CHRIS Billam-Smith expects his showdown with Mateusz Masternak to be a “phenomenal fight”, and expressed his desire to “prove that I’m a worthy champion”.

The Gentleman (18-1) is set for his first world title defence this weekend, when facing the experienced Pole (47-5) at the Bournemouth International Centre.

Hometown hero Billam-Smith became WBO cruiserweight champion in stunning fashion, beating previously undefeated Lawrence Okolie at a sold-out Vitality Stadium in May.

Looking ahead to his first world title defence, the Shane McGuigan-trained star told the Daily Echo: “It should be a phenomenal fight.

“Even the fights he’s lost on points have been really close fights.

“He’s always in good, exciting fights the whole time. He’s always competitive. Our styles are going to gel so well, a lot more than last time out!

“For sure there’s a huge amount of pressure on me in the fight.

“The outside world sees Masternak and they’ve never heard of him, or the few that do maybe only know him from the Tony Bellew fight years ago.

“But when you actually look at him as a fighter and what he does well, who he has boxed and how close those fights were, he’s a much harder fight than the bookies are making him, for sure.

“I’m aware of that. It’s important me and my team know what he brings.

“We know that and we’ve prepared for the best version of Masternak possible. I feel like this is very best version of me that you’ll see on Sunday night.”

In the build-up to the Okolie fight, Billam-Smith was struggling with illness.

Bournemouth Echo:

“I can honestly say I’m feeling a lot better today than I was this time last camp! It’s been a really, really good camp and I’m excited,” he said.

“I’m obviously coming in as defending champion, back to the BIC as well.

“It just holds the noise a bit better. It’s a small, intimate venue.

“It’s a bit like when you go to gigs at a festival, or you see a band at a more intimate venue.

“They seem to just be a bit louder in the smaller venues.

“It should be an unbelievable atmosphere on Sunday.”

While the main goal will undoubtedly be to ensure he leaves the BIC still world champion, Billam-Smith admits he also wants to do so in style.

“Everyone that comes out to watch me, I want to put on a good display for them and have them leaving happy,” he said.

“It’s also BOXXER and Sky Sports, I want to keep them happy, because they’ve done a huge amount for me.

“And then just keep performing well for Shane and myself as well.

“There’s always that pressure of performing and being exciting with it as well. That’s always something I look to do.

“Coming back here as defending champion is amazing for me. I’m absolutely buzzing.

“I need to prove that I’m a worthy champion and I want to be a long-reigning one as well.

“All eyes are on Sunday night.”

Asked if he feels any differently coming into the fight as the champion rather than the challenger, Billam-Smith said: “It gives you a huge amount of confidence, because you’ve been there and done it now.

“The last fight was so big for me and the town, so I feel a lot of pressure, but also the confidence that comes with that.

“All that just makes me grow. The pressure makes me grow and makes me feel a foot taller and like a better fighter and athlete.”