There is an old picture of Richard Riakporhe wearing a Millwall FC soccer strip that has led to some questioning his legitimacy as a Crystal Palace fan ahead of this weekend’s fight with Chris Billam-Smith at Selhurst Park - home of Crystal Palace. 

Is it all part of the promotion? 

Riakporhe challenges the WBO cruiserweight champion, a die-hard Bournemouth soccer fan, who ultimately doesn’t care who Riakporhe cheers for on a Saturday afternoon. 

Riakporhe defeated CBS via split decision five years ago and now Billam-Smith is the WBO champion and Riakporhe his mandatory challenger. 

It’s a given that the champion has improved, but what of the 17-0 (13 KOs) challenger?

“I think he’s tidied things up,” Billam-Smith said. “I think he does some things better, but overall I think it’s not going to benefit him in this fight. I think that rawness he had before got him out of a lot of situations. If he was in the same situation in the Sam Hyde fight [who he stopped in eight] where he is now, not saying the same ability but at that level, then he wouldn’t have had that rawness to get him out of it. 

“I was a different person back then [when they first boxed], let alone a different fighter, so it’s hard to compare that fight, but that rawness got him out of a lot of situations. He actually said to me when we were filming some pre-fight stuff that I actually lose a lot of rounds. That’s rich, coming from someone like him. He’s lost a lot of rounds and been down in a lot of his fights and he’s pulled it out the bag. Against lower opposition than when I’ve done it. He’s tidied things up in a few areas, but I don’t think it’s going to benefit him in the slightest.”

Riakporhe admitted that he thought they had gone their separate ways for good, but CBS always felt like a return could be likely, although Billam-Smith also feels he might have interrupted larger plans to match Riakporhe with Lawrence Okolie, whom the Bournemouth boxer defeated for the title last May. 

“I assumed as long as he kept on winning then our paths would cross,” Billam-Smith said. “I thought I’d end up fighting him for his world title because of the nature of the beast, he’s unbeaten, he’s getting talked about. Him and Lawrence was getting built up, he was mandatory for the IBF and I thought if he can get over the line with that then I’d fight him.

“I jumped in the ring after the Krzysztof Glowacki fight [which Riakporhe won in four rounds in January 2023] thinking hopefully we can get a unification but in my head I was thinking I would have to fight him for his world title but instead he boxed Dylan Bregeon for two rounds on a nothing fight on an undercard in Wolverhampton, and I’ve beaten Lawrence since then for the world title and defended it against [Mateusz] Masternak. So I thought our paths would cross, but I didn’t think it would be me making my second defense of my world title against him as my mandatory.”

Riakporhe denies that he has turned big fights down, having been linked with IBF champion Jai Opetaia and former WBA ruler Arsen Goulamirian. Whatever the details of past negotiations, the challenger believes his time is now while Billam-Smith remains satisfied he grasped his opportunity when it came his way last May.

“Around the time he [Riakporhe] turned down Opetaia, we were trying to get Opetaia for the stadium fight [in Bournemouth], we were trying to get Goulamirian, and I know the team was working hard. I think the issue was managers, which Opetaia’s spoken openly about, so it ended up being Lawrence [for CBS]. 

“Obviously we didn’t want to fight Lawrence because of the mutual respect between us as a team and Lawrence [who was a former campmate with trainer Shane McGuigan]. He never fell out with Shane or anything like that, but then we needed a stadium for a world title fight it made sense. Lawrence was next in line. He’d just boxed. He was unscathed. So we knew he’d had nine weeks and it was probably a better thing for him because he was already in shape going in to camp [having just beaten David Light]. 

“We knew it was a risky fight, but we tried to fight the world champions and we ended up fighting one of them, beating them, and now I am one of them.”