Liverpool’s former WBC cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew has high hopes that the fight in his old weight class between WBO king Lawrence Okolie and challenger Chris Billam-Smith delivers.
They clash at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, the hometown football club of Billam-Smith, and when Bellew won his title against Ilungu Makabu, he did it at Goodison Park, home of Everton Football Club on this weekend seven years ago, the team Bellew has watched his whole life.
Billam-Smith is a huge fan of Bournemouth FC, and some 15,000 supporters will be in attendance at the Vitality, rooting for him in his quest to dethrone Okolie.
“Do you know what, I think it’s a really good fight,” said Bellew. “I think Billam-Smith is the better boxer of the two, but ultimately the power side of things comes completely down to Lawrence Okolie. He [Okolie] likes to smother his opponents. He’s physically very awkward. I’m not sure how durable Oklolie is, because I haven’t seen him belted back yet, but by all accounts, from sparring partners who I’ve heard from and people who have watched him sparring, he very rarely gets hurt, so I’m assuming that he’s pretty strong at the weight.”
Bellew, who retired after defeat to undefeated cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk in 2018, is still very much on the fight scene, working for broadcasters DAZN. The Creed star retired with a record of 30 wins against three losses and a draw and as Okolie has promised to, dipped his toes in the heavyweight division for two victories over another former cruiserweight champion, David Haye.
“I know a little behind the scenes, he [Okolie]’s big at the weight and he finds it hard [to get down to cruiserweight] but I’m just going off gym stories and sparring stories, where they say he’s an absolute monster in the gym and really strong,” Bellew continued. “That being said, I find it hard to think Billam-Smith can pull it off. I actually do think that he’ll be ahead when he gets stopped. I just think the power will catch up with Billam-Smith in the end. I think Billam-Smith has come on leaps and bounds under Shane McGuigan, fight by fight, he’s come along really well.”
McGuigan, of course, also previously trained Okolie, and it’s one of many factors that makes the fight hard to pick.
“It's so difficult to predict,” Bellew stated. “Because he [Billam-Smith]’s got home advantage, he’s fighting in his home football ground… I’ve experienced that and the pressure that it brings. Lawrence Okolie is just going to turn up and he’s expecting to get the job done.
“They’ve sparred hundreds of rounds together so they’ll know each other inside out. It’s intriguing. But if you ask me to put my money where my mouth is, then I’d go for Lawrence Okolie stoppage. I’m not sure when it happens, it could happen quick if Billam-Smith doesn’t smother him too much and doesn’t allow him space and time but, ultimately, I think it’s going to actually come later on with Billam-Smith ahead on the cards and Okolie catches him. Devastatingly.”