Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium plays host to WBO cruiserweight champion Lawrence Okolie (19-0-0, 14KOs)‘s face-off with local hero and former training partner Chris Billam-Smith (17-1-0, 12KOs) on Saturday night.
Both were previously trained by Shane McGuigan but Okolie departed the gym after relocating to Dubai last year.
The 30-year-old is now led by Sugar Hill Steward alongside heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and bright prospect Ben Whittaker but faces arguably his toughest test yet as a pro on the South Coast.
While Billam-Smith offers a stern challenge in his own right, Okolie also heads into the cauldron of fire knowing the majority of those watching on in the stadium will be baying for his blood once the opening bell rings.
Though his fights have often been labelled as boring, there can be no doubting the effectiveness of Okolie’s work and how difficult he is to be break down.
His levering arms and knockout power have proved too tricky a puzzle for all who have faced him so far on his assent to becoming British, Commonwealth, European and now world champion.
Billam-Smith meanwhile has steadily improved and grown into a fully-fledged contender under the tutelage of the aforementioned McGuigan who has guided him since he turned pro in 2017.
He has already shone in his hometown of Bournemouth on two occasions – defeating Isaac Chamberlain and Armend Xhoxhaj last year – but he has finally landed his dream fight at the home of his beloved Bournemouth FC.
“Now it’s very much focusing on the job at hand”, Billam-Smith said. “I’m zoned in, I’ve enjoyed this week but now it’s about zoning in and getting the job done for my fans and making all the sacrifices worth it.”
Okolie meanwhile insists he isn’t focused on the history with Team Billam-Smith as he looks to make the fourth defence of his world title.
“I’ve been on big occasions time after time so I feel very relaxed and ready to do what I need to do”, Okolie told Sky Sports on Friday.
“It’s business and I’ll do what I always do to get the W.”
Cruiserweight Isaac Chamberlain (14-2-0, 8KOs) was initially set to face British champion Mikael Lawal in the chief support before the latter withdrew through injury earlier this month.
Instead, Brixton’s Chamberlain will now face Poland’s Daniel Bocianski (11-3-0, 2KOs) over ten rounds before hopefully rearranging a clash against Lawal for later in the year.
The 29-year-old Chamberlain hasn’t fought since his enthralling unanimous decision defeat to Billam-Smith in Bournemouth in July.
Bocianski may be a familiar name for British fans after his points losses to Tommy Fury and John Hedges at light-heavyweight.
Tokyo 2020 bronze medalist Karriss Artingstall (3-0-0) also takes on Jade Taylor (5-0-0) at featherweight, while Sam Eggington (33-8-0, 19KOs) clashes with Joe Pigford (20-0-0, 19KOs) over ten at super-welterweight.
Featured image: Lawrence Lustig/BOXXER.