Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight


By Arne K. Lang

In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.


Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.


In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings. Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.