CHAMPION Chris Billam-Smith shot down claims from challenger Richard Riakporhe he was suffering from “wear and tear”, insisting: “There’s no decline.”

Riakporhe (17-0) faces Billam-Smith (19-1) at Selhurst Park on Saturday night, looking to win the WBO cruiserweight title.

The two fought back in 2019, Riakporhe winning by split decision, in what remains the only professional defeat of Billam-Smith’s career.

Billam-Smith became world champion by defeating previously unbeaten Lawrence Okolie at Vitality Stadium last summer.

He then defended his belt at the Bournemouth International Centre, Mateusz Masternak retiring hurt, having been leading in the fight.

And Riakporhe, who is favourite with the bookmakers to emerge victorious in south London, believes the Bournemouth star is on the way down.

“Sometimes I’ll go on Twitter and see some of the comments and what people are saying about his performances,” explained the 34-year-old.

“To say the least, it wasn’t really good. People mentioned about the deterioration and it brought it to light.

“That’s when I thought, let me see what this deterioration is really about, because boxing is not easy.

“Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes you have an off day or a bad performance, that’s normal.

“But when I watched the fights back, from a technical analysis, I started to see a lot of gaps.

“I wondered, what’s the difference? I watched my fight back with him and I noticed he was much more live, he was fresh.

“I feel like it’s a normal wear and tear on a boxer.

“When you’re taking too many shots and you’re gifted with a chin like CBS, sometimes you want to say it’s not affecting you, but it is. It’s science.

“You can’t afford it. Which is why we can’t stay in our prime forever.

“We’re going to see what he has left.

“Maybe he’s still all right, maybe he’s not. It all depends when I land the shots in the fight.”

(Image: Stuart Martin)

Billam-Smith replied: “I think he’s just hoping for it, to be honest.

“There’s no decline and you’ll see that on Saturday night.”

Asked how much he has changed as a fighter since the two last went head-to-head, Billam-Smith added: “I’m different in so many ways.

“It’s so irrelevant. I almost see it as a different person, like it’s 20 years ago in boxing terms.

“It seems that long ago because I’m such a different fighter.

“It’s been a great journey from then to now. The experience and growth I’ve had is massive.”

Billam-Smith’s trainer Shane McGuigan concurred, saying: “He’s got the experience. He uses his jab a lot more effectively.

“He doesn’t waste energy and run around the ring. He’s a lot more poised when he’s in there.

“He uses his feints to his advantage and he’s got that inner belief.

“These are the things that can make those attacks more meaningful.

“He’s just a completely different beast these days.”

Riakporhe added: “I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a very long time. I’m just hungry. I’m ready to take this title.

“It’s a proper fight. A lot of people loved the first one and they’re very interested in seeing the second one.

“We’re ready to get it on.”