It is often said not only how Chris Billam-Smith has developed as a fighter but how carrying a world title can improve a champion.

Billam-Smith, the WBO cruiserweight belt holder, won the title last May fighting in front of his home fans in the stadium of the soccer team he has supported since he was a boy at Bournemouth AFC’s Vitality Stadium.

Yes, working with Shane McGuigan has brought Billam-Smith on through his career, but away from the gym Billam-Smith has constantly looked to improve, even launching his own podcast, “The Perfect Athlete Podcast,” to learn what makes high performers tick.

He has constantly searched for additional one percents, whether they be the fitness tracker he uses, sleep patterns, nutrition, hydration or strength and conditioning. He has not played a game of chance but used due diligence throughout.

In Saturday’s fight with Richard Riakporhe at London’s Selhurst Park, home of Crystal Palace Football Club – Riakporhe’s team – Billam-Smith will make the second defense of his crown. Riakporhe defeated Billam-Smith in a 10-rounder five years ago, when both were prospects.

“As an athlete, in the last 18 months, I’ve changed massively,” admitted the 33-year-old Billam-Smith, who is 19-1 (13 KOs). “I’ve made a few adaptations to my training, which has changed my life and changed the way I fight as an athlete. And I think that was a big shock for Lawrence [Okolie, his former gym mate, from whom he won the title], because I changed strength coaches and developed a lot there, and that was a massive factor in the Lawrence fight.

“He was like, ‘Chris is tenacious and stuff, but he’s not that strong.’ But the strength’s there, the punch power’s there, which showed on the night and continues to show. I think that will be the same this time.

“All that matters to me is improving every day in the gym, me and my team believing in me, and me and my team getting paid very well, and me getting good opportunities to build my profile. And nothing gets bigger than Lawrence at home and a fight like this against Richard.

“Domestic fights are ones that I love. I think Lawrence wanted to beat me, beat Richard and then move up to heavyweight, but I had other plans.

“I’m just focused on the day-to-day task of improving as a fighter. That comes out in the ring, and what you see is what you get from me.”

Billam-Smith has been on a journey. He trains in London with McGuigan through the week and goes home to wife Mia and their young son, Frank, on the South Coast at weekends. It is clichéd, but he has learned a lot about himself and he has been keen to discover all he can to make himself a better fighter.

Asked for more detail on how he has come on, Billam-Smith said: “Just maturity, confidence, I know who I am now. I know what I am, in career terms. I know how to fight, what my style is. 

“I know all of those things. I didn’t have a clue in the first fight [against Riakporhe] and that showed, because if you look at the fights before, I was sitting down on my feet and kind of bounced around too much, like an amateur. I settled a bit, but I know what I am now. I know what I’ve got to do. Me and Shane have obviously gelled and had another five years since the first fight. We both have 100 percent belief in each other, and he knows I can follow instructions and to listen if I have certain areas that I think may or may not work, for certain reasons. So we have a great relationship.”

Billam-Smith will have worked on what it will be like going into “enemy territory” at Selhurst Park and envisaged it many times over, although he will have a significant travelling contingent from Bournemouth, only a couple of hours away from the venue.

“People are buzzing for an away day,” he said. “It’s the England [soccer] game the next day in the [European Championships], first one, people making a weekend of it.”

And he, too, admits that owning the title has added to his game and his belief system, not least that he suffered with a sickness the week he won the title last May and fought through less-than-ideal fight-week preparations to win on the night of his life.

“Yeah, definitely, and I think the way I won it, in the circumstances I won it, obviously I wasn’t very well on fight week. Overcoming stuff like that gives you unwavering self-belief, and that’s something you’ve got to have as a fighter and as a champion,” he explained. “I’ve always had it, but it’s never there until it’s confirmed. You can have it, [but] until you actually confirm, it’s like anything in life. When it’s confirmed, it’s an actual belief. Imagine a 100 percent version of me. That’s a scary thought. But also it gives me great confidence. I know I can go into big fights not 100 percent and still come out on top, because nothing matters on fight night.”

The WBO champion does not pause for thought when asked whether he is the best 200-pound fighter in the world.

“Yeah, absolutely. I believe there are great fighters out there, and it’s who turns up on the night,” Billam-Smith said. “[Jai] Opetaia and [Mairis] Briedis are very good fighters, probably the other two best fighters in the world at cruiserweight. They’re both smaller than me – about 6-foot-1. They’re technically very good, and me against either one of them is a fight for the ages, I believe. But I truly believe, anyone in the world, I can beat them.”

Then, when the fight is over, it will be back to Mia and Frank while Billam-Smith’s promoter, Boxxer, will likely take aim at lining up a unification opportunity. The WBO title will go back into its case and be put beneath his bed at home.

“No one cares,” he said of life away from the fight week glare. “I’m just dad and a husband at my house, and that’s how I like it. I like to go home at weekends and be dad, and be a husband, and switch off from fight mode and go back to it.”