Chris Billam-Smith is taking the conviction of his victory over Lawrence Okolie into Saturday’s rematch with Richard Riakporhe.

The WBO cruiserweight champion makes the second defence of the title he won from Okolie at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, aware that when they fought in 2019, Riakporhe outpointed him to inflict his only defeat.

When he defeated Okolie in May 2023 he did so having regularly sparred the then-champion and having mostly experienced Okolie having the edge.

His considerable improvement since the time of his first fight with Riakporhe was demonstrated by him not only dethroning Okolie, but doing so convincingly, and the experience of that is enhancing his confidence ahead of his fight with Riakporhe – the knowledge that regardless of Riakporhe’s previous victory over him he is a fighter transformed.

“That’s the thing – don’t focus too much on other people; just focus on my own work and what I’m really good at and what I do really well,” said Billam-Smith, like Riakporhe 34 years old. “The people that know, know, and the people that matter know. Just like the Lawrence fight, I showed everyone what it is about, and I’ll be doing the same Saturday.

“There was a long period down in Kent where [Okolie would] probably get the better of me in most spars. The first spar we ever had in Wandsworth, I definitely got the better of him, and it was a big shock for him. That’s probably why he wanted to join the gym [and trainer Shane McGuigan], because he’d put me in a bracket of domestic-level-max. 

“The time in Kent it wasn’t the best sparring from me. When we went back up to London, we weren’t sparring that much, but we had a few spars and I felt like I’d made improvements. He still probably won more rounds than I did, but it was more even. Then, after he left the gym, and after the Tommy McCarthy fight and the Isaac [Chamberlain] fight, I just grew in confidence massively. Both those fights were within months of him leaving the gym, so they were huge bonuses for me, and changed me as a fighter.”

The heavy-handed Riakporhe, similarly, has improved since 2019, owing to his trainer Angel Fernandez’s attempts to make him a more polished fighter.

“In some areas I do think he’s improved,” Billam-Smith said. “He’s a lot more cool, calm and collected – composed – now. He was a bit more wild before, which comes with experience. He’s neatened things up a bit. But I just don’t think he’s improved nowhere near as much as I have.

“His rawness made him dangerous. He was a lot more wild and he just chucked everything out there. If he’d been like he is now he might not have got over the line that night with the decision. That rawness was definitely important.”