IBHOF inductee and boxing gambling expert Graham Houston weighs up tonight’s eagerly-awaited cruiserweight clash between Bournemouth favourite Chris Billam-Smith and Londoner Isaac Chamberlain., as well as Josh Kelly’s encounter with Lucas Bastida and Danny Garcia’s debut at 154lbs against Jose Benavidez Jr.
We had an excellent world cruiserweight title fight between Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis earlier thismonth and tonight it’s the turn of British 200-pounders to take centre stage, with world-ranked Chris Billam-Smith defending his European and Commonwealth titles against Isaac Chamberlain.
Billam-Smith is boxing in his hometown of Bournemouth and he’s the obvious favourite (2/5 or -250 at Betfred) after his big KO win over Tommy McCarthy. He’s the stronger, heavier-handed fighter and he has more experience than Chamberlain when it comes to 12-round title bouts. The furthest Chamberlain has been is 10 rounds. While Chamberlain has fast hands and looks good when he puts shots together, Billam-Smith is more consistent andhas the higher workrate.
As always, it’s a question of whether the underdog can rise to the occasion on the night. If you like Chamberlain’s chances, Betfred offers him 15/8 (+187). Certainly, Chamberlain is a different, much improvedfighter from the one who lost to Lawrence Okolie in a dreadful affair some four and a half years ago. He’s on a run of five wins in a row and he talks a great fight. But Billam-Smith is a different proposition from the boxers Chamberlain has been beating.
Yet while Billam-Smith looks the winner on paper, there is reason for hope for Chamberlain supporters. Billam-Smith had a close contest with Tommy McCarthy in the first of their two fights and Chamberlain’stalent-level is comparable to McCarthy’s. Chamberlain has the skills to land punches on Billam-Smith, who can look a bit stiff and robotic as he carries the fight to his opponents. The question is whether Chamberlain can hurt Billam-Smith sufficiently to gain a foothold in the fight.
As a straight pick, I’ll go with Billam-Smith, who is the more proven of the two fighters. But I’m reluctant to lay the price. We don’t really know what Chamberlain can produce when the chips are down in by far his biggest fight since losing to Okolie. He showed gameness in fighting through the handicap of a dislocated shoulder to defeat Wadi Camacho, so we know there’s no quit in him. And, at the age of 28, this is the chance Chamberlain has been waiting years for. I make him a live underdog, and I expect him to box well, but I’m just not sure he has what it takes to upset the odds.
So we turn to the proposition markets in a search for a bet we like. This looks like being a long, drawn-out fight but the price for “Distance — Yes” isn’t attractive at 25/47 (-188). Could this end inside the scheduled 12 rounds? There’s certainly a chance that it could. Billam-Smith might be able to break down Chamberlain with pressure and overpower him late in the bout, and indeed he assured Sky Sports at Friday’s weigh-in that his “relentless” pressure will get the job done before the final bell.However, Billam-Smith was wobbled by Richard Riakporhe (who can really bang, of course) and it looked as if Tommy McCarthy hurt him with an overhand right in the opening round of their first fight. It’s not inconceivable that Chamberlain could also catch and hurt the champion.
A play on the fight not going the distance at 27/10 (+135) might be worthwhile. Billam-Smith’s forward march could oblige Chamberlain to stand and fight, if only to keep the champion from walking through him. There are likely to be some heated exchanges. I wouldn’t be shocked if this fight ended before the final bell.
Also in the UK tonight, Josh Kelly boxes on home territory in Newcastle and faces an interesting test against Argentina’s Lucas Bastida in a 10-rounder for the WBO International 154lbs title. Bastida is a tall, somewhat languid boxer who seems to be genuinely confident. Big things were expected from GB Olympian Kelly when he turned pro but I think it’s fair to say he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Still, Kelly should be able to get past Bastida — a bit more variety, superior hand speed. Kelly by decision at reasonable 5/7 (-140) could be the way to go. The undercard is available to watch live on Boxing Social’s YouTube channel from 7pm GMT.
Across the pond in Brooklyn, New York, former 140 and 147lbs champion Danny Garcia makes his debut at 154 against Jose Benavidez Jr. in a 12-round bout. Garcia is the rightful favourite. Betfred has him priced at 1/8 (-800). That’s not a price I’d like to cover. So what about the propositions?
On paper, this looks like being a long fight, as reflected in the odds of 2/5 (-250) for the contest to go the distance.
Benavidez lasted into the 12th round against Terence Crawford in his only loss, which was in a welterweight title fight. That was almost four years ago, though. And in his only bout since then Benavidez laboured to a draw against Francisco Torres, of Argentina, who subsequently lost in five rounds to fast-rising Hamzah Sheeraz.
Garcia looked solid and well-conditioned at just under 153lbs at Friday’s weigh-in and I believe he’s simply a better fighter than Benavidez. I believe there’s a chance Garcia could break down Benavidez for a stoppage at some point in the later rounds. A play on Garcia to win inside the distance at 8/5 (+160) isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Heavyweights Adam Kownacki and Ali Eren Demirezen collide in what should be a fun 10-rounder on the Brooklyn show. These are fighters who employ a similar method, which is to go forward, put pressure on their opponents and keep the punches flowing.
Kownacki will never be a body-beautiful type but he looked relatively trim on the scales at Friday’s weigh-in, coming in at just under 252lbs, his lightest weight in five years. So we know he’s been putting in the work in the gym.
Demirezen, meanwhile, weighed in at just under 262lbs, which is about where his weight has been for his last five bouts. He, too, is no Mr. Universe in the physique department, but he is sturdy, and he has a great engine (which rather belies his ample girth).
The Brooklyn site is in Kownacki’s favour. He’s in his hometown and gets enthusiastic support from the area’s Polish fight fans. But we have to wonder whether Kownacki is a diminished fighter after back-to-back defeats inside the distance against Robert Helenius. In the first fight, Kownacki got caught and hurt when seemingly on his way to a stoppage win. This sort of thing can happen in heavyweight boxing. But in the rematch Kownacki was getting busted up and banged around, and he seemed to foul out intentionally, getting DQ’d for a series of Andrew Golota-type low blows.
And so to tonight’s fight. This is it for Kownacki. He’s 33. If he loses to Demirezen, it’s all over. And what of Demirezen? Based in Germany, he scored an impressive win in the US when he wore down Gerald Washington in eight rounds last January. He’s a year younger than Kownacki, he went the full 10 rounds with heavy-handed Efe Ajagba in his only loss, and he was a top-level amateur, boxing for his native Turkey in the Olympics. However, Demirezen was unimpressive when winning a decision over veteran gatekeeper Kevin Johnson in his last fight.
This isn’t a mission impossible For Kownacki. After all, he was meeting a much taller opponent — and a very hard hitter — when he faced Helenius. But Demirezen is roughly Kownacki’s size. And I don’t consider Demirezen a big puncher, more a grind-them-down type.
So, who wins? I think Kownacki vs Demirezen is going to be like two slow-moving locomotives meeting on a single track. Something will have to give. Can Kownacki, with the crowd behind him, dig deep and outwork Demirezen? I’d like to say yes to that, but my fear is that the big-hearted Polish fighter might be damaged goods after the Helenius defeats. I did quite like the idea of the fight to go over 6.5 rounds at about even money, but the total-rounds proposition has been bumped up to 7.5, which isn’t as attractive.
Due to doubts over how much Kownacki has left I think I will just stay on the sidelines and enjoy the action in this one.
Main image: Billam-Smith (left) and Chamberlain meet on the South Coast of England tonight. Photo: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.