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Cruiserweight world champion Chris Billam-Smith on balancing his new fame with being a dad, why he expects a rematch against Lawrence Okolie next and his survival tips for his beloved AFC Bournemouth

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The current WBO cruiserweight world champion jumps on our zoom call having just put his newborn baby down to sleep. It’s a reality check that means he hasn’t had much time to think about realising a childhood dream three months ago.

Chris Billam-Smith stunned Lawrence Okolie on May 27 to lift a world title belt in his hometown of Bournemouth at the stadium of the football club he supports – having knocked his opponent to the canvas three times to become a local hero. 

It was simply the perfect night – and one he knows he will probably never top as long as he boxes. Still there are challenges ahead – unifying the division, fighting in Vegas and possibly even fighting at heavyweight one day.

For now though, it’s back to the daily grind – balancing his gruelling training sessions with looking after his young son Frank. And all while trying to move into a new house. Billam-Smith is is a proven case that being a boxing world champion isn’t as glamorous as it’s made out to be.

‘My wife and son stay down in Bournemouth while and I head to London for my training camp, which is difficult because I’m missing a lot,’ he told Mail Sport. 

Chris Billam-Smith has opened up on his struggles at balancing being a champion boxer and a father

Chris Billam-Smith has opened up on his struggles at balancing being a champion boxer and a father

He is thankful to his partner for doing '99 per cent' of the work with his son Frank, but misses being part of his every day life while training

He is thankful to his partner for doing ’99 per cent’ of the work with his son Frank, but misses being part of his every day life while training

‘I come home to see him on weekends, but the last six weeks of camp I stay in a hotel because I need my sleep! I put him to bed on the Friday night, spend a few hours with my wife and then go to the hotel. It’s intense training camp – four days a week and then back home. It’s nice to spend proper time with him.

‘From a father point of view I’ve got it easy because my wife has got him most of the time when I’m training. She does 99 per cent of it! It has its challenges. It’s hard to balance them both when I’m trying to be a husband and a dad and training as well – and while we’re in the process of moving into our house. It’s pretty stressful!’

‘You don’t have much time to think [about being world champion]. I get woken up by the little man most of the time on the monitor! You’re straight into parent mode with getting him his bottle and making his breakfast.’ 

So what’s next for Billam-Smith? The 33-year-old has been fighting since he was a teenager and admits he is still struggling to come down from the cloud he has been living on since becoming champion. The big question is, where does he go next? The answer is straight into another scrap with Okolie.  

‘It almost seems egotistical but imagine having an ultimate dream and actually achieving it,’ he added. ‘That’s what it feels like to me. Becoming champion at the stadium was a dream come true and it’s hard to put it into words. It’s crazy to come to terms with it. It’s a memory I’ll cherish forever. 

‘I don’t think I’ll ever top that, but at the same time I’m not interested in retiring because of that. I still want to box, but if I try and chase that night, I’ll be chasing it forever. I think I have to realise that’s never going to happen again. Everything went perfectly from my end. I’m content in knowing that I’ll always have that. 

Billam-Smith knows his momentous hometown win over Okolie is unlikely to be topped again

Billam-Smith knows his momentous hometown win over Okolie is unlikely to be topped again

Becoming a world champion was something Billam-Smith could only dream of

Becoming a world champion was something Billam-Smith could only dream of 

‘I have the rematch clause with Lawrence and at the moment I’m expecting that fight.  unless he can’t do it until a later date. There’s been talk of Mateusz Masternak – who fought Tony Bellew. They’re the two names at the moment, but it’s boxing – these things can change. I’m ticking over and staying fit and ready for when the time comes.’

Billam-Smith beat his British rival Okolie on a majority decision – despite sending him tumbling on three occasions, while ‘Sauce’ was also deducted a point for holding in the fifth and seventh rounds.

