Lawrence Okolie v Chris Billam-Smith: Bournemouth’s Billam-Smith wins WBO cruiserweight title




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Chris Billam-Smith became the new WBO cruiserweight champion as he dethroned former gym-mate Lawrence Okolie on a memorable night in Bournemouth.

Fighting in his home town in front of 15,000 jubilant fans, underdog Billam-Smith floored Okolie three times en route to a majority points victory.

A frustrated Okolie was twice docked points for holding and grappling as he lost his unbeaten record.

The judges’ scorecards read 112-112, 116-107 and 115-108.

Okolie – who was part of trainer Shane McGuigan’s gym before the pair split earlier this year – suffered a first career defeat in his 20th professional outing.

Billiam Smith, a British, Commonwealth and European champion, won his maiden world title as he extended his record to 18 wins and one loss.

Billam-Smith shines as Okolie frustrates

On a clear summer’s evening at the Vitality Stadium, and with the full-throated support of his Bournemouth faithful, 31-year-old Billam-Smith catapulted himself into boxing stardom.

The atmosphere was that of a football crowd but also remarkably intimate for a stadium fight. The sound of jeers for Okolie, cheers for Billam-Smith and chants mocking football rivals Southampton bounced between the four stands.

Okolie was under pressure to deliver an entertaining fight, having been criticised in the past for his awkward and far from fan-friendly style, often grappling his way to victory.

But there were two clinches within the first 30 seconds from Okolie, a sign of things to come.

The referee repeatedly separated the fighters each time Billam-Smith closed the distance. The challenger had a frustrated look on his face as early as the second, with Okolie given warnings for pushing and holding.

There were question marks about whether Okolie would revert to type or if trainer SugarHill Steward could transform the champion into a more entertaining fighter.

But Okolie would follow his single shots with more grappling, often bordering on wrestling.

Having sparred over 300 rounds together, Billiam-Smith presumably knows Okolie’s strengths and weaknesses better than any other cruiserweight.

Out of nowhere, he unleashed a left hook which floored a reckless Okolie – who had never been down as a professional – in the fourth round. The Londoner got back to his feet but his legs were unsteady.

Okolie was docked a point in the fifth and seventh rounds, with referee Marcus McDonnell shrugging his shoulders to suggest he had no other choice.

The Hackney fighter fell to the canvas again in the 10th, leaning into a Billam-Smith left hook.

A bloodied Billam-Smith withstood a flurry in the 11th to once again drop Okolie with a punch on the inside before seeing out the win.


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