Riley desperate to join Billam-Smith, Riakporhe and more at the top

Britain’s present crop of top cruiserweights did things the old fashioned way.

For years they bucked the trend of modern boxing and engaged in an unofficial round robin – risking unbeaten records and shunning big paydays in order to prove themselves.

Their fights rarely made headlines, but they were always hard-fought, and meaningful. 

Fights like Richard Riakporhe’s British title victory over Jack Massey, and Chris Billam-Smith’s war with Isaac Chamberlain for the Commonwealth and European titles were excellent, gruelling battles.

Some – Matty Askin’s bruising victory over Tommy McCarthy, for example – took place in packed small halls and were only seen by obsessives searching for streams. Others, like the 12 rounds Lawrence Okolie and Askin shared at Wembley Stadium, should be forgotten and never revisited.

There were wins, losses, knockouts and controversies. Every fighter learned plenty and emerged from the chaos battle-hardened and ready for major titles. 

Okolie won the WBO cruiserweight title before losing it to Billam-Smith. Riakporhe will get the opportunity to repeat his 2019 victory over Billam-Smith and become a world champion later this year. 

Vidal Riley is desperate to join that group of champions. The 26 year old English champion has the talent to thrive but understands that he needs a little more seasoning before mixing with the big names. He should learn exactly where he stands when he steps up and fights former British champion Mikael Lawal on March 31.

“It’s the right challenge at the right time,” Riley said during an interview with Sky Sports. “Some people might say it's too early, I could pick easier opponents or whatever but at the end of the day we’ve got a mission and the mission is to be a world champion.

“I look at a lot of legends and their journeys and when they decide to start stepping it up and putting themselves in challenging fights and it's normally around the 11th or 12th fight.” Then, a smile passed across his lips. “And of course just to wind up Isaac [Chamberlain] a little bit more you know. The plan is to win in better fashion than he did last October.”

Chamberlain is one of the fighters who emerged from his fights stronger. After losing to Okolie and Billam-Smith, he regathered himself and looked to be a fighter on the rise when outboxing Lawal to take the British and Commonwealth titles. He is the fighter Riley has set his targets on. 

As composed and efficient as Chamberlain was on the night he took the titles, Lawal was equally as lacklustre. He never found his rhythm and his prized Lonsdale belt had slipped from his grasp well before he got a foothold in the fight.

Dropping down to eight rounds to take on a fighter like Riley will have one of two effects on Lawal; it will either motivate him to prove himself worthy of returning to title level or sap his desire. 

Riley, of course, is preparing for the former and believes that an impressive victory will not only boost his own career and profile, it will also play on Chamberlain’s mind. 

“Lawal can punch,” he said. “He’s dangerous and he has his attributes of course. That’s why we have to be on point. We’ve got to put our heart and soul into the preparation.

“I’ve never discredited Isaac. He’s been in there with [Lawrence] Okolie and he's been in there with [Chris] Billam-Smith. He’s been in there with high-level opponents. He can enter the fight with me confident I haven’t been tested. It’s about erasing his confidence and belittling it and putting it down as much as possible so getting in there with the person he was last in there with and and doing a better job – he knows when he sees me it’s a long day.”