Sunday night or not, the Bournemouth International Centre was bouncing for Chris Billam-Smith’s first defense of his WBO cruiserweight title.
The venue has become one of the most atmospheric boxing venues in the country over the past couple of years and although Billam-Smith’s fans made up the vast majority of the crowd, Masternak had more than a few Polish fans in attendance.
The big, imposing figure of Billam-Smith took the center of the ring and he pressed forward, pressuring the older man with his feet. Masternak moved away, popping out a jab and looking to work the body. Midway through the round, Billam-Smith decided to use his height and reach advantages and get his own jab working. The local fighter looked to close the distance and bully Masternak along the ropes.
Masternak was having to work harder than he would have liked but he was able to time Billam-Smith quite easily. The champion was walking forward in straight lines and Masternak found him with a nice left hook early in the round. The straight right hand was his best weapon though. Billam-Smith was willing to walk through the shots, hoping his pressure would pay dividends later in the fight.
Billam-Smith had blood coming from his mouth in the third. Despite his age, Masternak was moving constantly and having success with straight punches. Billam-Smith was struggling to build momentum but willed himself on, closing up the distance and making it a grueling, physical fight. He found Masternak with a right hook and was able to bully the Pole but Masternak responded with a couple of nicely timed right hands, causing some damage over Billam-Smith’s left eye.
Billam-Smith just couldn't avoid Masternak’s straight punches and although he was managing to drag Masternak into some tiring clinches, he was landing precious few clean shots on the way in and Masternak was defensively aware inside.
Shane McGuigan read Billam-Smith the riot act before round six. Billam-Smith looked tired but continued to press forward. His punches were coming out slowly though and although Masternak had less success, he still landed the cleaner punches.
Billam-Smith needed to change something but Masternak seemed to have an answer for the close quarter grappling and in-fighting and his right hand could barely miss. There was a glimmer of hope in the seventh, Masternak emerged from a clinch with a cut over his own left eye and Billam-Smith was able to land a couple of heavy hooks to body and head as Masternak backed to the ropes.
One of those body shots clearly did some damage. Masternak got off his stool slowly but couldn’t continue. Referee, John Latham, accepted the retirement from Masternak’s corner 2 seconds into round and one of the Polish fighter’s team quickly applied an ice pack to his rib cage.
Two judges had Masternak five rounds to two ahead at the time of the stoppage, but the Pole came up short in his first attempt at a world title.
Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KO’s) ground this one but keeps his belt and can look forward to some big nights in 2024.