Boxing in his hometown of Bournemouth this weekend is a big deal for Chris Billam-Smith, so much so that he turned down a contract extension with Matchroom to do it.
Billam-Smith defends his European and Commonwealth cruiserweight titles against Isaac Chamberlain on Saturday night at the Bournemouth International Centre (or the BIC as everyone calls it locally). It is a venue that has a special place in Billam-Smith’s heart. He saw his first ever gig – the Arctic Monkeys – there and once spent the night camping outside waiting for Oasis tickets to go on sale.
“I love that venue, plenty of happy memories for me,” Billam-Smith said. “I have run past it many times too. There is a nasty, nasty hill next to it, which goes up to the clifftop and I have spent many times running up that in a lot of pain.
“It is three-and-a-half years since I boxed in Bournemouth. It was at the O2 Academy. There were probably about 600 people there that night. We are probably looking at 3,500-4,000 on Saturday.
“The only reason I did not sign an extension with Matchroom was that they could not guarantee me a fight in Bournemouth next. I’ve asked for it for a while and felt I earned it and the town really wants it too.
“People are always asking when am I fighting back home and it is good to show that business can be done down here. Then we can keep putting on shows down here and bring the talent through and put on great shows for the town.”
Billam-Smith’s career is on a high after two wins over Tommy McCarthy that saw him unify the British, Commonwealth and European titles. The one blot on Billam-Smith’s record is a split decision loss to Richard Riakporhe in 2019. While he has agreed a one-fight deal with Boxxer, who are Riakporhe’s promoters, he doesn’t feel a rematch is likely to happen without a world title on the line.
“It’s a business at the end of the day and the fights have to make sense,” Billam-Smith. “I don’t think that rematch would take place for less than a world title now. It’s an exciting division, there are a lot of good fighters from Britain and all the world champions are good fighters.”
Neither is he taking Chamberlain lightly. Still best known for his dull loss to Lawrence Okolie (who is Billam-Smith’s training partner), Chamberlain has been getting some big headlines of his own over the last couple of years.
“I’m his lottery ticket if he could beat me, so I am well aware of the dangers,” he said. “But this is a fight I am so up for. It’s a great opponent and it is a new style for me, which I find exciting, as it gives me an opportunity to improve.”
The BIC is not the end of Billam-Smith’s ambition in his hometown, though. He has been an AFC Bournemouth fan since a small boy – when they played in the fourth tier - and has ambitions of boxing for a world title at the now Premier League team’s ground next summer.
“That’s the dream and the plan to fight there next summer, May, June time,” he said. “That comes down to me keeping winning. It’s a realistic goal now. The ground is still called Dean Court to most Cherries fans, although it is officially the Vitality Stadium.
“I had a season ticket there when I was 12, the League Two-League One era. I had a season ticket the year we got promoted to League One when we beat Lincoln City. I couldn’t go because it was Cardiff, Wembley was being rebuilt, and my mum wouldn’t let me go on my own, so I had to watch it on TV – I was devastated not to be there. The club is very close to me, so it would be a dream to fight there.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.