But despite the dominant nature of his win, ‘The Gentleman’ believes he would be even more decisive this time around should the rematch be made after suffering a bout of illness in the lead up to the first fight – and accused Okolie, who previously worked with his current trainer Shane McGuigan, of ‘reverting back to type’ in his career.

‘I’ll be in a lot better condition. Mentally, I’m a lot stronger than last time. I imagine he’ll have doubts now. He’s never looked close to getting beat in his career. Never been dropped or hurt and then all those things happen against me. To come into a rematch off the back of that will be difficult for anyone. Lawrence’s style has always reverted back to type when things get hard or he hasn’t knocked someone out.

The 33-year-old is expecting a rematch against Okolie next and believes he will win more comfortably this time

The 33-year-old is expecting a rematch against Okolie next and believes he will win more comfortably this time

‘I think I’ve got his number but I also don’t think many other cruiserweights have. it’s the experience that I have and him working with Shane that gives me the edge. We’ve got that inside knowledge.’

With Billam-Smith being the mandatory challenger to IBF world champion Jai Opetaia, unifying the division, as so many great ex-cruiserweights have done before him, is the next goal after Okolie. As is a potential unifier against British rival Richard Riakporhe and a dream fight in Vegas.

You certainly cannot fault his ambition – with a fight against feared current heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk in his sights too. And he’s already declared his interest in facing pound-for-pound king Canelo Alvarez in the past.

‘I’d love to unify the division and I’d love to fight in Vegas,’ he added. ‘That’s not next and I have to deal with whatever’s next to make those dreams come true.,’ he said. If Richard [Riakporhe] could beat [Jai] Opetaia and wins that would be the perfect fight because we could unify in an all-British fight. It would be another phenomenal night for me.

He has admitted he would take on Oleksandr Usyk and is not scared about facing him

He has admitted he would take on Oleksandr Usyk and is not scared about facing him

‘Heavyweight is never been one I’ve thoguht about too much. Being close to unifying and seeing how it all plays out with the other champions, it is a possibility, but I’m not big enough to be going in there with Fury or Joshua. Usyk would be the only one for me.

‘Both those guys [Usyk and Canelo] are more skilled than me but you can be skilled enough to land certain shots to hurt them and do damage.’

Billam-Smith – a huge Bournemouth fan who is close with a handful of players – was delighted to see the Cherries beat the odds to avoid the drop from the Premier League last season.

He knows a thing or two about surviving and bouncing back from adversity as a boxer, but when asked for his survival tips for his team – he simply didn’t have any. 

‘We’re in a good position,’ he said. ‘I think we’ll come 12th or 13th but be very comfortable. I think there’s enough teams below us who aren’t as good. We’re looking forward and we’re looking up. 

Billam-Smith has given his survival tips to his beloved Bournemouth after they beat the odds to avoid the drop last season

Billam-Smith has given his survival tips to his beloved Bournemouth after they beat the odds to avoid the drop last season

‘I saw Lewis Cook this morning and he’s very happy with how they’re doing. They’re doing good business and bringing in reinforcements. 

‘The squad there now is superb. The set up, the ambiton from the top down is huge. We have new owners who are willing to spend a big of money. They’re buying talent and some of the lads we’ve signed I’ve not heard of, which is a good thing because it seems they’re not just buying for hype. Training is everything with the ball and it’s a new way for a lot of them to train.’ 

Bournemouth went about their business in a calm manner last season to finish 15th. 

Billam-Smith likes to operate in a similar way, as he opens up about his unusual nickname.

‘Shane came up with the nickname [The Gentleman] years ago. It stuck and people liked it. It’s ironic because in the middle of a fight you can’t be very gentlemanly. People realise there’s nothing gentle about me in the ring and it’s horrible for people. 

‘The trash talk isn’t really my bag. A few back and forths here and there is always fun but I never want it to be personal or anything away from boxing. It’s just not me. I just let my fists do the talking and maybe it throws opponents off a little bit too.’