‘I’ll never get bored of boxing in Bournemouth’ – Chris Billam-Smith

Chris Billam-Smith has made sure his adoring Bournemouth fans have high expectations of his fights and he delivered again for them by becoming only the second man to stop tough Pole Mateusz Masternak in 53 fights..

The Bournemouth star, the WBO world cruiserweight champion, made his maiden defence with a stunning salvo to the veteran’s body to force Masternak’s surrender.

Until that point, Billam-Smith had his hands full, but in front of his wild support, including rapper Kano, football manager Harry Redknapp, former champ Kell Brook, old foe Richard Riakporhe, another old foe Isaac Chamberlain, former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan and SAS Who Dares Wins star Ant Middleton, Billam-Smith ground the experienced Pole down until Masternak could not continue into the eighth. 

The champion will likely have good options now, including rematches with Riakporhe and Lawrence Okolie, the man he beat for the title back in May.

“I don’t really care who it is but I care where it is and it’s got to be down here [in Bournemouth] because you can’t turn down that atmosphere,” said Billam-Smith. “The atmosphere is phenomenal. There’s not a crowd like it at the moment in the UK. There’s no town that gets behind their fighters like this lot, they’re phenomenal. I don’t care who it is next, or if there are other belts on the line or not, but as long as it’s in Bournemouth I’m a happy man.”

It had been a hard contest. Masternak was, as expected, aggressive, courageous and skilled. He’d been in exceptional company over the years, but the likes of Jean Marc-Mormeck (who Masternak beat), Yuniel Dorticos, and Tony Bellew have all failed to stop him.

“Obviously [I’m] pleased with the win, pleased with the stoppage, [it’s] the best job anyone’s ever done on him and it was not my best performance, I did a lot of stuff really well in there and adapted well through the fight and I’m pleased on the whole,” Billam-Smith added. “It was not the best version of me, and I’m still doing the best job on someone like Masternak – who started boxing in 2005 as a pro, and I started boxing in 2007 as a keep-fitter! He’s been a pro my entire amateur and pro career and I’ve watched him through the years and I have so much respect for him, and I feared him going into the fight, and rightly so, because of the experience and everything he’s done in the game. It was an honour for me to share a ring with him. So, for me to go and do that on not my best performance, still learn through the fight and stop him at the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth, is a great achievement which I’m really proud of.” 

It was another tough fight. The Bournemouth fans are used to the drama of his fights, but the addictive anxiety that goes with them is pressure he does not feel. Billam-Smith is big, aggressive and he comes to fight and he always gets involved.

“I’m not in this game for easy pickings,” he explained. “I never have been. I’ve been in hard fights throughout, since the Richard [Riakporhe] fight. Everyone thought Richard was going to blow me away and it was a close decision. Then it was Craig Glover and it was a hard fight and you had Tommy McCarthy, Chamberlain on six week’s notice… good fighters… Then Lawrence for a world title, who’s never looked close to getting beaten and I drop him and win a world title, then I fight Masternak. I’m so pleased with the growth of my career.” 

Billam-Smith praised his team at McGuigan’s Gym for picking out the right fights at the right time, not only to get him where he wants to go in his career but to develop him as a boxer, too. There are not many better in the sport than the McGuigans at that.

“They’re the fights you need to have,” Billam-Smith added. “You see fighters even in my division jump from one level to the next and where my career has gone, it’s been superbly managed by the McGuigans and us as a team, it’s just the perfect career and we’re learning still. Twenty fights in and to be able to learn in a world title defence and know there’s so much more is exciting.” 

Asked if he wanted an easier night’s work one day, he smiled: “I’d like that. I think I tried to force it a bit too much to begin with but I’ve learned. I’m not sure how possible that is against someone like Masternak, but maybe the next one.”

Then, breaking down the fight, which ebbed and flowed with Billam-Smith starting well, Masternak getting on top and Billam-Smith reasserting himself, the South Coast man said he felt he had established control by the time the end came.

“I felt really calm and controlled in there and I felt the punches weren’t doing any damage to me in terms of I wasn’t buzzed or anything like that,” he went on. “I felt probably too comfortable, and that’s probably why I was switching off at times and trying too hard, but I found my feet in the sixth and seventh and I was really excited for the last five rounds, because I knew then what I needed to do. ‘Now I can start turning the screw, within three rounds I’ll get him out of there,’ and obviously he then pulled out.”

Billam-Smith would like to box again at Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium. The Bournemouth International Centre, where Masternak was stopped, only holds under 3,5000 and was sold out more than four weeks in advance. It was the hottest ticket in town. And that is saying something, because Billam-Smith’s beloved football team, Bournemouth, scored a huge win, 3-0, at Manchester United the day before.

“I’m honoured to be part of this town and what’s going on in it with from a sporting perspective,” said the WBO ruler. “The last 10 years or beyond in the football has been crazy, obviously there’s a massive place in my heart for the club and I got to win a world title there and now defend it on a weekend with an epic result in Old Trafford, so I’m truly honoured to be part of this, and very lucky. I’m living my dream and not many people get to do that. I’ve got an amazing wife, amazing child, amazing family, I’m world champion and it’s still a bit of a pinch me situation. I need to be grateful for it and I truly, truly am.” 

Some fighters crave the big nights in America. The lure of Saudi money will likely come knocking at some point, but Billam-Smith is hungry to show his gratitude to his fans and wants to make more memories like he did on Sunday night.

“I’m so lucky to have it,” he said of his support. “For years I wanted to have a fight down here and it’s exceeded all expectations in terms of the atmosphere’s created…. I get my whole town behind me. It’s absolutely mental. I’d love to fight in America at some point, but I’ll never, ever feel like I’ve done this too much. I’ll never get bored fighting in front of that fanbase.”