Chris Billam-Smith's quest for a world title fight took a giant step forward tonight (17th December) as he hits Xhojhaj with one of the knockouts of the year in the fifth round at the BIC. A far from convincing start to the fight did not deter Billam-Smith, who came back in the fifth to produce a finish among the very, very best.
This fight was the main event of the evening and the one everyone inside the BIC came to see. Billam-Smith's last fight at the BIC was a roaring success and he would of course be hoping for the same this time around. The fight was made up of 12 x 3 minute rounds in the International Cruiserweight Contest. Billam-Smith's opponent for this fight was Armend Xhojhaj, who is 36th in the world rankings with a record of 14 wins and two losses. Heading into the fight Billam-Smith knew victory in his hometown could give him a shot at a world title fight and extend his professional record to 17 wins and only one loss.
Billam-Smith's ringwalk once again included a rousing rendition of 'Red Army' in note to his beloved AFC Bournemouth, and he entered the ring to a BIC who were in full voice for their local hero.
If CBS was expecting an easy fight, he learnt very early on that wouldn't be the case. Xhojhaj especially dominant in the second round, with Billam-Smith appearing to win the round either side of the second. However, Billam-Smith only wanted one outcome from this fight and boy did he get it. He produced one of the knockout's of the year in the fifth round, knocking Xhojhaj out cold to give himself a fantastic shot at a world title fight.
Speaking to Sky Sports after the fight, Billam Smith said:
"It was exactly what I thought it was going to be.
"I wasn’t switched on enough at the beginning and got caught with a few silly shots, but I got the job done, adapted, listened to the corner.
"Shane was saying sit down a little bit more, I started doing that, walked him onto a few shots and obviously hurt him and thankfully he’s ok.
"He buzzed me momentarily, sort of more annoyed with myself than hurt. I shouldn’t be getting caught with shots like that, especially as I know that was the shot coming."
Billam-Smith went on to sat how he wants his next fight to be at Dean Court (Vitality Stadium) and he of course wants it to be a world title fight.
Billam-Smith vs Armend Xhojhaj was, of course, not the only fight of the night. The undercard bouts got underway at 5 pm, as Harvey Lambert, coming from Hull, took on Sebastian Wojtan of Poland in a Super-Welterweight contest. Lambert had no real issues all fight, he stopped his opponent just 29 seconds into the second round of his professional debut therefore now giving him an undefeated record.
In the second fight of the night, local man Mace Reugg took on Jahfieus Faure in a Super-Featherweight contest. Reugg had the support of the crowd and came out to a great reception inside the BIC. This fight, unlike the first one, went the distance. The referee declared Mace Ruegg the winner 40-36, extending his undefeated record and pleasing the crowd inside the BIC.
The third fight saw Michael Mckinson take on Roberto Arriaza in a Welterwight contest. This was another close one, going the full 6 rounds, Michael Mckinson was declared the winner 59 - 55. There had been no major upsets after the first three fights, but with six still to go, anything could happen.
Another Bournemouth local, Lee Cutler, was up next, fighting Joel Julio in a Super-Welterweight contest. Yet another close affair that went the distance, resulted in the referee declaring Lee Cutler the winner 60-54, delighting the local fans.
Two incredibly heavy hitters battled it out in the only heavyweight contest of the evening, and the first on the main card. Steve Robinson of Newcastle, who's ring walk contained a powerful mental health message, mixed with a jungle book classic, Bare Necessities, took on Nick Campbell of Jersey, who before this fight had a perfect five wins and five knockouts. The first couple of rounds were a close affair, but Campbell definitely had the edge. However, everything changed very suddenly as Robinson landed the first heavy blow, sending Campbell to the canvas twice in round 4. Robinson's onslaught continued in the same round, with the referee stopping the contest just three seconds before the bell to signal the end of the round, a decision that Campbell immediately looked less than happy with. Campbell had said that he "trained like a demon" for this fight, but Robinson's TKO win was, as mentioned, the first loss of Campbell's career.
In the first lightweight contest of the evening, Cori Gibbs battled Jimmy First over 8 x 3 minute rounds. Both fighters came into the fight with undefeated professional records, therefore knowing one of the unblemished records would be gone tonight. Cori Gibbs was plagued by gumshield issues throughout the fight, the shield fell out on persistent occasions, leading to a total of three points being deducted by the referee. This fight also went the distance, with no fighter abler to find a stopage within the allocated eight rounds. The referee declared Jimmy First the winner 76 - 73. A dejected Cori Gibbs left the ring almost immediately, as First went to do his media interviews.
The only female fight of the evening saw Caroline Dubois take on Sofia Alejandra Rodriguez of Argentina. Dubois was looking to keep her unbeaten record intact, and had the support of the home fans. Dubois had no issues whatsoever, an utterly dominant and clinical performance saw her stop her opponent after just 60 seconds in the very first round.
The co-main event for the evening was a fight for both the British Light-Heavyweight Championship and the Vacant Commonwealth Light Heavyweight Championship. Dan Azeez was taking on Rocky Fielding in a 12 x 3 minute round clash. It has been four years since Fielding lost to Canelo Alvarez, a man who many consider the best pound for pound fighter in the world and he was eager to show his improvement down on the south coast. The bout started very evenly, with both fighters exchanging well, but knowing not to use all their energy too early on in the fight. Halfway through the fight it was impossible to call a winner, both were exchanging fairly evenly as the punching power began to increase as the fight went on. The eighth round was the turning point. Azeez came out flying in this round, putting Fielding on the back foot from the off. He continued to be dominant throughout the round, forcing a corner stoppage two minutes 5 seconds into round 8. Azeez maintained his professional record and attention within the BIC turned to the main event and to Chris Billam-Smith.
The main event of the evening was of course local hero, Chris Billam-Smith, against Armend Xhojhaj from Germany. To read about the fight check out the top of this article.
That concluded a thoroughly enjoyable and top class evening of boxing. A great crowd to enjoy great fights is always a good combination and the event at the BIC certainly had both.