Shane McGuigan targeted unification fights with Gilberto Ramirez, Noel Mikaelian and Jai Opetaia after watching Chris Billam-Smith produce what he considered the finest performance of his career to defeat Richard Riakporhe on Saturday evening.

After suggestions that his victory in December over Mateusz Masternak showed him to be a fighter in decline, Billam-Smith, 34, made the second defence of his WBO cruiserweight title and instead demonstrated that he is continuing to improve.

Against his heavy-handed rival – Riakporhe, also 34, had in 2019 inflicted Billam-Smith’s only defeat – he produced his most disciplined and intelligent performance at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park to earn scores of 116-111, 115-112 and 115-112 that perhaps ought to have been wider.

Ramirez is the WBA champion, Noel Mikaelian the champion of the WBC, and Opetaia the IBF champion widely considered the division’s number one. 

After proving himself beyond doubt the finest cruiserweight in Britain it is contests against Ramirez and Opetaia that represent the most lucrative Billam-Smith can secure. McGuigan, the trainer widely recognised among the finest in Britain, also wants those fights to happen while his fighter is at his peak. 

Billam-Smith had already spoken of his desire to fight Ramirez in Las Vegas when McGuigan said: “We’ve got to go for a unified world title. I would love that. I’d like that against Ramirez or Noel Mikaelian, the WBC champion, and then we’d look to box [Jai] Opetaia early next summer. That’s the dream fight. Why wouldn’t we want to do that for an undisputed [title]? 

“Challenges is the most important thing. You can see when he’s up against it – Lawrence Okolie; Richard Riakporhe; two guys the bookies had clear favourites – he goes and does the business. He rises to the occasion. 

“Some fighters are fantastic in the gym – got every skill every world – and other fighters can go and perform and execute out there when it really matters, and that’s Chris Billam-Smith. He strives for minor percentages, and over time it’s always accumulated.”

Having built his reputation with Carl Frampton and perhaps enhanced it with George Groves, Billam-Smith, a less celebrated fighter who regardless has reached a similar level, perhaps represents McGuigan’s greatest success. 

“He’s been unbelievable to work with,” the trainer continued. “As a coach you have to be able to add value to the fighter, and you also have to be able to maximise them, and I want to be able to get to the end of Chris Billam-Smith’s career and say, ‘There’s not one extra per cent left in you’. Even though he’d won a world title, there was still more in him. At the top level, physically, he’s there, but how you strategically manage your energy throughout the fight, and that confidence and belief that you’ve got – that’s where you get your extra percentages. 

“Two stadium fights – that’s his third world-title fight. It’s phenomenal and that’s where you get that confidence and that experience, and I’m incredibly proud of him.

“You have to be able to have an athlete that’s willing to go above and beyond and look for percentages here and there, and that’s exactly what he’s done. The two of us have been working together. We’re always having great conversations; we’re always analysing things. There’s no finger pointing. 

“He had a loss against Riakporhe; we went back and we just built on it, and even on that last performance, he had a slightly bad performance, but we both went back and we both stripped it all down and said, ‘How do we need to get better?, and that’s exactly what he went and did. It was 10 times the performance of [that against] Masternak.”