Chris Billam-Smith retained his WBO cruiserweight title and avenged the only defeat of his career by earning a unanimous decision over Richard Riakporhe at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.

The rivals had first fought in 2019, when Riakporhe earned a split decision , and had both since improved, but five years on Billam-Smith’s dominance was such that their rematch was considerably less competitive.

At the conclusion of 12 largely one-sided rounds he was awarded one score of 116-111 and two others of 115-112, and against an often one-dimensional opponent perhaps deserved an even wider margin of victory.

Riakporhe and his trainer Angel Fernandez had spoken with conviction about not only his improved technique, but their belief that his raw power would prove enough to dethrone Billam-Smith – like Riakporhe 34 years old – on the occasion of the second defence of his title.

He looked polished in the opening rounds behind an authoritative jab that he followed up with straight right hands and, in the second round, a right hand to the body, but as early as the fourth  Billam-Smith made adjustments that negated some of the threat Riakporhe posed and he thereafter built a convincing lead.

Riakporhe struggled, thereafter, to recover the consistency of his jab, and while he continued to attempt to land his powerful right hand, on the occasions he did so, Billam-Smith absorbed his power and swiftly responded by landing flurries of punches that ensured that he continued to outwork him.

In the fifth round they exchanged punches to head and body, but as they did so Riakporhe appeared to lack the same sense of belief. Billam-Smith’s trainer Shane McGuigan had said that Riakporhe would struggle against an opponent who forced him to fight at a greater pace than he favoured, and so, to the frustration of the challenger, it consistently proved.

It was the champion who largely dictated the range and pace at which they fought and, with Riakporhe so limited on the inside, he became even more ineffective. 

Billam-Smith, in turn, continued to grow in confidence and perhaps also seemed to believe that Riakporhe’s power was not to be feared. He therefore more regularly let his hands go and even more convincingly outworked him, and as he did so he even watched Riakporhe visibly tire.

Riakporhe landed successive right hands in the seventh, but was punished in the eighth when Billam-Smith succeeded with a left hand when he was on his way in.

The ninth, regardless, was when his finest chance of victory came and went. He hurt Billam-Smith more than ever before with one right hand, and though he swung and missed with another that was particularly wild, he hurt him again with successive rights but failed to capitalise on doing so and gradually saw him recover.

After occasionally again looking naive and limited, Riakporhe landed a left-right combination in the 11th and again was frustrated by Billam-Smith immediately responding similarly.

In so many respects his evening – set up for success in south London in front of his supporters – was encapsulated in the final round when, after repeated warnings from the referee Steve Gray and with him having run out of ideas, he was finally deducted a point for his use of the head. When the final bell rang Billam-Smith celebrated and Riakporhe didn’t. Both had come to expect the scores to be beyond doubt.