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What next for WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith? Richard Riakporhe rematch could be on the cards...

Chris Billam-Smith dug deep to successfully defend his prized WBO cruiserweight title against Mateusz Masternak on Sunday night, and it appears that a hotly-anticipated rematch with Richard Riakporhe is now on the horizon...

So, nice guys do finish first, just ask Chris Billam-Smith.

The Bournemouth boxer, the man they call The Gentleman, woke up on Monday morning still the cruiserweight champion of the world.

A gutsy first title defence against dangerous Polish fighter Mateusz Masternak means Billam-Smith will be wearing the WBO's belt into 2024 and looking forward to defending the title and getting the acclaim his talent truly deserves.

Several decent cruiserweights would love the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with the likeable 33-year-old in the coming 12 months, but there's only one name on Billam-Smith's shortlist.

His records reads 19-1 - and it's the one defeat, the one blemish sustained way back in 2019, that Billam-Smith wants to put right. To set records straight.

And that means a rematch with compatriot Richard Riakporhe, unbeaten but never a world champ, and whom Billam-Smith feels he needs to beat. Watch this space.

Pride of Bournemouth enjoys perfect weekend

Maybe the writing had been on the wall on Saturday afternoon.

Billam-Smith, the boxer who had always dreamed of being a footballer and who spent time at the Bournemouth academy as a youngster, remains a diehard Cherries' fan.

His camp insisted therefore that his first defence of the WBO cruiserweight title against Masternak should be pushed back 24 hours to the Sunday so as not to clash with Bournemouth's trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United in the Premier League.

Few gave the Cherries much of a sniff, only for the Dorset club to stun Erik ten Hag's side and flee south coveting a shock three points after a sensational 3-0 win.

And it proved to be the first half of a memorable win-double for the town as 24 hours later Billam-Smith walked into the ring at the Bournemouth International Centre to take on Masternak.

For a while, though, with the Polish veteran starting well, the script looked as though it might not have the happy ending.

Billam-Smith struggled to land shots, Masternak found his range and the challenger found himself up on points midway through the contest.

Just as the Briton's prospects looked like they were ebbing away, a change of attack to the body enabled him to find the shots which damaged Masternak's ribs and saw the Pole's corner effectively throw in the towel after seven rounds.

It was exciting, sometimes desperate, and Billam-Smith's relief at the end was tangible.

And looking on from ringside, among the celebs, the dignitaries, the ex-pros and the fans, was, of course, Riakporhe. The next Battle of Britain may just be a few months away.

Riakporhe might "fancy his chances" says champ

Riakporhe is the No.1 ranked contender with the WBO and is expected to be called as the mandatory challenger.

Promoter Ben Shalom insisted it was "unfair" to talk about Billam-Smith's next scrap just seconds after the dust had settled on Sunday night's showdown, but he's in a minority of one in that regard.

Even Billam-Smith was happy to talk up a rematch with the one man to have beaten him, on a split decision for Inter-Continental glory in London back in 2019.

"I never shy away from a fight," said Billam-Smith. "Me and Rich have boxed before, but that was a different me. It would be an amazing rematch. He might look at tonight and fancy his chances, so bring it on."

And certainly Riakporhe has done nothing wrong during his career, with a 20-0 record culminating in a second-round stoppage of former French champion Dylan Bregeon in Wolverhampton last month.

He insists he should be a world champion by now and he may well, as Billam-Smith hinted, fancy his chances after Sunday night.

Will Billam-Smith now get the recognition?

A rematch with Riakporhe would be something to savour, and be sure the Billam-Smith camp would be moving heaven and earth to persuade promoters it should be staged in Bournemouth rather than a bigger venue in London.

It would be a reward for the hard work Billam-Smith has put in to climb the ladder since that defeat at the O2 Arena four-and-a-half years ago.

Just four months after the Riakporhe loss he had won the Commonwealth title and 18 months later was beating Irishman Tommy McCarthy for British and European glory.

Then, in May, he got his shot at a world title against Lawrence Okolie, putting the champ on the canvas three times en route to a majority decision. And in keeping with pretty much every Billam-Smith, it wasn't dull.

He has his flaws and that's what makes him such a good watch, such an entertaining fighter, and maybe now, according to trainer Shane McGuigan, the public's and boxing's view of Gentleman Chris Billam-Smith will change.

"He's a very underrated fighter," said McGuigan. "And I hope he continues to get (not only) the success, but also the appreciation within the industry."

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