Chris Billam-Smith Plays Down Richard Riakporhe's 'Dream Occasion'

Chris Billam-Smith has dismissed suggestions Richard Riakporhe is on the eve of the “dream occasion” with which he himself was once crowned champion.

It was in May 2023 when Billam-Smith won the WBO cruiserweight title from Lawrence Okolie at the Vitality Stadium – the home of his local football club AFC Bournemouth, and therefore in his home city in front of thousands of his fans. 

The 33 year old on Saturday makes the second defence of his title against Riakporhe, 34 and who narrowly outpointed him in 2019. They fight at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, and in south London, which Riakporhe considers his territory. 

It is ultimately tempting to see in Saturday’s fight similar conditions for Riakporhe that existed for Billam-Smith for his fight with Okolie, but the champion has questioned the challenger’s conviction, on the grounds that he considers it “forced”.

“He might be thinking it in his head that it’s going to be this amazing night,” said Billam-Smith. “It might be a great atmosphere for him. 

“But it’s definitely not going to be the same as what I had. There’s so many things that make it different.

“It’s definitely different. I just sense it’s so much different. It feels so much forced, this one, from his side of things. He’s trying to talk about it being ‘fate’ and ‘destiny’ – almost relying on it. That’s how I feel the energy’s coming across. The ‘destiny’ talk is he hopes it’s destiny, because he hasn’t had the experience that I had before the Lawrence fight. 

“I had a lot of good, important fights, which built me. I had a perfectly managed career up to that point, including the first fight with Richard – I built on that. He hasn’t really had too many acid tests or gruelling fights. Especially not to prepare himself for me.”

Billam-Smith knocked Okolie down in the fourth, 10th and 11th rounds, before earning a majority decision that ought to have been unanimous.

“It was a dream occasion,” he regardless said. “The perfect fight for me at the stadium – it was a dream fight – and I had to just come through it and perform on the night and get the victory. It became the perfect night.

“The whole town got behind me, so I had my whole town to fight for. I had my family to fight for – my mum was ill at the time – and she gave me huge positivity, even when she told me her diagnosis [Carol had been diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time]. I just thought, ‘Get through the fight’, and deal with it after. My boy [Frank’s] first birthday was the day before the fight. It was a lot of things to fight for. I was at my weigh-in on his first birthday, so I definitely owe him one for that, but it was a phenomenal night, for all those reasons.

“When you’re hit with adversity you can deal with it in two ways. It’s about using it, and then it makes the win all the sweeter – you’ve got problems with your family, or whatever it may be. It just adds more motivation, so it makes the victory all the sweeter.

“That’s how I’ve always been. ‘Focus on the task at hand.’ Sometimes it’s easier than others, but that night was ‘Fight the fight but not the occasion’, and that’s what I had to do. I had to take emotion out of it, because if I got too emotional, with big punchers you can go after them at the wrong times, and emotion can really take its toll. 

“It was just about focusing on the task at hand and all that emotion came out after the fight.”