Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith used to be friends. They might be once again, but only after their cruiserweight world title fight on Saturday night.
There was nothing but cold professionalism between the two under the hot sun on Bournemouth Pier at Thursday’s press conference.
Sparring partners when they were both at Shane McGuigan’s gym, they will box for Okolie’s WBO belt at the 15,000 seat Vitality Stadium this weekend, live on Sky Sports.
For Billam-Smith boxing in his hometown against Okolie for a world title is a moment of destiny.
But the champion had a harsh message for him.
“I’m coming to make an extremely big statement,” Okolie declared. “I’m my own man on my own journey and there’s stuff that I want and need and I’m ready to fight for it.”
When he saw Billam-Smith at the previous day’s public workout, Okolie calmly predicted he’d win by knockout.
“I built him up, [thinking] this guy’s a monster, he’s going to be throwing punch after punch,” Okolie said. “Then I saw him and it’s just a guy.
“I’ve shown time and time again I’m ready to take the risk and do what needs to be done.
“I can say I’m in amazing shape and I’m coming to do a job.”
Billam-Smith knows he is going up against a strong champion. But he expects to be inspired on the night.
“I got to see the stadium yesterday and it put a huge smile on my face and filled me with a lot emotion,” he said. “I’ve been visualising this and planning for this for many years.
“We’re right at the pinnacle.”
“There can’t be any more pressure on me in the rest of my career than this Saturday night,” Billam-Smith continued. “This whole show is built around me.
“I always say pressure’s a privilege and I soak it up.”
The duel between the two corners will also be an intriguing subplot. McGuigan was Okolie’s former trainer, but has coached Billam-Smith throughout his career.
He thinks it can only be a good thing for the contest that the two fighters know each other well.
“Watching [Okolie] spar countless rounds, they both had a lot of success. Let’s see who does it best with the small gloves on,” McGuigan said.
“Chris winning on Saturday makes him a superstar. The first guy to bring a world title fight down to Bournemouth.”
SugarHill Steward, Okolie’s new trainer, isn’t concerned about how familiar the two fighters are with one another.
“I know they sparred a lot together,” the American trainer said. “It’s only normal in boxing.
“It all just counts on the night. It’s up to those two fighters to figure out what they can do to each other.”
He relishes the challenge Billam-Smith in Bournemouth will give Okolie.
“The crowd out here is electric,” Steward said. “I know this place is going to go crazy and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Don’t miss Lawrence Okolie vs Chris Billam-Smith live on Sky Sports Action and Sky Showcase from 7pm on Saturday night.
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