CHRIS Billam-Smith expressed his continued gratitude to the McGuigan family, insisting: “Every fight, I never want to disappoint them.”

Billam-Smith turned pro under Shane McGuigan in 2017 and has gone on to have a remarkable rise, all the way up to becoming world champion.

He defends his WBO cruiserweight belt against Richard Riakporhe at Selhurst Park tomorrow.

Billam-Smith’s relationship with Shane McGuigan and his father, the legendary Barry McGuigan, has become more than just that of a trainer-boxer.

Barry McGuigan ringside at the BIC (Image: Richard Crease)

In the recent documentary Stable, broadcast on the BBC, Shane McGuigan said of ‘The Gentleman’: “If there were six billion Chris Billam-Smiths in the world, it would be a better place.”

Asked for his reaction to that, Billam-Smith told the Daily Echo: “I’m not necessarily sure on that quote, I’m sure there’s a lot of much better people than me out there!

“But it’s a real special relationship I’ve got with Shane. He’s one of my best mates.

“I see him every day. I see him more than my own family probably, throughout the year.

“He is like a brother to me, him and Josh Pritchard. We have a great relationship.

“A similar age, similar personalities and sense of humour. We’re both fathers now as well to young boys.

“It's been a crazy journey. Shane was someone I always admired, before I got the chance to work with him, admired his work and obviously admire him even more after the work we’ve done together and seeing it first-hand.

“It’s a real special relationship and one I’m very grateful to have.”

Shane McGuigan has developed Billam-Smith into a world championShane McGuigan has developed Billam-Smith into a world champion (Image: BBC)

He added: “The McGuigans took a punt on me in a way, early doors.

“I’ve just been trying to repay them ever since really. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime which came up for me and I’ve just tried to make the most out of that.

“I feel like I’m doing so, but that doesn’t end with winning a world title.

“Every fight I never want to disappoint them. I even had Barry take one of the bag sessions recently, because Shane was away in Saudi Arabia.

“Just having Barry there looking over you, you don’t want to upset him. You don’t want to make him think any less of you, so the work-rate is so high.

“It was such a hard session, because you know Barry is watching you the whole time while you’re on the bags. So you’re constantly punching, you’re constantly letting your hands go.

“They are just people that are like friends and like a second family to me, so you don’t to let them down for that.

“But also the stature they hold in the boxing business, you don’t want to let them down and the opportunity they’ve given me. I owe them so much.”

His next chance to impress comes this weekend, as Billam-Smith (19-1) looks to avenge the only loss on his pro record, against unbeaten Riakporhe (17-0). The Londoner goes into the fight as favourite with the bookmakers.

It is Billam-Smith’s first outing since defeating Mateusz Masternak in front of a home crowd at the BIC back in December.

While the Bournemouth favourite got the job done inside the distance, his performance drew some criticism, with Masternak leading the fight before withdrawing hurt in the eighth round.

Reflecting back on that win, Billam-Smith said: “It wasn’t a great performance, but to still come out of it (as champion). Even the camp, I had a really good start, then I fell ill and never really felt back to my best for the last three weeks really.

“But that’s just part of boxing, that happens. But there’s plenty of stuff I needed to work on, which we’ve done.

“But at the same time, to still get that result I did against him, even though I didn’t box to my best and no-one had ever got rid of him in eight rounds before.

“There’s still positives to take as well.

“It’s been a long camp. I’ve been in full camp since February having been ticking over in January. That’s kind of how I like it, to be honest.”

Chris Billam-Smith is getting used to headlining events (Image: Richard Crease)

Next up is a second stadium fight for Billam-Smith, having headlined at Vitality Stadium last summer.

Asked if big shows such as this are becoming second nature to him now, the 33-year-old said: “I am very grateful, very appreciative and honoured to have these opportunities.

“But I don’t think I’m going to fully appreciate it until I’m done in the sport.

“When I look back at my career in retirement, I’ll be able to appreciate it a lot more and think ‘bloody hell, I’ve done well here’.

“But in the moment, it’s hard because you’re in it, you’re living it and I think only in reflection can you truly appreciate a lot of things in life.

“Especially stuff like that when it’s going on in your career and you’re very focused on the task at hand.

“At the end of the day, for me it’s just another fight in a boxing ring, another defence of the world title.

“So it’s not irrelevant where it is, because I’m very geed up in terms of where it is and honoured to be at a football stadium.

“But I don’t think I’ll truly appreciate it until all is said and done.”