THERE is now just over a week to go until Chris Billam-Smith’s first world title defence, facing Mateusz Masternak at the BIC.

We have caught up with some people who know a bit more about the man behind the belt.

In the second of this three-part series, Billam-Smith’s childhood friend Mike Nicholls gives an insight into how the boxing journey began and what 'The Gentleman' is like away from the ring.

We have been friends since he moved to my secondary school, Portchester, in year nine. We got quite close in that period from leaving secondary school to college, when we both went to Brockenhurst.

We could not be any more different. I was head boy at Portchester. I’m into reading, art, anything but boxing and football – I can’t stand either! So how me and him became friends, to this day I don’t know.

I’ve watched plenty of football and boxing now, but still don’t know anything about it.

I’ve been to every one of Chris’s fights. I was the only person at his first amateur fight, back in 2008, a week before my 18th birthday.

We actually went to boxing class together. But I went purely as a mate.

We would finish college, go and get changed and then drive our mopeds down to Poole ABC, filling up with about £3 worth of fuel, because that’s all the money we had at the time. The promise was, we go to boxing, see our other friends from college, then get a pizza from Snappy’s, because it was buy one get one free, then we’d go home and watch Skins together. But I’d have to suffer an hour of boxing training before. I can remember the smell now – just pure sweat and Lynx Africa.

Bournemouth Echo:

I was very good at skipping and press-ups, but very bad at sparring and shadow boxing!

On the first night we were a bit late, because we got lost and we bottled it and left, thinking it wasn’t for us. But thankfully we went back, although we were both pretty rubbish initially! If you looked back now and said one of us was going to be world champion, you’d have bet on him, but even then, nobody really saw it coming.

Our relationship is entirely built on food, we don’t have much else in common! He used to spend summers in my lounge watching Shameless and Skins and wouldn’t go home. He’s integrated in our lives. My mum adores him. She goes to the AFC Bournemouth games and has seen him kicking the ball on the pitch there.

There are a few funny stories I remember from when we were both teenagers. He had the worst cars. This was a faded red Ford Escort, with over 100,000 miles on the clock. We were travelling once to watch Oasis in Cardiff, back in 2009. Me and him were driving over the Severn Bridge into Wales and it breaks down, halfway across the bridge.

Bournemouth Echo:

You’ve got maybe a thousand cars coming across to watch Oasis play that night and everyone is shouting abuse at us as we push it half a mile and try to start it again.

One year I bought tickets for Isle of Wight Festival, I think we’d just turned 18. I got these tickets off eBay about six months in advance, about £300 and got scammed out of the money. These weren’t even for him, but he said ‘I’m going to get this money back for you’.

We didn’t know the address of the person who sold them, just that it was in Littledown. We knocked on every single door, he would not give up, he found the person and managed to solve it. He did that for me, which sums up exactly what he’s like.

He is also the most forgetful person. He would lose on average a wallet a week. His mum would get him a new tracksuit, he would put it down as goalposts and leave it there.

Or when he went to Germany for the 2006 World Cup. He had a brand new bag or tracksuit his mum had spent a load of money on. He just ended up putting it down on the floor and gets on the coach. I’m there picking it up, banging on the coach to give it back to him. He was so laser-focused on one thing, he could never focus on anything else.

I look back on that time very fondly.

Bournemouth Echo:

I couldn’t care less if he wins or loses in boxing, personally. He is my best friend, I just don’t want him to get hurt. But it’s been quite unique for me to watch it pan out, because I was there from the first training session, then going up and down the country watching amateur fights and watching his journey from his first fight down in Weymouth on the pier.

I don’t remember anything about the night, apart from afterwards when they got sausage and beans, and I was hoping I got some of that because I was starving as we’d been there since lunchtime! The whole night was some poor boxing, pretty low standard, but he won, pretty convincingly. I remember even then, he knew he wanted to do boxing. He got hooked from that first win.

I recently went for breakfast with him and we always joke how many people are we going to run into that recognise him. He’s just terrible at it, he gets awkward and doesn’t know what to say when people come up to him and say he’s their favourite boxer and an inspiration.

He’s so humble with it. I’m way more flash than him and I sell safety shoes as a job!

It’s quite nice I can safely say he has genuinely not changed since the day he walked through that boxing gym to now.

I know him as the man and the boy as opposed to the boxer. It’s been a pleasure to witness, for me personally. I’ve got the utmost respect for him, the way he conducts himself.

I’m very close to his family as well, so the whole story is just wonderful.

See part one here with Junior Stanislas, explaining Billam-Smith's integration into AFC Bournemouth.