Lawrence Okolie will get to make up for lost time.

A career-long 13 month layoff endured by the WBO cruiserweight titlist is now followed by his second fight in a two-month span. Okolie is set to make the fourth defense of his title versus countryman Chris Billam-Smith atop a May 27 Sky Sports show from Vitality Stadium in the challenger’s hometown of Bournemouth, England.

BOXXER confirmed the title defense during a press conference held Tuesday in London.

"I'm pumped, I'm ready to go,” said Okolie, barely a week removed from a 12-round win over New Zealand’s David Light on March 25 in Manchester, England. “I've just come off a successful defense where I won all 12 rounds against an unknown but tough competitor, a national champion in his homeland.

“Now weeks later I am going in against a known tough boxer, the highly-ranked former European champion and current Commonwealth champion Chris Billam-Smith.”

Okolie (19-0, 14KOs) will enjoy his quickest turnaround in more than four years, marking his second title fight in a nine-week span. It followed a forced extended ring absence as Okolie was at odds with Matchroom Boxing, with whom he signed following a stellar amateur career that included a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics with Team Great Britain.

The rift put Okolie’s career on hold, leaving him out of the ring since a twelve-round victory over Michal Cieslak last February 27 at The O2 in his London hometown. The messy split hindered the mandatory title defense process for Okolie’s due fight with Light, which the WBO sent to immediate purse bid giving the existing legal dispute. The teams for Okolie and Light eventually reached terms, which also marked his eventually signing with BOXXER.

The title defense versus Billam-Smith (17-1, 12KOs)—a top contender and a former Okolie sparring partner—will headline the first stadium event for the second-year UK promotional outfit.

“I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that this is going to be one of the best events of the year,” stated BOXXER CEO and founder Ben Shalom. “If you were lucky enough to get a ticket for the previous Bournemouth events, you’ll know the fans and the atmosphere are off the charts.

“For Chris Billam-Smith this is a dream come true. To fight for the world title in his hometown, in his football team’s stadium, in front of a sold-out crowd cheering him on…it’s the stuff dreams are made of. But Lawrence Okolie is a fighting champion. He had no hesitation in taking the fight in Bournemouth. He’s ice cold. He is undefeated. And he’s certainly not bothered about the crowd being against him. In fact that just sweetens the deal for him.”

It also works out well for the first-time title challenger.

Billam-Smith was always due to headline the May 27 Sky Sports date, which was previously teased as a blockbuster event for the 32-year-old cruiserweight. There was speculation that he could fight WBA cruiserweight titlist Arsen Goulamirian (27-0, 18KOs), the division’s only titleholder who is yet to be linked to any fight in 2023.

Okolie became the surprise champ to step forward for the Bournemouth native, who has won eight in a row since a narrow, split decision defeat to Richard Riakporhe in their July 2019 battle of unbeaten prospects.

"Fighting someone I know well for a world title is a very exciting opportunity,” stated Billam-Smith, who is coming off a fifth-round knockout of Armend Xhoxhaj in a stay-busy hometown showcase last December 17 in Bournemoth. “I’m elated to be fighting at the home of my beloved AFC Bournemouth in front of my phenomenal fans and on May 27th I will repay them by winning a world title."

Naturally, the defending titlist has other ideas. Okolie feels good about his chances of retaining the WBO cruiserweight belt he first claimed in a March 2021 sixth-round knockout over three-time titleholder Krzysztof Glowacki, especially in a quick turnaround after shaking loose any remaining ring rust in his previous outing.

“Not many fighters make back to back defenses in such a short space of time,” noted Okolie. “Not many pick the hardest fights available to them, but that's what I'm about.

“Chris - I love you, but I have to get the KO in this one."

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox