After a tumultuous camp leading up to Saturday night, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith realised his dream of becoming world champion with a majority-decision defeat over former gym-mate Lawrence Okolie on the South Coast.
Fighting at the home of his beloved Bournemouth FC, Billam-Smith was buoyed by three knockdowns and two point deductions for Okolie to land the WBO cruiserweight title in his hometown.
Illinois judge Benjamin Rodriguez produced a contender for the most bizarre scorecard of the year when he scored the bout a 112-112 draw, but thankfully the remaining two both went the way of the deserving Billam-Smith (108-115, 107-116).
The fight saw a frustrating start for ‘CBS’ who struggled to get in behind Okolie’s long reach and let his hands go on the inside.
Okolie has been criticised for holding in the past and continued to tie Billam-Smith up whenever the challenger looked to engage at close range.
The frustrations of Billam-Smith were already beginning to show in the fourth before a looping lead left hook knocked Okolie to the canvas for the first time in his professional career.
The champion predictably looked to clinch as he saw out the remainder of the round but Billam-Smith had made his first breakthrough in front of his home crowd.
Okolie’s holding continued in the fifth and referee Marcus McDonnell had seen enough as he took a point, drawing celebration from the Bournemouth fans sitting ringside.
Another warning was administered in the sixth before a second point was taken in the seventh, again for persistent holding.
Okolie increased the tempo as he looked to finish the round strong and enjoyed arguably his best of the night so far in the eighth as he rocked Billam-Smith with numerous straight right hands.
Just as the champion’s momentum looked to be growing, he was on the canvas again. Billam-Smith landed another lead left hand as Okolie looked to hold again but was bundled to his knees and McDonnell administered the count.
Okolie responded immediately with big right hands but was down for a third time in the eleventh from another cuffing Billam-Smith left hand which left him stumbling to his knees.
The upset was surely on the cards unless Okolie could find a stoppage but, despite a strong final round, the writing was on the wall as the Bournemouth crowd waited in anticipation.
Billam-Smith was understandably bemused by the first scorecard but burst into tears upon hearing the result, dropping to his knees as the realisation set in.
His wife quickly joined him as the pair embraced in the centre of the ring, and the newly-crowned champion dedicated the victory to his mother who had been diagnosed with breast cancer just six weeks ago.
Okolie, for all the criticism he receives for his style, was as classy as ever post-fight as he congratulated his old friend on the life-changing victory.
The 30-year-old vowed to come again and said he intends to activate a rematch clause for a second fight later in the year.
The experience of Smethwick’s Sam Eggington proved all too much for Southampton’s Joe Pigford who was handed his first defeat in 21 outings in the chief support.
Eggington looked too wise for the 30-year-old Pigford who was ultimately stopped in the fifth from a punishing Eggington barrage.
A straight right hand rocked Pigford who retreated to the ropes but further punishment lay ahead as Eggington continued to land brutal blows.
Pigford was out on his feet but referee Bob Williams allowed further damage to ensue before finally stepping in to wave the bout off.
Elsewhere on the card, featherweight Karriss Artingstall outpointed a brave Jade Taylor over eight rounds, while local super-welterweight Lee Cutler won a narrow ten-round decision over Stanley Stannard.
Michael McKinson also stopped Lebin Morales inside seven at welterweight while Razor Ali climbed off the canvas to win a close six-round decision over Jonatas Gomes de Oliveira.
Featured image: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.