Chris Billam-Smith moved a step closer to a world title shot as he retained his Commonwealth and European cruiserweight titles with a unanimous decision over Isaac Chamberlain in a barnstormer of a fight in Bournemouth.
It was a memorable battle that saw both fighters hurt, both dig deep and show bravery.
It was Billam-Smith’s experience and workrate that made the difference. Chamberlain had nice moments, landed good shots and at times boxed well. But Billiam-Smith ploughed forward throughout, never letting up with the pressure, constantly pinning Chamberlain back to the ropes and landing hard punches.
While the first half of the fight was close, with Billam-Smith having the edge, he ran away with things in the second half as Chamberlain faded.
“Isaac’s a warrior, I knew he was,” Billam-Smith said. “I knew when to just ease off and go again. I gave him a little bit of success, then took it away and broke his heart.
“I had a five-week camp and a newborn (his son Frank was born nine weeks ago). My mindset is incredible. What an incredible night.
“I’ve got learning to do to beat all those guys [world champions]. But I will learn and I will get it done.”
AT 31, Billam-Smith is reaching his prime, improving fight after fight under the guidance of Shane McGuigan. One man he won’t be fighting is Lawrence Okolie, the WBO champion and his gymmate, but the promoter of new IBF champion Jai Opetaia was in the crowd. It is a fight Billam-Smith would love.
Chamberlain was once a bit of a prospect but blotted his copybook when dropping a turgid fight against Okolie in what was billed as a big grudge match in 2018. Okolie went on to lift British, Commonwealth, European and WBO titles and that remains Chamberlain’s only defeat, although he has only had five fights since then, three of which ended in the first round. A hard, long fight was never likely to be in his favour.
The Londoner used his jab well early on, but Billam-Smith closed the gap fast and forced him back to the ropes. Chamberlain looked to stand with Billam-Smith, although it was the Bournemouth man doing the better.
In the second, Chamberlain again started well behind the jab but soon found himself backed into the ropes, where he was caught by two hard left hooks that seemed to rock Chamberlain, forcing him to try and match power with power.
But as Billam-Smith seemed to be dominating, Chamberlain landed with a clean left hook that seemed to rock Billam-Smith, following up with a right that had Billam-Smith retreating.
Backed up on the ropes, it was Billam-Smith who then caught Chamberlain with a big right. Billam-Smith then landed a good body shot, only to be caught by a left hook, before Billam-Smith nailed Chamberlain with a hard right that had Chamberlain tottering forward, but the bell came to Chamberlain’s relief.
Billam-Smith was all over Chamberlain in the third, catching him with a left hook and then landing to the body. By now Chamberlain was bruised around the left eye and looking tired.
Chamberlain began the fourth round well, being busy and catching Billam-Smith on the way in. But Billam-Smith wound up a big right that landed.
Both began to look tired in the fifth round, as Billam-Smith’s workrate slowed, although he kept firing away to the body and late in the sixth round Billam-Smith was again getting the upper hand.
Billam-Smith continued to bore away to the body in the seventh, forcing Chamberlain backwards, but the Londoner found room for a good combination up close, despite the home boxer finishing the round well.
The eighth was close until Chamberlain landed a big right that sparked Billam-Smith into action, as he trapped Chamberlain on the ropes and unloaded before putting a big effort into the ninth as he bossed Chamberlain around the ring.
Again, in the tenth round, Billam-Smith swarmed all over Chamberlain, as he outworked and outpunched the Londoner. Chamberlain kept trying to punch his way out of trouble, but there was no let up from Billam-Smith.
Trapped in a corner, Chamberlain was caught by three hooks and then fell away from a left hand as Billam-Smith poured it on and Chamberlain’s resistance wore out.
Jon Pegg, in Chamberlain’s corner, implored him to go for the knockout, but it was Billam-Smith who was the one still controlling things, while Chamberlain’s energy frittered away. At the end of the eleventh, Chamberlain was taking a pounding, unable to land, backed up on the ropes and taking steady, heavy punches.
Chamberlain kept trying, but Billam-Smith was just sweeping over him, walking him back in the last. The end was brutal, both exhausted, throwing punches on instinct.
But then Chamberlain almost turned it around, landing a big hook that made Billam-Smith seem to slump into the ropes. Then he almost seemed to fall forward into the ropes, but time ran out on Chamberlain.
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.