Shane McGuigan thanks Boxxer and Sky Sports for seeing what he saw in Chris Billam-Smith years ago

When trainer Shane McGuigan started working with Bournemouth cruiserweight Chris Billam-Smith, some questioned what the coach saw in the fighter.

McGuigan had worked with a number of stars and Billam-Smith was not a former world champion like David Haye or George Groves and not an amateur standout like Luke Campbell or Carl Frampton.

What McGuigan saw, however, was someone with sound physical attributes but also someone who was positive, enthusiastic and highly-coachable. Several years on, and they have won a world title together and last night made the first defence of the title.

And along the way, McGuigan had to enlist others for the ride.

“I just want to say a big thank you to Ben Shalom and Boxxer for putting their faith into this man, because we’ve been banging the drum – us as a team – trying to get a showcase for him and to come down here and also Sky Sports for putting their faith in him, so thank you Ben and thank you Sky,” said McGuigan.

The Billam-Smith business is booming in Bournemouth, partly because Billam-Smith is such a marketable and friendly face and partly because he brings a war every time. The champion admits he is a work in progress, but he wants to learn as he goes, without having easy touches along the way.

The tough education continued in a real battle with game Pole Mateusz Masternak in Bournemouth last night. 

“There were parts of the fight where he [Billam-Smith] looked clumsy and he didn’t look his best,” admitted McGuigan. “But I said to him afterwards, ‘You’re going to watch that back and you’re going to be frustrated’ but once he really switched himself on in the sixth and seventh it was just how he needed to approach it. In the first round, he started well, switched off in the second and then he caught him [Masternak] with a big shot in the third, I think it was a right hook over the top, and then he just started looking for it. That’s what you can’t do with a wily old fox as defensively sound as Masternak, a guy that knows how to get out of the way of shots and knows how to smother and nullify people’s work.” 

Masternak had a real foothold in the fight between rounds two and six. He was moving well, was busy, accurate, hard to hit and boxing with experience and confidence. But Billam-Smith stayed in the fight and started to turn the screws. When he clumped Masternak around the sides near the end of the seventh, the air and the fight was sucked out of the visitor.

“It was frustrating at times watching Chris trying to load up with big shots, but he flicked the switch and that’s what champions do,” McGuigan continued. “People always look from the outside and think, ‘You didn’t look the best’ or ‘There’s moments there’… But he keeps winning and that’s the difference. The difference is champions can turn it round and they feed off the crowd and it’s very hard to make what he’s made of, and that’s just inbuilt and I’m extremely proud of him.”

Masternak won plenty of friends. He came to Bournemouth with an army of supporters, but Billam-Smith and his legion of fans were just too much. Asked whether Masternak, stopped for the first time in 53 fights, could come again, McGuigan took the opportunity to praise both boxers.

“I don’t know how much he’s got left,” McGuigan said of the Polish warrior. “When you have a fighter of his toughness and ilk decides to pack it in after seven or eight rounds, one of his biggest attributes was his toughness and his ability to stay consistent throughout the rounds, I think some fighters have a great career and then there’s one fight that takes all of their soul, as it were, and I think that fight shows you. I don’t think he will ever be the same after that.”