HAVING discussed his early life and first steps into boxing, Chris Billam-Smith next explains his move into the professional ranks with the McGuigans in this exclusive feature series with the Echo.

AS AN amateur, Chris Billam-Smith’s ultimate goal was reaching the Olympics.

Not only for the experience of boxing in front of such a big audience, but the extra rewards that could bring.

But it would never come, failing to make the cut to join the Great Britain squad on three separate occasions.

His career in boxing had hit something of a crossroads. A reliable sparring partner for George Groves in Shane McGuigan’s gym when called upon, Billam-Smith knew he had to chance his arm.

He needed something more regular and a path to becoming a pro.

“For me, it was about getting on the Great Britain squad,” Billam-Smith explained to the Daily Echo.

“You get funded when you’re on the Great Britain squad, so that was the aim, always the Olympics when I was an amateur. It’s like the ultimate goal.

“My style at the time didn’t really suit the pros. I was very much an amateur boxer, a lot more on my toes and boxing long, which is the opposite to how I box now, it’s a lot more rough and tumble stuff now, getting on the inside and close.

“I had an attempt (to make GB squad) in 2012 and then again in 2013.

“Then 2016 I got through the first two assessments, got to the final assessment after getting to the ABA final and didn’t get let on. I thought then I didn’t know if I was going to do this.

“I thought I’d maybe have one more go in the ABAs and then turn pro, but it wasn’t like I was really sure where I was going to go.

“At the time I was sparring George Groves at Shane McGuigan’s gym. But I didn’t know if he’d take me on because I had no amateur international experience.

“I ended up asking Shane and thankfully he said yes."

Bournemouth Echo:

The Bournemouth boxer added: “I had his number from the sparring and I was always very reliable. Once they text me at 6.30pm on New Year’s Eve, I was at Mia’s friend’s house and we were going for some food and then a bit of a night out.

“I was like, 'it can’t be a late one, I’ve got to be in London at midday tomorrow for sparring'.

“In December (2016) I got told I wasn’t on GB, so I was going to ring Shane in the January.

“But he was out in Las Vegas with Carl Frampton and then he stayed out there to train David Haye for the (Tony) Bellew fight.

“So I thought, I’ll leave it until after David beats Bellew and I call him on the Monday, because he’ll be in a good mood. Then David obviously lost to Tony Bellew!

“So I left it a week and I think it was around the middle of March I spoke to him and he said ‘maybe, we’ll have a think, I could maybe do a part-time thing with you’.

“A couple of weeks later he messaged me saying ‘can you come up and spar George tomorrow? We’ll chat about you turning pro’. I thought the chat was going to be them recommending me someone else to go with.

“I went there, sparred George. George actually dropped me with a body shot that day, it was the first time he’d dropped me. I felt like I’d let myself down.

“Then after the spar they put me in a room. It was me, Shane, Barry, Jake and Blain McGuigan, so all the sons and dad Barry. Blain was the promoter for Cyclone Promotions at the time, Jake was doing a lot of managerial stuff along with Barry and Shane was training fighters.

“They gave me an offer to pay me a retainer and accommodation and train up there.

“I just remember smiling the whole way home.

“Mia asked how it went, I was ‘yeah it was all right, I’ll speak to you about it when I’m home’. I basically kept it from her and got to tell her to her face that they’d offered me a deal.

“That was crazy and then before I knew it, I was up there training five days a week, staying in Barry’s flat in Chelsea with the other boxers, it was a dream come true.”

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After a string of nine successive victories to start his pro career, eight coming by way of stoppage, Billam-Smith stepped up for his toughest fight yet in July 2019.

Also 9-0, London’s Richard Riakporhe took on Billam-Smith for the WBA intercontinental cruiserweight title at the O2 Arena in Greenwich. Riakporhe would come away victorious, via split decision.

Billam-Smith always maintained he should have been crowned winner of that bout.

“I think that’s what helped me,” Billam-Smith began, discussing the only defeat on his pro record.

“Everyone was expecting me to get flattened in a few rounds, because Richard had just knocked out Tommy McCarthy in four rounds and had a good win against Sam Hyde where he injured him.

“So he’d had two stoppage wins against good lads before me and everyone was expecting him to just walk through me. I think because I pushed him so close on the scorecards and we thought I’d won, it didn’t feel like a defeat. It felt like I’d sort of won in defeat.

“Sometimes it’s how you lose. It was my first step up, my first 50:50 fight, on Dillian Whyte’s undercard, in London. So it didn’t feel like a defeat as such. I felt like I’d done myself proud.

“But at the same time, it was difficult in the gym because it’s a gym of winners.

“They don’t lose at that level. No-one in the gym loses at domestic level. You had George Groves in there, Josh Taylor, Lee McGregor, Luke Campbell, Lawrence (Okolie) was just joining. They don’t lose at that level.

“It was difficult in that sense, but I thought I could build on this and just get back to it. It wasn’t like I felt I had to get over anything too much, it was just like okay, I’ve really got to work hard again and prove that I am worthy in this gym.”

And prove himself he did, Shane McGuigan going on to label turning Billam-Smith into a world champion as his proudest moment as a trainer.

The fourth and final part of the series tomorrow looks at the win over Okolie and plans for the future.