It may be a new year, but it is back to the same old grind for Chris Billam-Smith.

The WBO cruiserweight champion is back in the gym having successfully defended his title for the first time by wearing down Mateusz Masternak in eight rounds last December. 

There is a rivalry developing at the top of the cruiserweight division and Billam-Smith had barely had time to enjoy his victory before IBF champion Jai Opetaia stole back the limelight by knocking out Ellis Zorro inside a round a couple of weeks later.

The Australian has become one of the hottest properties in boxing over the past few months and boxes former champion Mairis Briedis in a high-quality rematch on the undercard of the undisputed heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk on February 17th. 

Billam-Smith has a rematch of his own to take care of - he has signed a deal to box his mandatory challenger and the only man to beat him as a professional, Richard Riakporhe, next - and isn’t overly concerned by the attention and excitement Opetaia is generating. He prefers to focus on his own business.

“I don’t listen too much to hype and people. At the end of the day, if I was to listen to that I wouldn’t never have beaten Lawrence [Okolie]. I was gonna get wiped out by Lawrence. Lawrence was gonna eat me up. Lawrence was gonna do this and that,” he told SecondsOut.

“We just know what I’m capable of in the gym and that’s all that matters. The people who see me every day, they’re the ones who know how good I am and how good I can be and that I can box.”

Since returning from the broken jaw he suffered when beating Briedis to win the title back in July 2022, Opetaia has made up for lost time and quickly built his reputation and fanbase in the most old-fashioned way possible; by knocking people out.

He stopped Jordan Thompson in four rounds last September and then quickly dispensed of Zorro last December. Fans who admire his straight talking, no nonsense attitude to the entire business of boxing have jumped on the bandwagon and Opetai has delivered in the ring.

Opetaia proved himself to be a world class fighter by beating Briedis but has developed an aura of being an unbeatable monster by beating two fighters without a significant win above British level between them. Billam-Smith was ringside for the Australian’s clinical stoppage of Thompson and saw plenty to respect, but he also feels like Opetaia has been flattered by his recent results. He will be paying close attention when he boxes Briedis in their rematch and believes that fight will give a much more accurate gauge of his abilities. 

“Look, it’s not an easy fight. No fights at this level are easy but it’s a fight we believe I can win against Opetaia and the hype is because he’s boxed Jordan and beat him in four rounds and then Ellis Zorro in one round,” he said. “With respect to both those guys - and this is what I said to Jordan in the changing room afterwards - ‘You’ve jumped up a lot of levels here to go and box at world level.’ He’d never really boxed at British level before, although he had the ability to win a British title.

“My career’s been perfectly managed in that sense. I’ve had those little acid tests along the way. Next level, next level, next level. When you jump that many levels it’s not possible to do.

“Opetaia’s boxed those two guys who have never really boxed at British level and he’s got a lot of hype off it, but we’ll know more when he fights Briedis next. 

“We’ll know then where he’s at on the world scene because if Briedis goes into that fight fully fit - although he’s been out for a while inactive - and if he boxes at a decent percentage of his capabilities, then it’s a close fight I think. We’ll see.”