Lawrence Okolie vs Chris Billam-Smith: How ‘Workmates’ Rivaled the World Title


World champion Okolie (left) is unbeaten in 19 professional fights, while Billam-Smith (right) has 17 wins and one loss.

Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith describe their relationship as “ex-colleagues”, but colleagues don’t usually end their trade in front of 15,000 excited spectators in a football stadium.

WBO heavyweight champion Okolie will defend his belt against home fighter and former trainer Billam-Smith at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth on Saturday.

Billam-Smith is coached by Shane McGuigan, who coached Okolie before the couple split last year.

“We were not good friends. “We’re not out of the gym,” Billam-Smith said.

Okolie added: “It’s like having a friend at work. They’ve never seen your house or been with you, but you love them when you go to work.”

Whether they’re best friends or just acquaintances, there’s still plenty of intrigue surrounding the all-British world title fight.

After playing more than 300 rounds together, ‘Sauce’ Okolie and ‘Gentleman’ Billam-Smith feel they have outgrown their former stable mate.

From friends at work to enemies

Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith sit side by side in the McGuigan gymnasium
The two fighters are gym mates with Okolie apart from trainer Shane McGuigan.

With McGuigan in his corner, Okoli took the vacant 2021 world title from Krzysztof Glowacki. Billam-Smith jumped up and watched from the ring when Okolie landed a decisive blow in the sixth round.

Two years later, the undercurrent of tension is bubbling.

“He’s always been Shane’s favourite,” Okolie, 30, told BBC Sport.

“Chris probably watches me every day in the gym. Wanting what I have, looking back and thinking that one day I will fight with this person.

“The worse it gets, the more I think we were never really friends. Maybe he just put himself there.”

Billam-Smith is a British, Commonwealth and European champion and the first challenger to the WBO title.

“Maybe I’m Shane’s favorite because I’m the one who comes every week. I was there every lap and Lawrence wasn’t,” he said.

“I didn’t think I’d fight Lawrence when I had Shane. When people are in the gym, you don’t expect them to leave, especially how much Lawrence thought of Shane.

“But as soon as he got out of the gym, Shane and I talked and we got on with it.”

Okolie returns to form – Billam-Smith

Chris Billam-Smith beats Armend Hoxhage
Billam-Smith defeated Armend Hockhai in the fifth round in his previous fight.

Billam-Smith is about to fulfill his childhood dream of competing on the ground for his favorite football team, Bournemouth.

“When I’m not Chris Billam-Smith a boxer and I’m a little boy who grew up in the city and went to watch football and dreamed of winning a world title, it’s really a pinch,” he said.

Okolie McGuigan, 32, says he has “grown tenfold” since leaving the gym. He also acknowledges the effectiveness of Okoli’s clumsy style, but believes that insider knowledge gives him a unique position.

“A lot of people look at Lawrence over the years and think they can beat him. “I never thought about it,” he said.

“You have to spend enough time with it to understand it. I knew and was fortunate enough to know his strengths and weaknesses.”

Despite his unbeaten record, Okoli has been criticized for disappointing and unspectacular performances in the past. In some cases, he used his size and superiority to dominate the fight and win.

“He goes back to typing. You can’t change the whole fighter in that time,” said Billam-Smith.

“It’s going to be a slightly different game plan when he’s with Shane, but there’s a lot going on.”

Silver Guardian Gorilla Released – Okoli

Lawrence Okolie and David Light missed the punch
Okolie, who beat David Light on points in March, is defending his WBO title for the fourth time

This will be Okolie’s second fight against American trainer Sugarhill Steward after defeating rival David Light in March.

Steward likes to introduce his famous “Cronk” style to his fighters – an aggressive approach to boxing on the front foot and looking for knockouts.

Okoli compares himself to a “silverback gorilla” released by his trainer.

“I think Chris and his team went out on a hunt and got away with chimpanzees and orangutans,” he explains.

“They start to think they’re good and can take out the gorilla. You may have known the gorilla when he was in the enclosure, but now he is outside and there are no chains.

“I’ll show you what it really is. What a gorilla can do. I surprise him. They expect certain things and I’ve worked hard not to give them that.”

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