, which was heavily criticised for it’s lack of action. Okolie did though win a convincing unanimous decision and this will be an early chance for him to get everyone back on board.
Billam-Smith (17-1-0, 12 KO’s) recently fought in December 2022 in a comfortable home win and also has the British and Commonwealth titles at the weight.
The fight will be held open air at AFC Bournemouth (Association Football Club), in the aptly named Vitality Stadium. The local pulling power of Billam-Smith will ensure a good turnout and raucous atmosphere. It’s been said it’s already a 15,000 sell out and the atmosphere should be electric.
The home fighter knows Okolie well and claims to have sparred 300-500 rounds with him. Although they remain close friends; this will be put on hold for domestic bragging rights and a world belt.
It’s an intriguing match up for British bragging rights and future world domination. In a UK fight weekend packed ludicrously with two other ‘world’ titles being contested, both at featherweight, and staged by separate promoters, this cruiserweight contest has all the makings of a classic contrast of styles and engines.
Okolie is known for a cautious approach, but has undoubted boxing ability and respectable power. Billam-Smith is the pressure fighter of the two, albeit this can be reckless, but has the heart and engine to make the contest a ‘must see’.
Both boxers scaled 14st, 3lbs (199lbs) at Friday’s weigh-in and the championship fight is ON.
The whole event will be broadcast in the UK live on Sky Sports this Saturday (27th) from 7pm BST.