Chris Billam-Smith tells Jonathan Nagioff why he doesn’t mind a fellow cruiserweight in Lawrence Okolie joining him under trainer Shane McGuigan
British cruiserweight prospect Chris Billam-Smith says he will only benefit from working alongside domestic ruler Lawrence Okolie, as he looks to make further strides in the same division.
‘The Gentleman’ will challenge the explosive Richard Riakporhe for the WBA Intercontinental title, as part of a blockbuster bill on July 20 live on Sky Sports Box Office, headlined by Dillian Whyte’s contest with Oscar Rivas.
Billam-Smith has been joined in McGuigan’s Gym by British and Commonwealth champion Lawrence Okolie after ‘The Sauce’ joined forces with trainer Shane McGuigan last month. And the Bournemouth native, who has his sights set on domestic honours, is viewing the move positively rather than the hindrance to his career some may have perceived it as.
Here are the three main reasons Billam-Smith supports the move.
1. Okolie will move up soon
“I believe his long-term plan is to move up to heavyweight,” Billam-Smith explained. “He’s massive for a cruiserweight, so I know his plan is to move up to heavyweight eventually. So, by the time I’m at the level and I’ve developed, I imagine he’ll be up at heavyweight by then. I don’t think he’ll be at cruiserweight for too long. Obviously he has his goals he’ll want to do at cruiserweight and belts he’ll want to win at cruiserweight and then he plans on moving up.
“Obviously like I said he’s a few fights ahead of me and a few stages ahead of me and then he’s planning to move up, so I guess any belts he vacates and leaves behind, I’ll pick up after him.”
“It wasn’t like he asked to join the gym and Shane [McGuigan] said yes, we chatted about it and discussed each other’s plans to see where it fits in, how it benefits me, because at the end of the day it does.”
2. Ideal sparring
Billam-Smith, 28, heads into his bout against Riakporhe with exactly the same record (9-0) as the Londoner, following a stoppage victory over Yassine Habachi in Nottingham in May.
Riakporhe, 29, defended his WBA Intercontinental title with a brutal knockout of Tommy McCarthy in March after securing the belt versus Sam Hyde last November. Billam-Smith feels Okolie’s powerful and rangy style, as well as his similar height to Riakporhe, will suitably prepare him for July 20.
Billam-Smith continued: “Especially for this fight it benefits me but also his style, his strength, his power and his awkwardness is all going to benefit me and in the long run it’s going to make me a better fighter than I would have been without sparring him. Lawrence is a better, more awkward version of Riakporhe. Both can punch hard and have an awkward front hand which can be difficult to figure out.
“So I’m only going to become a better fighter by having him in and around the gym and the same goes for him, he’s going to become a better fighter by having me to spar at will and I’m going to have him to spar at will, so we’re both going to benefit each other. We’re going to have the best two cruiserweights in Britain in the gym after July 20 so you can’t really argue with that in terms of training and sparring so it’s good.”
3. Vested interest
Okolie (12-0) defends his British and Commonwealth titles against Jack Massey on July 6. The 26-year-old, who has long been touted to face Riakporhe, clashed with the latter’s manager Dillian Whyte on social media recently and Billam-Smith believes this needle will enhance the build up to his own battle with the tall puncher.
Billam-Smith explained: “Riakporhe and Dillian Whyte’s team seem to have something against Lawrence so he can’t wait to get in there and do the job as well, even more so it being Riakporhe.
“But obviously we’re team-mates and gym-mates now anyway so he’s looking forward to the fight and I’m sure he’ll be ringside following and shouting at me the whole time because of that little bit of needle there between them two as well.
“In a sense he wants me to shut Riakporhe up which is good for me because it makes him hungrier in the gym, so he’ll give me good work in sparring.”