THE stirring 12-rounder between Chris Billam-Smith and Isaac Chamberlain at the weekend was everything we wanted it to be and more.
Working full-time in boxing – particularly at Boxing News, where all manner of horrors are brought to your attention on a daily basis – can leave you questioning your affection for such a brutal trade. Then a fight like Billam-Smith vs Chamberlain comes along and, wow, we fall in love with that brutal trade all over again.
Where to start? Well, perhaps right at the beginning when these two fine boxers agreed to fight each other in the first place. There would have been easier routes to ‘world’ title shots, via bogus international titles and comparatively undemanding opposition. Yet they each signed on the dotted line, with the minimum of fuss, confident in their own abilities and each eager to enhance their education in a hard fight. Here in the UK, there is nothing – nothing – that compares to a well-matched domestic showdown.
The setting, on the South Coast of England in the midst of a golden summer, was another masterstroke. We all love York Hall, we’ve grown to appreciate the O2, the Echo Arena, and many other established fight venues in British cities, too. But taking the sport to Bournemouth, the home town of defending European and Commonwealth champion Billam-Smith, only heightened the allure of an already appealing contest. Maybe the transport links aren’t quite as good as more central, landlocked venues, but who doesn’t like a trip to the seaside? The concept of boxing on the coast, for big events, is one that could really enrich the whole experience for ticket-buyers. Why not throw in a trip to the boxing with your weekend away…
The real aces in the sleeve were the incredible efforts of the two fighters. They went off at an insane pace inside a hot venue. The second round set the tone for the rest of the contest and, by the end of the third, Chamberlain was quietly nursing a broken orbital bone. Beneath his skin the swelling grew until, in round 11, it split and blood spewed from his eye. He would later spend the night in hospital.
The back-and-forth action was awe-inspiring. Every time it looked like the relentless pressure of Billam-Smith was going to take over, Chamberlain fired back with clever but gutsy attacks. Maybe neither fighter will go on to rule the world but on this night, they gave everything. Absolutely everything.
We should never, ever, forget that. The risks the fighters take and the pain they endure, not only during the fight but following contests as gruelling as that, for days and weeks. But sometimes we do forget. Sometimes we’re too cruel in our observations or we’re too quick to criticise.
Indeed, the lessons that bouts like Billam-Smith vs Chamberlain can teach us are plentiful. One, for the likes of BN editors, to try to not get too bogged down in the Jake Paul-takeovers or Mayweather-McGregor rematches and instead spend more time focusing on the good stuff. Two, and this is one for promoters, stop guiding domestic stars down the path of least resistance when there is so much domestic talent out there to match them with. These are the kind of fights that can make lifelong fans out of newcomers to the sport and, better still, the kind of challenges that get boxers ready for greater ones. Look at the leading British fighters in almost every division, imagine the contests that could be made between them. And three, as fans, we should never underestimate the lengths that boxers go to in the pursuit of victory.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the lessons for the fighters. They will have gained more in those 36 minutes than they possibly could have done by blowing away poor opposition. Chamberlain, cruelly written off after a dull encounter with Lawrence Okolie in 2018, may have lost a close fight but he’s a better fighter because of it. For Billam-Smith, whose improvement in recent years via consistently seeking out tough challenges should not be understated, now looks ahead to a fight with world cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia, mooted for next year, with his chances of victory strengthened.