THE final part of our exclusive series of features with Chris Billam-Smith reflects on the win over Lawrence Okolie and the hopes for the future.

AT AROUND 1am on Sunday, May 28, Chris Billam-Smith, his trainer Shane McGuigan and BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom entered the Vitality Stadium press room for post-fight media duties.

It was during that press conference McGuigan admitted Billam-Smith was not happy when he was told Lawrence Okolie would be joining him at the gym in 2019.

With the dust now settling on the world title bout, the Daily Echo dug a bit deeper into how those conversations went, Billam-Smith admitting it took him “a long time to get over” the fact he would be working alongside Okolie, rather than fighting him.

“As a fighter, you want to be number one in your division, in your gym and in your country,” Billam-Smith explained.

“Lawrence was number one in the country at the time. He had boxed Matty Askin and won the British title the September before and then he joined the gym.

“Matchroom gave me a six-round fight in preparation for Riakporhe and that day, Shane wasn’t up in Nottingham with me, it was just (Josh) Pritchard. Shane had to train Lawrence, because he had a fight lined up and the other lads had other fights lined up.

“It (Okolie) got announced on the day of my fight and I thought that was just disrespectful.

“I went up to the gym on the Monday after my fight and had a word with Shane, saying I wasn’t happy with how it was done.

“He went ‘look, you’ll be good for each other, Lawrence isn’t the sort of fight you want to have, he’s awkward’. I get it, from a management point of view, they’ve got to look after their fighters and get the right fights at the right time.

Bournemouth Echo:

“I don’t think they ever thought I’d get to that level to box him at a high level.

“Then Shane thought Lawrence was going to move up eventually anyway, so he can go and win a world title at cruiserweight and then move up to heavyweight.

“But I wanted to box Lawrence. It was harder for me, because Lawrence was number one in the amateurs, I wanted to fight him.

“In 2016, I was thinking here is my chance, because we were both in the English Championships, but then he qualified for the Olympics, so they took him out the championships.

“Then he turned pro, he’s number one in the country, I’m looking to fight him at some point. Then he joins the gym.

“It took me a long time to get over it, to be honest. Then I had to accept it and use Lawrence to help me improve. We got on well, me and Lawrence.

“Then he left the gym at a time where I was just about to box Isaac Chamberlain and push on towards world level.

“So that obviously happened and by the end of it ended up fighting him for a world title. I don’t know if it was some sort of divine intervention, where someone stopped me fighting him as an amateur and then he joins the gym so I couldn’t fight him.

“It waited to be for the biggest prize of all in the sport. It’s strange how things work out.”

Bournemouth Echo:

Throughout his training camp, Billam-Smith penned an exclusive column for the Daily Echo, discussing his preparations for the biggest fight of his career.

With the world title bout set in stone, at the venue he had been clamouring for, a big spanner was thrown into the works when fight week arrived.

As he revealed after getting the majority decision win over Okolie, Billam-Smith had suffered from illness in the week, unable to eat properly with McGuigan looking at the feasibility of pushing the fight back.

But Billam-Smith insisted the show must go on.

“I was meant to do a column for the last week as well and that’s why I didn’t do it, it was the least of my worries, to be honest! So apologies for that,” he said.

“On the Wednesday, I remember getting interviewed after my workout (on Bournemouth Pier), on a little platform with Sky Sports and I almost stepped off the back of it because I was swaying a bit.

“I thought ‘I need to be careful here’ and they were talking to me and I was barely even listening. The sun was blistering down, but I hadn’t eaten that day I was struggling to concentrate on what was getting asked and answer correctly.

“Obviously you have to do quite a lot of interviews on days like that as well. I basically just had to put on a brave face and do it. It wasn’t nice, but that whole camp was fantastic, up to that point. Luckily all the training had been banked.

“Frank, my son, was ill the week before. I looked after him on the Saturday and that was the Monday night, Tuesday morning when I started being sick.

“I knew it would be from him and then a few other people that had been in contact with him had got it as well. These things are usually like a 24-hour bug, but mine lasted about 48 to maybe 60 hours.

“So it wasn’t ideal, but I just knew I had to get through it.”

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

Aside from that, everything had been lined up. Billam-Smith had all his family in to watch, including mum, dad and brothers Ben and Nick, who both work at tradesmen.

“I stuck a drinking ban on them so they could enjoy the fight and I could have a normal conversation with them after,” said the Bournemouth boxer.

“Some of them like to get drunk at my fights, but I wanted them to remember it and I wanted them to be with it after so I could enjoy it with them.

“They all came into the changing rooms after, which was really special to have my mum, my dad and both my brothers there with me.”

For so long, Billam-Smith wanted to start fighting back in Bournemouth again.

Now he has headlined three sold out shows in the space of a year, so does he ever see himself boxing outside of the area again?

And with the world title now won, what else is there he wants to achieve in the sport in future?

“Yes, I think that’s the plan. I think I’m one of Sky’s biggest ticket sellers now,” said Billam-Smith, when asked if he thinks he will continue to fight on Bournemouth shows.

“Especially in the cruiserweight division, I’m by far the biggest seller out of me, Richard (Riakporhe) and Lawrence.

“I think they’re maybe even looking at October during the international break. It’s crazy to think I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to fight there (Vitality Stadium) and now it might be my base and fight there numerous times a year.

Bournemouth Echo:

“The next dream now is Vegas. My debut was in Boscombe at the O2 and I’ve always had this idea of a documentary which is ‘Bosc Vegas to Las Vegas’.

“My next dream is to fight out there. When that will be and who against will take time I think, because there’s no massive American names for me to fight at the moment. But time will tell.

“Obviously the football club have got an owner, who has got a team out there, who are also doing well, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, which is good. I remember Bill (Foley) mentioned it to me when I met him.

“He said ‘we could do it at the T-Mobile Arena, that would be amazing, to get it out there’. That I think for me is the next dream, but also just securing my family financially is obviously a huge factor now.

“I don’t think any night is going to beat (May 27), because it was the first world title, it was at the stadium, the first event, everything went perfect and felt perfect in terms of the fight and who it was against and what it was for and who was there and everything.

“So it will be hard to top, but I’m still very motivated, I’m not done in this sport by any stretch.

“I’ve still got a few years left in me yet and more titles to win and more dreams to achieve.”