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Chris Billam-Smith 2/1 to avenge Richard Riakporhe defeat at Selhurst Park this weekend

Boxing writer John MacDonald dissects this weekend's huge WBO cruiserweight title showdown between old-foes Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe and looks at how the professional paths of the pair have crossed for a second time.

Chris Billam-Smith v Richard Riakporhe

Full Fight Markets

Who has improved more since their first fight?

That is the question that has dominated the build-up to this weekend's hugely anticipated rematch between Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe as the pair get set to contest an intriguing WBO cruiserweight title showdown on Saturday night.

It's a question that has been pondered by observers, pundits, interviewers and even the boxers themselves.

Back in 2019, the two fighters locked horns for a minor WBA strap on the undercard of, Riakporhe’s then-manager, Dillian Whyte against Oscar Rivas.

The bout itself was anything but a classic, with their contrasting fighting styles failing to compliment one and other, resulting in a bout that remains far more memorable for its persistent clinching rather than its power-punching.

Ultimately, Riakporhe prevailed via split decision, with a seventh-round knockdown proving decisive. It's 13/8 that the Londoner strikes lucky on points for a second time this weekend.

In the intervening years, both have, undeniably, developed into better fighters, but they have taken vastly different routes to this point.

Billam-Smith has bounced back from the sole defeat of his career to date by capturing the Commonwealth cruiserweight strap - overcoming Craig Glover in the Scouser’s backyard.

A successful defence against Nathan Thorley at ‘Fight Camp,’ which took place at the Matchroom HQ, followed, as he stopped the Welshman inside six minutes.

The following year, ‘The Gentleman’ returned to Eddie Hearn’s garden for the opportunity to add the British and European titles to his collection as he took on Tommy McCarthy.

While the Bournemouth man found himself on the wrong side of a razor-thin decision against Riakporhe, on this occasion, he got the nod in similar circumstances in his closely contested battle with the Northern Irishman.

His second encounter with McCarthy, less than a year later, demonstrated how much the Bournemouth man had improved under the continued tutelage of Shane McGuigan, as he halted his opponent in the eighth round.

After signing with Ben Shalom’s BOXXER promotional outfit, the 33-year-old was handed a homecoming on the South Coast, against Isaac Chamberlain.

In a back-and-forth battle, CBS ground down his rival’s resolve to win a wide decision. It was a victory that earned him a crack at WBO world champion, Lawrence Okolie, at the home of his beloved football club, AFC Bournemouth.

The odds were well and truly stacked against Billam-Smith, and the pressure was on as an expectant and vociferous home crowd were in attendance... but in true CBS fashion, he rose to the occasion.

The fight was an ugly one, as the champion had two points deducted for persistent holding, but ‘The Gentleman’ produced moments of real quality to drop ‘The Sauce’ on three occasions.

His dream had come true, Billam-Smith was a world champion.

Last time out, in his inaugural defence, the new titlist needed just eight rounds to force the tough and durable Polish fighter Mateusz Masternak to withdraw himself due to a succession of heavy body shots.

And while Billam-Smith has encountered nothing but success since his initial bout with Riakporhe, the Londoner’s trajectory since then has been tinged with frustration.

Riakporhe, who is still to be beaten since turning professional, captured the British title with a win over Jack Massey less than six months on from his dust-up with the Bournemouth man.

The fight was another close one, and once again, a knockdown proved decisive.

However, that would be the last time the Londoner was seen in a ring for almost two years, as he was plagued by a contractual dispute with Matchroom.

When the matter was finally resolved, the former British champion inked a promotional pact with BOXXER, and it seemed only a matter of time until Shalom was able to align both of his prize-fighters for a far higher-profile re-run of their 2019 bout.

During his time away from the ring, ‘The Midnight Train’ opted to link up with esteemed boxing trainer Angel Fernadez; who had previously helped Anthony Joshua rebuild himself following that crushing, and shocking, loss at the hands of Andy Ruiz Jr.

Previously, Riakporhe shared stylistic similarities with Okolie; explosive, but unable to fight on the inside and far too prone to clinching. Fernandez appears to have eradicated those negative traits from his fighter's game however.

Against fringe contender Olanrewaju Durodola, Riakporhe was able to wipe out his opponent in five frames.

The then unbeaten Deion Jumah was seen off in eight rounds, whilst Fabio Turchi, Krzysztof Glowacki, and Dylan Bregeon were all dispatched in a combined total of just 24 minutes.

Fernandez is clearly prioritising power from a fighter that he has described as harder-hitting than former A-star student, Anthony Joshua.

But while everything has gone smoothly in the ring, matters have been more complicated outside of it.

Riakporhe had been the mandatory challenger for IBF champion, Jai Opetaia, but ‘The Midnight Train’ withdrew from purse bids, with the Londoner insisting that the decision was made by his team, rather than by him.

A subsequent deal to take on WBA titlist Arsen Goulamirian was believed to be close, but, again, never came to fruition.

But, at long last, Riakporhe finally gets his opportunity to challenge for world honours on Saturday 22nd June!

So, who has improved more since the first fight?

For so many reasons, it's incredibly difficult to call, but thankfully we don't have long to wait until we find out the answer.

Chris Billam-Smith v Richard Riakporhe

Full Fight Markets

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