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Lawrence Okolie vs Chris Billam-Smith world cruiserweight title clash: Key questions and expert predictions

Chris Billam-Smith will challenge Lawrence Okolie for the WBO cruiserweight world title at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth on Saturday, live on Sky Sports; what's at stake, how each boxer should approach the fight and more - we consider the key questions

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Speaking ahead of his fight against Lawrence Okolie at the Vitality Stadium, Chris Billam-Smith claims he's fully prepared for the clash and thanked his hometown of Bournemouth for their support

Lawrence Okolie vs Chris Billam-Smith - We consider the key questions and boxing experts make their predictions.

Why are they fighting?

The careers of Chris Billam-Smith and Lawrence Okolie have been tied closely together for a long time as the pair were both trained by coach Shane McGuigan for a number of years, sharing over 300 rounds of sparring together.

Okolie split from McGuigan earlier this year and teamed up with SugarHill Steward. The change in camp has allowed this fight to finally materialise.

Okolie is a world champion, while Billam-Smith has built a passionate local following in Bournemouth. The 15,000 seat Vitality Stadium will be sold out for the showdown.

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Okolie and Billam-Smith faced off on Bournemouth pier ahead of their clash at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday

What's at stake?

Okolie will defend his WBO cruiserweight world title along with his undefeated streak of 19-0. But, aside from resumes and prizes for the trophy cabinet, bragging rights will be at stake.

Okolie has always been one step ahead of Billam-Smith as a boxer, getting selected for the GB squad and becoming an Olympian - unlike the Bournemouth man - and winning the British, Commonwealth and European titles before Billam-Smith did himself.

Okolie is now a world champion, precisely what Billam-Smith dreams of becoming.

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After being gym-mates for so long, now they will have pride at stake too, wanting to show which of them is the better fighter.

How can Okolie win?

Okolie will want to use distance to his advantage. His long reach makes it incredibly difficult for most opponents to get into range, while he can land his own shots or clinch when on the inside - a tactic he has deployed often and something he can be criticised for.

Billam-Smith will be dangerous early, hoping to take advantage of a slow Okolie start. Okolie may well have to ride an early storm before using his physical advantages and superior boxing ability to break the Bournemouth man down as the rounds go by into the second half of the fight.

Okolie has gone the distance in his last two bouts, but prior to those victories, he had seven KO wins on the spin, demonstrating the vicious punching power he has in his arsenal.

This will be his second fight with Steward, so expect 'The Sauce' to show more improvement and look for his first stoppage since 2021.

How can Billam-Smith win?

After an early career split decision loss to Richard Riakporhe, the Bournemouth man has won eight consecutive fights and picked up British, Commonwealth and European crowns along the way. Momentum is on the side of the challenger and this, coupled with him fighting at home in front of 15,000 fans, could give him the mental edge heading into the biggest fight of his career.

Billam-Smith will have to be very busy in this fight, find a way to get past Okolie's long levers, close the gap and sting him. It will be important for him to get the champion's attention early, not allowing Okolie to settle into a rhythm.

Billam-Smith will have to work with a fast, powerful, high-volume attack and show the power he demonstrated in his stoppage victory over Armend Xhoxhaj. But this time, knowing how powerful and accurate Okolie is, he must remain relaxed and pressure sensibly throughout.

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Okolie's trainer SugarHill Steward admitted he has a lot of respect for Billam-Smith after watching his dramatic win over Isaac Chamberlain

Who's in the corners and what difference can they make?

SugarHill Steward is a trainer known for his combative teaching methods - the 'Kronk style' of the world famous gym. Effective aggression behind good fundamentals. This style is based on a solid jab with the ability to use the space to move forward from the jab to mount an aggressive attack.

SugarHill has been tasked with reawakening the destructive force that Okolie once was as he began tearing through the cruiserweight division after a meteoric rise following the 2016 Olympic Games.

Shane McGuigan, in Billam-Smith's corner, along with being a masterful tactician, also focuses a lot on strength and conditioning, ensuring his fighters are structurally correct to prevent injuries and enhance fitness and intensity. This will be vital for success in this fight, because Billam-Smith must keep up an extremely high tempo to derail Okolie.

McGuigan has spent years together with Billam-Smith, growing and developing him consistently. He also surely will know Okolie better than any other coach.

What next for the winner?

