Former WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie is undecided over whether the man who took his title last year will successfully defend his crown for a second time on Saturday.

Okolie lost to Bournemouth star Chris Billam-Smith at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth last year, and on Saturday (June 15) his conqueror faces Richard Riakporhe at Selhurst Park in another stadium fight.

Okolie, who has moved up to bridgerweight, believes his former gymmate Billam-Smith can retain his title, but reckoned CBS does not need another tough fight.

“The best version of Chris will beat the best version of Riakporhe, in my opinion,” said Okolie.

There was, however, a caveat. Okolie paused for thought and added: “Lately, when I’ve been thinking about it, I think Chris has been to the well a few too many times. I think even in our fight, although he was able to come out with a win and got some knockdowns, it would have taken a lot more out of him than me. Since then, you’ve seen his eye continuously [cut] open, he boxed against [Mateusz] Masternak and it seemed like Masternak was winning that fight comfortably until Chris managed to find the two great body shots that put him out. 

“It kind of begs the question, is he going to be able to go to that point again, to beat a tall, strong, good puncher like Riakporhe?” 

Okolie admits that, having fought his former sparmate, Billam-Smith has improved over time and that surprised him. Riakporhe defeated Billam-Smith in a 10-rounder five years ago, but Okolie believes that the Shane McGuigan-trained champion has vastly improved.

“Agreed. I think it’s something I took for granted because I was there thinking, I do this all the time, and all of a sudden it’s a different kind of atmosphere [from sparring to actually fighting CBS] and a different kind of energy and even being in there with him, he felt different. 

“He felt very much like he was [boxing] out of himself, just pushing. No matter how hard I pushed, even if I got knocked down, I was just like, ‘Don’t worry. Later, I’m going to get him’. 

“But when we did get to the later rounds, and I started trying to push it, and [throw] more shots and go through the gears, he was able to grit it and sort of rally through those times when I thought they’d be enough to break him. It would have broken most people. It didn’t. But I don’t know if he will be able to do that again and again. Masternak was another one. Can he do it against Riakporhe again? I don’t know. I’d like to see it, but I don’t think so.

“I think it’s a good fight. I think Chris should win if Chris is able to get in that gear again, but if not then I think it might be one shot too many.”