Chris Billam-Smith cautious but ready for maiden defense of cruiser belt vs. Mateusz Masternak – The Ring

Chris Billam-Smith cautious but ready for maiden defense of cruiser belt vs. Mateusz Masternak – The Ring

On Sunday, Chris Billam-Smith will put his WBO cruiserweight title on the line for the first time against the experienced Mateusz Masternak at the Bournemouth International Center, Bournemouth, England.

Billam-Smith, rated at No. 5 by The Ring at cruiserweight, is acutely aware of the challenge that lays ahead.

“A really difficult fight. I think stylistically probably one of my hardest fights to date because he does everything really, really well,” Billam-Smith (18-1, 12 knockouts) told The Ring. “He’s got good feet, always changing his distance, always moving his hands and his head. He doesn’t just sit in front of you and tuck up. (He has) decent punching power, brilliant chin and good variation in his shots, puts his shots together really well.

“He doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. He’s not vulnerable at all. He’s only been beaten by very top tier opposition. You have to be on it to beat him, you have to really put on a good performance to beat him and that’s what everyone’s had to do to do well against him. It’s a difficult night for sure.”

However, Billam-Smith isn’t spending too much time focusing on what the tough Polish fighter brings to this contest, instead he intends to fight his fight.

“The way I fight, I don’t think any other cruiserweight fights like me, the speed, of feet and hand, also the intensity I fight at and the fitness I’ve got are my best strengths and what I always use in a fight,” he said. “I’m obviously strong and a decent puncher as well. You put all those together and it’s a nice recipe for me to do that work against anyone in the world. It’s finding the right positions for me to get my work off.”

Billam-Smith began when he was 16, when he followed a friend, Dean Perkins to a local gym, initially to get fitter for soccer.

Chris Billam-Smith (right) lands a left on Lawrence Okolie – Photo by Lawrence Lustig/Boxxer

“Then I went watch him fight,” he recalled. “There were about 20 of us chanting his name and I was like, ‘That must be amazing having all your mates there chanting for you. ‘I loved the atmosphere, [and thought] ‘I want to give it a go.’”

Just 10-months later, Billam-Smith had his first amateur fight. Things progressed quickly and he won various local tournaments but in two cracks at the ABA title, he came up short against Jack Massey in 2013 and Cheavon Clarke in 2016.

That lead him to trying out for Team GB, but he was never able to get past the assessment stage. Unperturbed, Billam-Smith, who went 31-12 as an amateur, began working as a fitness instructor before he started training with Barry and Shane McGuigan, who showed faith in him and helped hone and build his professional career.

“I’ve been at McGuigan’s from the start of my career, Sunday to Friday of the last six-and-a-half years, it’s been amazing,” he said. “They’ve been so supportive of me. We’ve moved gyms a few times and now we’re in East London. I come up here on a Sunday, put my little boy to bed on a Sunday night and then we drive up, me and [junior middleweight prospect] Lee Cutler, who is training here now, and stay here till Friday and go home on the weekend for 48-hours basically. It’s hard being away from my son (because) he’s 18-months-old, but it’s a necessary evil.”

During his time with the McGuigan’s, Billam-Smith has gone the old, tried and tested route of winning British, Commonwealth and European honors. All the while cultivating his own support on the south coast.

“I’ve wanted to fight back home, headline there on a big televised card for many years and we were finally able to do it against Isaac Chamberlain last summer and then since then we’ve had the other two fights down there.

“I think it would have happened sometime in the next 10-years anyway, with the way boxing is growing, but I think I’m just the first of what eventually will be a long line of people from down there. Hopefully I can inspire generations to do stuff in their field. There wasn’t a huge amount of sporting role models in Bournemouth when I started boxing, the football club were still the heart and soul of it but they weren’t in the Premier League then. It’s nice to put Bournemouth on the map from a boxing perspective.”

The next logical step was onto the world stage. Billam-Smith was matched with former gym mate, Lawrence Okolie back in May. The unbeaten Londoner brought his WBO belt to Bournemouth, doubtlessly confident. At the conclusion of the twelve awkward and scrappy rounds in which Okolie had been down three times and deducted two points for excessive holding, Billam-Smith emerged victorious much to the dubitation of his hometown fans, who are expected to show up in force again on the weekend.

“Amazing night. Right now it’s pushed to the back of my mind because I’ve got to focus on next week but it was a phenomenal night and a dream realized and achieved and I’ve very grateful for that,” he said proudly. “I’m looking forward to it because it’s a phenomenal venue for noise and the fans, the whole town including the football club have been so supportive of me.”

All being well the 33-year-old hopes to push on from his breakout year and enjoy even more success in 2024.

“It would be amazing to do a good performance to top off a great year and one I’ll remember,” he said. “I’d love to do the best job on Masternak that anyone has done. That’s kind of my aim, to make a statement.

“I’d love to unify. All the talk in the division is about (Ring champion and IBF titlist Jai) Opetaia, everyone’s interested in that fight. He’s had a lot of hype recently, with a good performance against Jordan Thompson. I think that fight toward the backend of next year would be a huge fight. He’s fighting again before Christmas, it’s a fight I’d love for sure. I’ve always wanted to be No. 1, whether that was in my area, in the country and now looking to be the No. 1 in the world. He’s got that, people might speak different after the weekend, they might put me as No. 1 and he might fight again and it might swing back his way, that’s the way the boxing world works and until we get in the ring with each other we wont know. I’d love to fight Jai Opetaia and put that to bed.”

Masternak (47-5, 31 KOs), The Ring’s No. 9-rated cruiserweight, turned professional in 2006. The Polish fighter won the European title by outboxing Juho Haapoja (UD 12) but lost it in his first defense to Grigory Drozd (TKO 11) ten years ago. Close loses to Youri Kalenga (SD 12) and Johnny Muller (SD 10) bookended a win over former unified cruiserweight kingpin Jean-Marc Mormeck (SD 10). He gave a good account of himself but lost to Tony Bellew (UD 12) for his old European title.

Masternak reeled off a handful of wins between 2016-2018, including a rematch win over Youri Kalenga (TKO 6), but lost a close fight to former WBA titlist Yuniel Dorticos (UD 12) in the opening round of The World Boxing Series. However, the 36-year-old has since won six fights, including besting previously unbeaten Jason Whateley (UD 12) in an IBF title eliminator. He passed up a shot at Opetaia in favor of this shot at Billam-Smith.

The momentum is with Billam-Smith: He has home advantage and is coming off the title win, while Masternak hasn’t fought in 14-months. I think those things will each play a part that will lead Billam-Smith to claim a 12-round unanimous decision.

 

Billam Smith-Masternak, plus supporting undercard, which takes place on Sky Sports, begins at 6 p.m. GMT and on Peacock in the U.S. at 1 p.m. ET/ 10 a.m. PT.

 

ALSO ON RINGTV:

The Ring ratings reviewed 2023: Cruiserweight – The Ring (ringtv.com)

 

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *