Chris Billam-Smith looked around a small local venue as a teenager. 

There was a boxing ring in the middle of the hall, crowds swilling beer and drinks around him and a chorus of “Deano, Deano, Deano” filled the air.

At that moment, he knew what he wanted to do with his life.

The son of a film-set hand, who’d been on location for the filming of blockbusters including Troy and Robin Hood Prince of Thieves – and the youngest of three brothers – knew boxing was his calling.

The man in the ring that night was Dean Perkins, a friend from college whom Chris was in the same class as.

“After about five months of knowing Dean, I went to watch him fight,” Chris recalled. “I just remember the atmosphere and everyone chanting. I was chanting with everyone and then stopping and looking around thinking, ‘That must be such an amazing feeling.’”

Happy for his friend, Billam-Smith wanted that same buzz.

“For those six minutes, everyone there, they’re there for you because it was a home show for him,” Chris explained. “I thought that atmosphere, to be the reason for that atmosphere, it must be an amazing feeling. I thought to myself, next year, I’m going to be boxing on this show. And I was. That ended up being my second [amateur] fight.”

Chris’s middle brother Ben used to take him to his first ‘gym’.

In fact, it was a converted garage in Boscombe not far from Bournemouth, where he lives now and headlines on Saturday night, and future UFC star Molly McCann was helping put people through their paces. Molly and Billam-Smith have stayed in touch as their paths to the top have neared a crescendo. There were only a few sporadic visits to the gym from the ages of around 13 to 16 for Billam-Smith and he gradually returned to boxing to get fit to be better at football (soccer).

“I’d always played team sports, like football and hockey,” he continued. “I’d done very few individual sports and although I tried a lot of sports, the ones I was most interested in were the team sports.”

Then, unable to shake the “Deano” chants from his mind, he added, “I thought, that must be amazing. That was the main reason and I fell in love with the sport from there.” 

Also, having two older brothers meant that he had strived to be the center of attention, and he openly admits that when the chant went up for his friend, he knew that no one was getting any other adoration in that building apart from “Deano”.

It wasn’t a straightforward transition, however. Billam-Smith tried some different gyms and fought for Poole ABC.

He was about 6ft 1ins when he left school but slender and in his first Poole session, two fighters were permitted into an area to box and move around with around 20-30 looking on.

“What are you doing?” shouted one of the coaches at the newest member of the gym, Chris – and on his first night.

“I was hunched over, not using my height at all, and he said, ‘You’re tall, use your long arms.’”

Billam-Smith was not only embarrassed at being singled, his friends used it as ammunition to taunt him, although it was all in fun and far from malicious. Chris became “tall and rangy” and in his first amateur fight recalls just moving and circling to his left while sticking out his jab.

He’s come a long way. The 31-year-old, who is 15-1 (11), defends his Commonwealth and European cruiserweight titles in his hometown of Bournemouth against a real threat in Isaac Chamberlain. A crowd of around 4,000 is expected at the Bournemouth International Centre and the cheers will be for Billam-Smith and almost only him.

In his corner will be Sane McGuigan, a decorated trainer who is still only 33 but who heralds Billam-Smith as one of his great achievements and a fighter who represents some of the coach’s best work – “from what he came to me as to what he is now.”

Billam-Smith asked Shane to train him and he responded to calls to spar with the likes of McGuigan fighters David Haye and George Groves. Billam-Smith has one great story where Haye knocked a man cold and everyone looked to Chris and said, “You’re in now.”

“Chris showed me from a very early start that he wanted to maximize himself and he was willing to throw himself into the deep end,” said McGuigan. “Talent is overrated and if you have the right ingredients when it comes to courage, punch resistance, athleticism, you can teach a lot of other things, punching power, being calm in the pocket… you can start adding to their game, and he turned up every day.”

Billam-Smith now has the likes of heavyweight Daniel Dubois and cruiser Lawrence Okolie to work with in the McGuigan stable and his ultimate dream is to fight at an even larger venue, the Vitality Stadium where Bournemouth FC play their soccer matches, about three miles from where he tops the bill tomorrow.  

Still, even a big fight at the BIC is a dream come true. They won’t be cheering “Deano” tomorrow, it will be Billam-Smith who is the centre of attention and Chamberlain will hope to spoil the party.

But with the platform comes the burden of pressure and this week, as crowds flocked to public workouts and a weigh-in on Bournemouth’s beach in their hundreds, Billam-Smith began to savor the night ahead.

“It’s definitely different,” he admitted. “I’m headlining in my hometown, there’s added pressure for sure, but that’s what it’s about. If you’re not in the sport to headline in front of your own fans and go on to win world titles, what are you doing?”