Brave Billam-Smith survives thunderous Masternak battle in Bournemouth

Chris Billam-Smith weathered a torrid Polish storm on the Bournemouth seafront to make the first defence of his WBO cruiserweight crown, taking everything challenger Mateusz Masternak could dish out before sickening him and finishing him with bodyshots.

At the end of the seventh round of a highly-competitive, thrilling bout, Billam-Smith slammed hooks into both of Masternak’s sides and the Pole was visibly dejected and damaged.

The Pole, with his first and perhaps last title shot at 36 years of age and in his 53rd fight, had the minute to recover between rounds but could not continue into the next session. 

Billam-Smith is now 19-1 (13) and never does things the easy way. Masternak is 47-6 (31 KOs) and as tough as old boots. 

The Bournemouth International Centre was a tinderbox. There was a significant Polish contingent in the crowd to sing the challenger’s national anthem but the roof was all-but lifted off the house when Billam-Smith made his ring walk and then when he was introduced.

Billam-Smith had, after all, scheduled this fight to be on a Sunday night to allow his legions of fans to travel back from yesterday’s Premier League football match in Manchester, where his beloved Bournemouth took on and whipped Manchester United 3-0.

And the champion banked a solid opener, initially working Masternak’s body and then keeping him bay with a pole-like jab while landing some crisp, short chopping right counters.

But things began to change in the second. Masternak had his own success and scored with a couple of overhand rights, one which drew voluble gasps from the Bournemouth fans. It was the visitor’s session, and his Polish supporters were making themselves heard in the Bournemouth cauldron.

Masternak took the third, too. There was impressive bodywork and jabs that jolted the champion’s head back. Masternak also spent spells on his toes, looking relaxed, and he blasted Billam-Smith with several hard shots in a combination. Billam-Smith smiled, knowing he had been caught by as many as five shots, and although the Bournemouth man fired back, Masternak surged forward again. 

It was a rough and tough, with neither giving the other an inch. Billam-Smith was cut by the left eye and his mouth was hanging open in the fourth. Masternak looked increasingly emboldened and the fifth came to the boil with Billam-Smith haemorrhaging shots and looking weary. Masternak was seemingly getting stronger. There were some nervous faces at ringside.

Billam-Smith battled back into it in the sixth, landing some smart counters, but he switched off for a moment near the end of the session and took arguably the best blows of the round as a punishment. 

But then came the seventh…. Billam-Smith was nailed by a one-two early on, trainer Shane McGuigan urged him to go to the body, and Masternak was now cut by the right eye and his face was starting to bulge and swell from battle. Then, near the end of the round, Billam-Smith whacked home several meaty hooks into the challenger’s side and Masternak now looked fatigued, his hands dropped and for the first time in the night his relentless pursuit was over. Moments later, so too were his world title dreams.

The official time of the stoppage was two seconds into the eighth round, the round in which McGuigan had quietly predicted his fighter would win in earlier in the week. 

“I said it would be my hardest fight and it proved that,” said the defending champion. “I think I made it hard for myself. [It was a] double jab right hook and left hook to the body. Shane said his ribs gone, so I targeted it and ended the fight. The plan was to carry on like that, I believe I would have got to him in the end. It’s a shame he pulled out. “

Asked what his future plans were, Billam-Smith added: “We’ll see. Christmas [comes first]. I’ve always said I want to be undisputed. If we can get another belt, I’d be very keen for that.”