Chris Billam Smith: Job (Half) Done

Chris Billam-Smith says he hopes to make a statement against Tommy McCarthy and stop the European champion when the pair fight one another this summer.

McCarthy’s belt, Billam Smith’s Commonwealth strap and the vacant British title will be on the line at Eddie Hearn’s second helping of Fight Camp in a cruiserweight clash that has built up a rivalry in double-quick time.

Last week, before McCarthy was due to make his maiden defence against Alexandru Jur, Billam-Smith had tweeted he would “punch holes” in the Northern Irishman. This was a response from the Bournemouth boxer after McCarthy said it would be a step back to fight him during an interview with Matchroom Boxing.

“I’ve got my career, my path and what I’m looking to do and wanted him for the European title, so I sent out one tweet saying I’d punch holes in him (laughs) and thankfully that got the fight built up and signed,” said Billam-Smith who spoke to Boxing Social this week.

The 30-year-old revealed the fight was signed 24 hours before McCarthy’s first European defence and that his next opponent had “his hand forced a bit”. All in all a fun and productive week for ‘The Gentleman’ who now has what he wants and most definitely has the attention of McCarthy who says he will soak his hands in petrol during preparations so they’re “solid as a rock” and that he will “burst” the Englishman.

“I don’t know Tommy; I don’t dislike him or like him,” Billam-Smith said.

“I respect him as a fighter, but I got my job done and I’m just pleased the fight was signed off the back of it and the bonus is he and his team are riled up from it. My name was in every interview he did when he had fight week. That was obviously a bonus.”

The fight has all the makings of an entertaining one. Both aren’t shy in taking a shot or two, both like to strike while the iron is hot, and the needle has ensured that both will be looking to hurt one another come the first bell. It will be the biggest fight of Billam-Smith’s career. The toughest? Well, Richard Riakporhe might have something to say about that with the Londoner holding victories over him and McCarthy. But come fight night outside Matchroom HQ, where fans will be in attendance, we can be certain that another entertaining cruiserweight scrap will be played out and Billam-Smith says he is not planning on just settling for the win.

“I want to box and show what I’m capable of in this fight and I think Tommy’s style can allow me to do that,” he said.

“Styles do make fights and you look at the [Vasil] Ducar fight (Billam-Smith’s last opponent), nobody’s stopped him, he makes people look average because he’s very tough. I think Tommy’s got a very good style for me. He’s obviously coming off the back of a good little run, a few good wins and I think that’s going to play into my hands as well. His confidence is very high as is mine and that’s always going to blend well for a good fight. Every time we go into the ring the most important thing is the win, but I would really love to make a statement with my performance next time out and if I perform the way I believe I’m capable of I’ll stop him.”

Having three belts on his shoulders come the end of the night will in turn give his world ranking a boost as well. Billam-Smith is ranked number six with the WBA, one behind McCarthy at five, and winning the European title will see him get a top ten spot with the WBC as well where his next foe sits at number six. Overall, there is a lot riding on this one. The winner will be a step closer to the world champions and the loser will fall off the ladder and try to grab a rung on the way down.

“I’m in a great position with the rankings but I’m well aware of my development,” said Billam-Smith who was honest enough to admit that a win against McCarthy doesn’t mean he is ready for world level.

“I probably need another two or three fights before I’m ready to win a world title and that for me is what the plan is over the next 18 months to two years. I’m not looking to beat Tommy and go straight into a world title fight. I certainly believe I’m good enough, but I’ve got a good team around me and they’ve explained plenty of things to me. You might win a world title on the night, but you’ve got to stay at that level. It’s about building myself, it’s about experience at having tougher tests as you go through so when you’re at the world level we stay there. If you look at the likes of Josh Taylor, obviously he’s not in the gym anymore, but he had that [Viktor] Postol test and that was a huge test for him and one he came through. That’s my management that did that, so I think that’s the sort of progress I plan on looking at and Tommy McCarthy is one of them fights where I’m going to learn from it. I’m going to gain the experience and gain the belts and a bit of respect because it’s a domestic clash and then we’ll be looking for even tougher tests than that. So that for me is the next 18 months.

“The world title situation can change very quickly with those four champions at the moment, there might only be one in a year’s time. For example, if that was Lawrence [Okolie] he’ll be moving up and it’ll become vacant again so that’s the plan. Lawrence is in my gym working towards unifying and undisputed.”

Three titles, world title aspirations… all heady heights that have come after a period of development and success since Billam-Smith lost a split decision to Riakporhe in 2019 at the O2 Arena. Three wins against Craig Glover, Nathan Thorley and Vasil Ducar have reignited his career and now see him on the cusp of something big at cruiserweight. Billam-Smith looks back on the fight against Riakporhe in a positive light. Out of the loss came something good, knowing he could hang tough and more with the best in the country.

“I gained a lot of confidence and experience,” he says looking back on it.

“Even going in I believed in myself at the time. On the night we still believed we won the fight but it’s not about that it’s about the development, the experience. I took a lot from that fight and a lot of confidence knowing I’m there with the best in the country. I went straight into the Craig Glover fight and took that experience. It was a loss on my record but with regards to the rest of my career and my own mindset I only gained from that fight. The only thing that was lost in that fight was my unbeaten record and you can win even when you lose in that sense and I feel that’s what happened for that fight.”

Right now, it’s exciting times for Chris Billam-Smith. A little fun on social media helped secure the fight against McCarthy but the games are over with. His camp for his next fight should be his hardest yet, leaving no stone unturned. Billam-Smith and his team have big plans beyond the summer so fans can certainly expect the very best of him come fight night. As for McCarthy, he has worked too hard to get to where he is after his career took a nosedive against Riakporhe. He too will arrive not looking to give up what has rebuilt his career to the position of strength it is in now.

McCarthy v Billam-Smith for the British, European and Commonwealth titles then. The traditional route we call it in Britain. Soak it up, it doesn’t happen often nowadays and when these two cruisers throw down in the summer we may well be reminded of how much traditions still mean to fighters.