Richard Riakporhe has warned Chris Billam-Smith not to forget who the “alpha” is after watching him dethrone Lawrence Okolie to win the WBC cruiserweight title.
Billam-Smith last weekend inflicted Okolie’s first defeat and in the process transformed his career. The 33-year-old Riakporhe, however – having previously inflicted Billam-Smith’s only ever defeat and hoping to fight for a world title later this year – believes that he should instead be considered Britain’s leading cruiserweight.
Riakporhe stopped Krzysztof Glowacki in January and previously became the first to defeat the once-promising Deion Jumah, another domestic rival. He regardless also respects the extent to which Billam-Smith impressed in his hometown of Bournemouth to dethrone Okolie, and recognises that he is getting his “reward” for challenging a fighter who once so regularly edged him in sparring.
“This is his reward,” Riakporhe told ProBox TV. “He’s got attention off that. I was the one that kinda set the trend and started mixing it up with the rest of these [domestic] cruiserweights, and he had the courage to do that too, so now he’s getting the attention too, and I believe he deserves it. But just remember who the alpha is.
“It takes two to tango. One has to have the courage to step in with me in the first place, and he done that, so props to him.
“I heard some stories that [Okolie had] wanted to go back to Shane McGuigan [his former trainer, employed by Billam-Smith]. That’s what I heard – through the grapevine. Maybe their [Okolie’s and trainer SugarHill Steward’s] styles don’t gel. His performances were starting to improve with Shane McGuigan. Leaving him – I think that’s a big L".
Outside of the title reigns of its three greatest champions – Evander Holyfield, Oleksandr Usyk and David Haye – the cruiserweight division has typically struggled for widespread attention. That all three also swiftly moved up to heavyweight is a further demonstration of its relative lack of appeal, but in Okolie and Billam-Smith, Riakporhe has domestic rivals that can enhance his profile like Isaac Chamberlain once did for Okolie and Billam-Smith, and Enzo Maccarinelli once did for Haye.
“[It’s] very important,” he continued. “With the domestic scene, it’s really important – it brings more interest into boxing as a whole. The problem is you get some champions, but they don’t have as much profile as we do. In fact, I’d say I’m more popular than most of the champions. Obviously Badou Jack’s been a champion in different weight classes – everyone knows him across America – but we are popular around the world as cruiserweights.
“We are that generation now. All of the past fighters like [Murat] Gassiev and [Yuniel] Dorticos, [Mairis] Breidis – they’re gone now. It’s the new gen, and I’m at the top of that tree with a few others. So we have to put our names on the map.
“Now we’re starting things again. Sky Sports and BOXXER have done a good job to get a lot of the best cruiserweights in this country under the same roof, and everybody’s building up; got a little bit of profile. It’s definitely getting more interesting. There’s definitely some good fights to be made.
“[A world-title fight] definitely could happen pretty soon. It’s business – I’ve always said that. If the money’s right I’m jumping straight in there. It’s just that simple. We have to get paid for what we’re doing – putting our lives on the line – so as long as the business is right, the fans can see anything they want.”
His trainer Angel Fernandez was then asked if he thought Riakporhe was ready to challenge for a world title, and he responded: “One hundred per cent, yes. There has never been a doubt in my mind of that. I know what I’ve got. This guy hasn’t seen his full potential yet. It seems that he’s getting better and better and better.
“He definitely can beat anyone in the cruiserweight division, I believe.”