ONE month has now passed since Chris Billam-Smith experienced what he anticipates to be the best night he will ever have in his boxing career.

Against the odds, the 32-year-old defeated Lawrence Okolie to become world champion, at a packed out Dean Court, the home of the football club he has always adored.

The path has not always been straightforward and there have been so many people who have played key roles along the way.

In this exclusive feature series with the Echo, Billam-Smith discusses his path to the top.

Part one saw Billam-Smith discuss his family and early days growing up, with focus now switching to the beginning of his boxing career.

Bournemouth Echo:

FOOTBALL had always been Chris Billam-Smith’s passion.

He tried a variety of other sports as a child, from trampolining to fencing, but football was where he dedicated most of his efforts.

“At under-18s I played for Christchurch and Poppies,” Billam-Smith said.

“I was second top goalscorer in the league and played half the season at centre-back! I played up front, centre-mid or centre-back.”

On day one, starting his sports performance and excellence course at Brockenhurst College, Billam-Smith would meet the man who would eventually set him onto a new path – Dean Perkins.

“He did amateur boxing,” Billam-Smith explained.

“He was training at Poole ABC and I thought I’d go along and use it as fitness for football really.

“That was in September and then in January I went and watched him for the first time (at Hamworthy Club in Canford Magna) and I was just amazed by the atmosphere. There was 20 of us all chanting his name.

“I just thought, ‘I’m going to give that a go, I’ll just have one fight, it must be an amazing feeling to have that atmosphere there for you’.

“I remember stopping the chant and having a word with myself in my head, ‘imagine that being you, that must be amazing’.

“And 10 months later I was having my first amateur fight, which was pretty awesome.”

But Billam-Smith would not stop at just one fight. After boxing at Weymouth Pavilion, he too took to the ring at the Hamworthy Club, on the same show Perkins had fought on a year earlier.

“I actually boxed for a different club at the time, because my brother was working for a guy called John Hamerston, who is a scaffolder, he’d started his own amateur club and his son Sam (pictured below) was really, really good.

“I was sparring him a lot and he helped me massively early on. For his experience, he was one of the best in the country. I learnt a lot off him.

“I had my first 10 fights with them and then moved back to Poole and had 33 fights for Poole over the space of seven years.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Recalling his early thoughts of boxing when he first started out, Billam-Smith said: “When I started doing it, I fell in love with it straightaway.

“When I had my first fight, it was an amazing feeling.

“That was at 17 and at one point I was just working and boxing in the evenings. I’d be watching boxing all day on BoxNation, a subscription channel that just had fights on all the time.

“I remember just watching that non-stop and just loved watching it and fell in love with the sport.

“I fell out of love with football a bit because the respect and discipline I learnt in boxing is just so different. In football you get a lot of disrespect and pettiness.

“But I do miss playing football so much and love going to watch Bournemouth play.

“I think when I retire I’ll start a little vets team and get the boots back on!”

So what became of Dean Perkins?

“He was at my fight (last month),” said Billam-Smith.

“He’s actually living in Austria at the moment.

“He went away and did a PHD on hearts of adolescents and how they develop and is working in Austria in a lab over there. So he’s very ‘sciencey’, but he’s a great lad and we’re really close.

“Me and one of his other good mates are best men at his wedding next year.

“He came to watch me with his mates in my ABA final in 2013 up in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland.

“They came up and supported me then and then they were ringside for me winning my world title 10 years later. It was amazing.

“On the way out I got to give Dean a massive hug and thank him for introducing me to the sport.”

Bournemouth Echo: Chris Billam-Smith overcame Lawrence Okolie at Vitality Stadium

Perkins was not the only person from Billam-Smith’s boxing past who he greeted after his win at Vitality Stadium.

“Sometimes I’d have to take two buses and a bit of a walk to get to training in Parkstone all the way from Christchurch, it used to take me about an hour,” he explained.

“But afterwards buses were a nightmare because it was about 10 o’clock at night. So a guy there, he was from Stoke, also called Dean, he used to work down here and stay in Poole, but he used to drop me all the way to Christchurch and then go back to Poole.

“I saw him on the way out after the fight. I was there with the belt and gave him a massive hug.

“That was nice to see him and then just after that I saw my amateur coach, Neal Partridge, he just shouted my name and I looked at him. We used to travel the whole country together as an amateur.

“For me to see him in that moment, he was like ‘you did it!’. We had a massive embrace, which was a really special moment.”

Bournemouth Echo:

During his years in amateur boxing, Billam-Smith would meet one of the most important people in the whole journey - his future wife and mother to his child.

“I met Mia in October 2014,” he said.

“I was awaiting shoulder surgery in January 2015, and boxed the following October, so she had never seen me box and we’d been together a year.

“I stayed half in shape, because I was working at a gym at the time down in Christchurch. But I don’t think she realised how serious I took it.

“She came to watch my first fight back and I got beat on a split decision at Littledown. I literally got down the steps from the ring she goes ‘that was amazing’. I was like ‘what do you mean? I lost’. And she said ‘yeah, but I just couldn’t believe it, seeing you in there and everyone cheering’.

“Gradually that novelty wears off and she gets more nervous and worries now a lot more.

“She was a boxing fan before she met me, so she’s always been into boxing and liked a few boxers here and there and she’s always watched it. That’s maybe what excited her a bit about getting with me!

“Three months in she was basically looking after me because I had one arm.

“I remember falling over in the shower one day, I slipped up and had my arm in a sling for six weeks.

“She just heard this bang, came in and was helping me, looking after me and has done ever since, to be honest!”

Part three will look at Billam-Smith’s move into professional boxing, teaming up with trainer Shane McGuigan.