In his latest column, former Olympian and heavyweight contender Frazer Clarke looks ahead to a huge Saturday of boxing with three world title fights taking place.
Billam-Smith vs Okolie has special history
Saturday is a special night for boxing with three world title fights taking place. Chris Billam-Smith has the chance to become a world champion back home in Bournemouth against his old sparring mate Lawrence Okolie. It is a friendly rivalry but when it comes down to it, there is going to be a bit of needle, there always is.
It’s a great story between them having shared the same trainer in Shane McGuigan and they have done tonnes of rounds together. Shane and Chris will be thinking they have the secret to beat Okolie, they know what they have seen in sparring, but sparring and fighting are two very different things.
It all depends on how dominant one of them was in their spars, both men might have different versions of how they went. But often they are so close, slight edges and gains each time. It is also important to remember, both have gone on and improved in different ways since they stopped sharing the same gym about a year ago.
Billam-Smith has picked up some huge wins over the last year, notably against Isaac Chamberlain, and he is carrying a lot of confidence and momentum. I would just forget about the old sparring sessions and all the history, take the fight for what it is and expect Lawrence to be better than he was back then.
I think we have seen enough from Chris Billam-Smith to suggest he can become the first man to beat Okolie. I still have Lawrence as the slight favourite but Billam-Smith is one of those guys you write off at your own peril. He is a tough fighter and most importantly, he is ready for this.
Fighting in Bournemouth is a huge factor too, it has grown into something massive. Lawrence’s last performance against David Light in March was a little bit flat, I expect him to be better but it is all for him to lose. He is the WBO champion, but he is going into Chris’ back garden, let’s see how Lawrence does under the pressure of the crowd and deals with the expectancy on his shoulders.
Wood has a tough task in reclaiming title
Mauricio Lara is back in town for his rematch against Leigh Wood. Lara is an absolute animal. The first fight was so competitive until that shot in the seventh round came in.
Is it a bit too soon for Leigh to jump straight back in with him? Leigh was doing really well in that fight and you cannot write off getting hit in a boxing match. It is a given, at any given moment the night could be over. I hope Leigh gets the win but it is a tough job for him.
I don’t think Leigh has to change much in terms of his tactics on the night. We are talking about the difference being a hand position, if that hand was two inches higher in the first fight he doesn’t get knocked out and he might go onto win. So I don’t think he needs to change that much.
He will be a little more wary of course, and against these big punchers, you need a bit of luck. He might need to be a bit more crafty, but I think he is up against it. Lara just loves these away days. whether it is here in the UK or in Ireland these Mexican fighters are absolutely up for it as we saw with Gary Cully in Dublin at the weekend against Jose Felix. They are a force to be reckoned with.
Conlan equipped for Mexican style
Over in Belfast, Michael Conlan is looking to pick up his first world title against Luis Alberto Lopez. I know Michael really well, he and his family are great people, I have spent a lot of time with them over the years. Michael has always been a fantastic fighter.
He has had his own rock and roll career, some ups and downs on some big nights. It hasn’t quite happened for him yet in that bid to get the world title but this is one back home for him, hopefully this is it.
Lopez is another one of these dangerous Mexican fighters, we saw him come over and beat Josh Warrington to take the IBF title last year.
But I definitely think Michael is someone who is better equipped, more so than anyone else in the division, to deal with this sort of challenge.
He is the most well-schooled, the most experienced in terms of taking on different styles. He is a bag of tricks himself, he can punch out of both stances. And I think the experiences he has had as a pro, the good and the bad, should all pull together to help him in this fight.
There will be times when it does get difficult but he has been through that before. We know what happened against Leigh Wood last year when he suffered that spectacular knockout but I have no doubt he will have grown as a fighter from that. I fancy him to get the job done.
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