bet365's Rob Tebbutt previews Saturday night's headline bout as Chris Billam-Smith and Armend Xhoxhaj top the bill of BOXXER's final fight card of the year.
Hometown hero Chris Billam-Smith (16-1, 11 KOs) returns to action in Bournemouth this Saturday, knowing that a win could see him challenge for a world title in his next fight.
It has been a steady rise for the 32-year-old, 1/16 to prevail by any method, after picking up the British, Commonwealth and European cruiserweight titles with seven consecutive wins.
I am always taken back to a conversation I had with Jake McGuigan, manager of Billam-Smith, when ‘CBS’ was a novice professional with just a couple of fights to his name.
“He’s honest, he works hard and he’s dedicated. If we can get him to a Commonwealth title - or even a British - then that would be fantastic,” said McGuigan, older brother of trainer Shane.
It is testament to the dedication and commitment of Billam-Smith and his trainer Shane McGuigan that he has surprised those early ambitions. Now highly ranked with each of the sport’s four sanctioning bodies, Billam-Smith may yet go the whole way.
He would be the first to admit that he is far from the most talented fighter in the star-studded McGuigan’s Gym stable, but he has dragged himself further than most - perhaps even he himself - could have dreamed of by sheer will.
A recent glimpse into his day-to-day in ‘A Day In The Life Of’ showed a dedicated, humble boxer approaching the business end of his career. Living away from his wife and new-born son, the tale of sacrifice and struggle is one familiar to the life of a professional fighter.
Nevertheless, typically no complaints from ‘The Gentleman’ - aware that he’s come a long way since the days of sparring David Haye and George Groves. A trip from Bournemouth to London for a New Year's Day session with Groves another measure of his commitment to the sport and one that wasn’t lost on his soon-to-be-trainer McGuigan.
Fast forward to the present and this weekend, where Billam-Smith takes on little-known Germany-based-Kosovan Armend Xhoxhaj, the 15/2 outsider, at the Bournemouth International Centre.
Xhoxhaj (14-2, 7 KOs) has few notable victories on his record, with a twelve round decision win over Vaclav Pejsar and a fourth round TKO loss to experienced operator Mateusz Masternak the only two reasonable measuring sticks.
The 28-year-old will have ambitions of spoiling a Christmas homecoming for Billam-Smith and showed in his loss to Masternak that he is game and will go down swinging. However, stylistically he is tailor-made for the rough and rugged ‘CBS’ and will do well to survive past the half way mark (Billam-Smith Rounds 1-6 - 8/13).
For Billam-Smith, in a career in which he has taken nothing for granted, he must be diligent on Saturday night and not allow his mind to drift towards thoughts of a world title shot against IBF champion Jai Opetaia.
It is a bout that the likeable south-coast slugger should win in good fashion.
With another golden opportunity as the headline attraction on Sky Sports, he will be hoping to live up to his performance in his July firefight against Isaac Chamberlain: winning in style for his beloved home crowd before moving on to the big one in 2023.
The Bournemouth International Centre is calling for ‘The Gentleman’…
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