The Opening Round: Lawrence Okolie v Chris Billam-Smith

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The boxing spotlight falls upon Bournemouth on Saturday evening as the Vitality Stadium plays host to one of the most hotly-anticipated all-British affairs in modern-day history.

Hometown hero Chris Billam-Smith – a 3/1 shot with BOXXER’s official betting partner bet365 – finally gets the opportunity he has craved for so long, a crack at Lawrence Okolie’s WBO cruiserweight title, an opponent he will need absolutely no introduction to.

The fight has been billed as ‘The Best of Enemies’, and that tagging simply couldn’t ring any truer given the quite remarkable and unprecedented familiarity between the pair.

Both nurtured under the watchful eye of Shane McGuigan, Billam-Smith and Okolie grew from stablemates to bona-fide friends, and the fact that they have also sparred over 300 rounds together adds further intrigue to a narrative that has captured the imagination of a nation throughout fight week.

Okolie’s decision to sever ties with McGuigan and link up with SugarHill Steward prior to his recent title defence against the previously unbeaten New Zealander David Light was designed to help maximise his talent as he seeks to clean up at cruiserweight before exploring opportunities within the blue-riband heavyweight division.

But, you have to think that McGuigan, the trainer of Billam-Smith, wouldn’t have pitched so hard for this fight if he didn’t truly believe his man had what it takes to dethrone the hard-hitting and awkward 1/4 pre-fight favourite.

Backed by what is sure to be a partisan Bournemouth crowd this weekend, Billam-Smith has the chance to etch his name into the boxing history books by becoming the latest of a long line of British world champions.

Okolie though, unbeaten in 19 professional contests, and odds-on to make it 20, will be hell bent on spoiling the party on the south coast and further strengthening his ironclad grip on his prized WBO possession.

“We opened up at 4/11 for Lawrence Okolie and 2/1 for Chris Billam-Smith, but the punters are getting behind the defending champion in this one to such an extent that he is now into 1/4 with Billam-Smith the big outsider at 3/1,” bet365 trader and Boxing compiler Ian Vickers said.

“The more I have watched Chris Billam-Smith the more I think he is tailor-made for Okolie, and even though the fight is on home turf, so to speak for Billam-Smith, I actually think that it will play against him on the night.

“The vociferous Bournemouth crowd will undoubtedly will him on to fight and exchange and I think he will get undone as a consequence of that. His defence isn’t a patch on Okolie’s, and whilst the Londoner was mediocre at best against Light last time out, the New Zealander was simply there to survive, not to engage.

“That won’t be the case this weekend, and I fully expect Okolie to take advantage of that and get the job done by KO, TKO or Disqualification between Rounds 7-9, which we have BOOSTED from 10/3 to 11/2.”

Read Ian Vickers’ Market Movers article, and gauge his extended thoughts ahead of Saturday night’s main event HERE.

bet365’s resident Boxing expert Rob Tebbutt, of Boxing News, is anticipating a far closer battle however, one that he believes is set to go all the way to a judges decision.

“I expect it to be a long fight and I expect it to go the full distance,” he told bet365 in the latest instalment of Tebbutt’s Tips.

“Lawrence Okolie, of course, has a lot of power in that right hand, but the two fighters are very, very familiar with each other, and I believe Shane McGuigan and Billam-Smith will have come up with a good game plan to counteract Okolie’s strength, size and awkwardness.

“Okolie will be physically imposing and he will try to do what he usually does which is to control Billam-Smith physically, particularly within the clinch, but I do think this one goes the full 12 rounds, which is available at 5/4.

“If you are backing the hometown man, the Gentleman, to upset the apple cart and become the new world champion in front of 15,000 screaming fans, then I would be looking at Billam-Smith winning this by SD (split decision).

“As I have said, I expect this fight to be close, they are so familiar with each other, but there is huge value to be had on this fight being edged by Billam-Smith, given the odds of 22/1 available on him prevailing by a split decision.”

Watch the full Lawrence Okolie v Chris Billam-Smith tipping video HERE.

Bet Boosts and odds displayed within this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

View the latest Bet Boosts and odds ahead of Lawrence Okolie v Chris Billam-Smith and all upcoming boxing at bet365

By Mark Mothershaw

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