When Christian M’Billi was a child, he dreamed of having a profession for which he could simply train all the time. For others, the rigors of exercise were a means to an end, a requisite for achieving one’s athletic or aesthetic goals. For Mbilli, the work itself was the joy. If you’re going to become a professional boxer, finding delight in the never-ending dogged labor is a useful trait to have. In other words, the man they call “Solide,” a reference to his chiseled build—was indeed built for this.
Mbilli is also built for television. Often times, the label “TV fighter” is given to boxers whose limitations are immediately known, but whose styles that generally involve a lot of contact going in both directions, will produce entertaining programming. Every once in a while though, fighters with the style befitting that label are also high-level operators, which is the case with the 28-year old French Olympian who now makes his home in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. While he's refined with the technical ability one would expect from an Olympic-caliber amateur, it’s his raw physicality and cardiovascular ability that’s truly steering the ship inside the ring. There may be easier paths for him to take to win fights, but they’re not the ones he opts for, as evidenced in his most recent victory over Carlos Gongora, a Fight of the Year contender from this past March. While the fight itself may be overshadowed already by other tremendous fights that followed it this year, its eighth round, one in which Mbilli absorbed a home run uppercut from Gongora in the beginnings of the frame and rallied back to turn the tables by its conclusion, will get no doubt strong consideration at year’s end for Round of the Year.
"During this eighth round, I'm not lying to you, I saw my work flash before my eyes, I saw my hours of suffering in training, I saw my goals and I said to myself: 'if you don't survive this round, you have no business there", Mbilli told Benoit Rioux of Le Journal de Montreal after the bout. "I told myself that he was not hurting me and that I was more dangerous than him. It was really a psychological work."
Now ranked No. 1 by the WBC, and No. 3 by RING Magazine overall at 168 pounds, Mbilli finds himself in a tricky spot in terms of his career arc. This Friday in Gatineau, QC, he takes on Demond Nicholson in the main event of an ESPN+ event produced by his bosses at Eye Of The Tiger and Top Rank. The bout was originally slated to be a part of the now-postponed Artur Beterbiev-Callum Smith event, but Eye of the Tiger has opted to keep its roster busy by amalgamating that event with the existing bouts on the Gatineau event to create an 11-bout mega card.
With a plum rating in the WBC and a similarly impressive spot in the RING ratings, Mbilli no longer has to play the rankings game much. No wins over any other contender can help him in that regard, save for an eliminator bout that could potentially turn him into a mandatory challenger for the WBC champion, who at present time happens to be perhaps the sport’s biggest star, Canelo Alvarez. Rather, he has two other games he’s playing: 1. Continue to develop and improve with an unpredictable hourglass in front of him, not knowing if his big opportunity will be in months or years, and 2. Making the broader audience both aware of and invested in a French Canadian super middleweight.
On the first front, Mbiilli’s trainer Marc Ramsay recently said that his fighter is “nearing the end of his development,” and is at the point where he “will be at his full potential for a long time.” From a matchmaking perspective however, Mbilli represents a high-risk, low-reward proposition for other super middleweights. Last year, Samuel Decarie, who also works in Mbilli’s corner, told Le Journal that opponents even at that point were asking for upwards of $200,000 to face him. Ironically, this is the very reason Mbilli himself had to take a fight against Gongora which offered a similar proposition to him, a tricky, dangerous southpaw. A victory over him didn’t catapult him higher than he was already in the rankings, but it did prove a thing or two to the audience and to himself.
After Alvarez’s victory over John Ryder earlier this year, Mbilli told L’Equipe in France that he felt Canelo was on a “downward slope,” and that he had lost “vision and footwork,” calling the fight “reassuring” to watch.
On the name-recognition front, Mbilli has already completed an important part of the task for any fighter looking to become a household name—he’s a draw on his own home front, both in France and in Quebec. Two fights ago, he fought in front of a raucous crowd in Nantes, France as he defeated Vaughn Alexander. In Montreal, he’s headlined the Montreal Casino three times, selling out the intimate atmosphere each time well in advance of fight night. The hometown newspaper has posed the question of whether he’s the “new darling of Quebec boxing.”
Outside of his home countries and province however, Mbilli is still introducing himself, appearing on a US-distributed broadcast this weekend, something he’s still only done a handful of times since his amateur days. Given his brand of all-out aggression however, Mbilli can bank on making a good first impression. Whether a new viewer believes he can become world champion or not, they’re likely going to enjoy every minute of finding out.