Lawrence Okolie vs Chris Billam-Smith
Who wins this cruiserweight world championship clash? BBN Editor, Tim Rickson, breaks down the fight right here:
Lawrence Okolie (19-0, 14KO) heads to enemy territory on May 27 to face Bournemouth boxer Chris Billam-Smith (17-1, 12KO) in his coastal hometown, live on Sky Sports.
“The Sauce” defends his WBO World cruiserweight crown to “The Gentleman” in what will be a fourth consecutive title defence for the champion, who is now 4-0 with 2 KOs in world title bouts.
The champion is well known for his start in boxing where he was working a shift in McDonalds, watching his future mentor and manager Anthony Joshua win gold in the London 2012 Olympics, and was instantly inspired by the heavyweight he hadn’t yet met. Four years later and it was him on tele representing Team GB at the Rio 2016 Olympics, no longer flipping burgers.
It’s an incredible story, but it does mean he only experienced 26 amateur bouts within that short space of time and now he’s 19-0, that’s just 45 fights, so he’s still relatively inexperienced and clearly learning on the job.
Billam-Smith compiled an amateur record of 32-11 but he was in the boxing gym from a young age and began to take it seriously when he was 16, where he went on to reach two ABA finals.
As an Olympian, Okolie naturally received a lucrative pro deal with Eddie Hearn and was signed to Anthony Joshua’s 258 MGT, although both partnerships ended last year in a messy split.
However, his fame from Rio 2016 meant he was fasttracked and within 10 fights he had settled a grudge match with undefeated Isaac Chamberlain, claimed the Commonwealth strap against another unbeaten foe, and won the British title against a formidable opponent in Matty Askin.
He then added the European title to complete the trinity and became world champion in his 16th fight. Now 19-0, the 30-year-old from Hackney has experienced four world title fights – and victories – against 87-3 opposition.
Billam-Smith turned pro the same year as Okolie, in 2017, but debuted six months after in September. Coincidentally, he fought against Okolie’s previous opponent, Russell Henshaw, in his pro bow and knocked him out in the same round. Billam-Smith’s official time of 2:01 in the first round was in fact nine seconds quicker than Okolie’s stoppage two months prior.
Having knocked out eight of his first nine opponents, he took a risk by fighting Richard Riakporhe, which didn’t pay off for him. Both boxers were 9-0 at the time, putting it all on the line, and Riakporhe triumphed on a split decision, then won the British belt in his next fight and is still unbeaten at 16-0 right now.
CBS also won a belt in his very next fight – the Commonwealth crown. He then added British and European straps in his 50-50 fight with Tommy McCarthy, achieving the same feat as Okolie, just 21 months later.
Not only have both boxers won three of the same titles, but also have two shared opponents, each achieving the exact same result – a first round KO (Russ Henshaw) and a unanimous decision (Isaac Chamberlain). And the reason why their careers have been so closely linked is because they were each trained by Shane McGuigan and have been teammates for almost six years, sharing over 300 rounds of sparring together.
Okolie split from McGuigan earlier this year and teamed up with SugarHill Steward, which is why this fight can finally happen.
Okolie’s last appearance against 20-0 New Zealander David Light ended via unanimous decision, with one judge scoring all 12 rounds to Okolie, minus the 11th round point deduction.
Ending 13 months of inactivity, the Londoner dominated from range, landing his long-reaching jabs and one-twos. His right hand thudded home often and caused the unbeaten visitor lots of trouble in round 10. Sadly, Light suffered from a mild stroke upon his return home and has been hospitalised since.
In Billam-Smith’s previous fight, he found himself up against it in the early rounds with unknown Kosovan Armend Xhoxhaj, who gave him a torrid time in round two where he wobbled Billam-Smith’s legs with an overhand right, but the home fighter roared back into life in the fifth where he closed the show with a stunning stoppage.
With Okolie and Billam-Smith as former teammates and sparring partners, they will possess plenty of knowledge of each other, which should create a closer contest that could go a fair few rounds.
Okolie’s last two contests have ended in points wins, but prior to that he had KO’d seven fighters in a row. Now in his second fight with SugarHill, who is known for encouraging knockouts, the American and Brit may now have gelled further, since their first learning fight together is out the way, and could see Okolie score that elusive stoppage win that has missing for almost two years now.
CBS will need to get into mid-range against his friend, but Okolie will either judge the distance well to land his long levers from range or clinch when they come in close.
Despite the home advantage, I think Billam-Smith may struggle to fight his fight against such an awkward and experienced world champion, who should be able to land cleanly from range and tie him up when he needs to.
If CBS starts too aggressive and opens up a little too much, then I can see Okolie catching him cleanly and painfully.
Despite being friends, if either man sees their former colleague in trouble, they will want to finish the fight quickly, knowing how good the other one is.
Okolie to win by KO in rounds 1-6.Things you didn’t know about Lawrence Okolie