The WBO champion has lofty ambitions and hopes to eventually move up to heavyweight. But also he has stated that before moving up he would love to become an undisputed or unified champion at cruiser.

If Billam-Smith gets the victory on Saturday night, then his whole life will change. It would be a major moment, especially if he could get it done within the distance. Then his immediate future could well be taken up by a rematch with Okolie - if the champion decided to activate the clause. But, beyond that, the sky is the limit.

Unification bouts with the likes of WBA champion Arsen Goulamirian or Australian IBF champion Jai Opetaia would beckon for whoever wins.

However, Riakporhe is also someone who both could look to next. It would be another significant all-British world title clash.

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Okolie was in relaxed mood at the weigh-in ahead of his fight with Billam-Smith and claimed he is aiming for an early stoppage

Riakporhe and Okolie have been going back and forth for some time now and even had to be pulled apart after clashing at the Creed III London premiere earlier this year.

In January Riakporhe defeated former cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Głowacki, the man Okolie stopped in six rounds to win his WBO title, stopping him in four. That victory put Riakhpore in contention for a world title shot. Who better to fight for one than a fellow Londoner with whom there is now bad blood?

Riakhpore also has history with Billam-Smith after handing the Bournemouth fighter his only career defeat to date. Billam-Smith felt hard done by as he dropped a split-decision to Riakporhe in 2019 and would no doubt like a chance for revenge.

What's on the undercard?

Also on the bill is Sam Eggington, consistently one of the most exciting fighters in Britain, who will face hard-punching Joe Pigford in what is sure to be an all-action encounter.

Olympic star Karriss Artingstall, a bronze medallist at the Tokyo Games, steps up to take on unbeaten Jade Taylor.

Local man Lee Cutler will face Stan Stannard, while Michael McKinson looks to continue his comeback from a sole career loss to world-class welterweight Vergil Ortiz against Lebin Morales.

Where to watch it and when is the main event on?

The event will take place at the Vitality Stadium in Bournemouth on Saturday (May 27). Coverage begins at 7pm, live on Sky Sports Action or Sky Showcase with the main event expected from approximately 10pm.

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Okolie vs Billam-Smith - Expert predictions

Johnny Nelson, former WBO cruiserweight champion: "I'm going to have to go with paperwork. And paperwork tells me Lawrence Okolie.

"He has that punch power, and a proven track record.

"The ask is on Chris Billam-Smith. Everything is in place for him to do it, and Lawrence Okolie has decided to go into the lions' den and say: 'I'll have this', but I'm siding towards Okolie."

Richard Riakporhe, cruiserweight contender: "I think if it goes the distance Chris Billam-Smith will come out on top on points. I think he will win on points, me personally.

"[Shane McGuigan] is going to know all of the weaknesses and how to exploit that with his man Chris Billam-Smith.

"I think Chris Billam-Smith is the man for the job. He can do it. He can take shots, he can give it, he can dish it out."

Thomas Stalker, former GB Olympian: "I see Okolie by late stoppage. He's very awkward and he can hit. The only thing is obviously Shane knows Okolie well, he was his trainer but I just see a late stoppage victory."

Spencer Oliver, former European champion: "It's a 50-50 fight to be fair but I think I lean towards Chris Billam-Smith for a number of reasons.

"He's got Shane in his camp. Shane will know the strengths and weakness of Lawrence Okolie. Chris Billam-Smith has also sparred 300+ rounds with Lawrence Okolie. When people box Lawrence they don't recognise how awkward he is until they get in the ring. He's already got that. He's knows how to deal with that.

"Hometown advantage could be crucial in this one as well. I think the crowd will help Chris Billam-Smith to a razor close points victory."

Tris Dixon, journalist, editor and author: "You do wonder who knows what about who in terms of their previous sparring sessions. It's going to be crucial to see what distance the fight is fought at as well.

"Sometimes in fights Chris fights with his heart and it's going to be hard for him not to do that and so my gut instinct says at some point he's going to get caught. Okolie is a very big puncher and a good finisher. Therefore Okolie by stoppage, possibly late rounds."

Isaac Chamberlain, has fought both: "We'll just have to see. I really don't know what the outcome will be. [Okolie,] he's so awkward, a very, very awkward style. It's hard to really prepare for somebody like that. That's why Chris has the upper hand because Shane used to train Lawrence as well. He took Lawrence to a world title. He knows him a lot.

"I've actually got no idea."

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