“I wouldn’t be working with him if I didn’t believe he could go all the way and that’s the way it is. He has to believe he can – and the two of us definitely believe it,” says trainer Shane McGuigan, speaking of a new prospect looking to make some noise in the paid ranks of boxing.
The journey started a little later than normal for Bournemouth cruiserweight sensation Chris Billam-Smith. It was back in college when he went along to watch a friend box at an amateur show, and
after feeling the atmosphere and seeing the way the crowd got behind him, his love affair with the sport was set.
Never looking back, Chris embarked upon his boxing career and began training at the age of 16 – winning his first five fights successively. Remembering the feeling of having his hand raised after the first contest, he says: “I was walking around the ring after like I’d won a world title, it’s quite funny looking back on it, but yeah it was a great feeling.”
It is that passion that brought Chris all the success he had in his amateur career. From winning regional titles and being a two-time, two-weight finalist at the ABA elite national finals, to boxing for England and trialling twice for Team GB’s Olympic podium squad.
Chris’ perseverance has been tried and tested, narrowly missing out on both occasions for selection for Great Britain and taking a six-month stint out of the ring due to shoulder surgery. However, his luck was soon to change after receiving a Facebook message one day in November of 2015 from someone in the renowned McGuigan’s Gym – asking if he was available to come to London to do six rounds of sparring. Always excited for new challenges and experiences, Chris snapped at the chance without knowing who he was going to be pitted against. He then found out it would be with now WBA super middleweight world champion and boyhood idol, George Groves, to help him prepare for his first few fights under then-new trainer, Shane McGuigan.
This started the working relationship with Shane, the highly respected 2016 Boxing Writers’ of America Trainer of the Year and 2016 British Boxing Board of Control Trainer of the Year. Chris was repeatedly asked back to spar with not only Groves but also former undisputed cruiserweight and heavyweight world champion, David Haye, due to the quality he showed in sparring.
Recounting those sparring sessions, Shane explains: “He always showed up and was always very professional. He’s got a nice jab, fast feet and you could see he hadn’t got anywhere close to maximising his potential – but the drive and determination was there.”
Naturally, Chris started to turn his eyes towards the professional ranks – and announced his arrival on the professional scene in September under the tutelage of Shane, promoted by Cyclone, and managed by Hall of Famer and boxing legend, Barry McGuigan.
Explaining the choice to sign him, Barry says: “He is a tremendous talent, the professionalism he’s shown and the way he’s started his professional career is amazing.
“He’s so relaxed and devastating, coming from basically a part-time job combined with his amateur career, to becoming a seek and destroy merchant with cleverness and smartness about what he does.
“He’s got innate boxing skills, the stuff that cannot be taught – you either have it or you don’t.”
Chris adds: “It was a great opportunity for me, and Shane is a very sought after trainer and deserves to be sought after. I’m really lucky to get the opportunity, and I want to make it worth their while now.”
Chris and Shane have gelled quickly and started their partnership with a bang by Chris winning his first two fights via stoppage – most recently a first-round KO on the undercard of George Groves v Jamie Cox in the World Boxing Super Series.
Outlining his aims for his career in the paid ranks, the 27 year-old says: “I believe in myself and I believe I can improve enough to fight for world titles, so that’s the aim.”
Speaking of Chris’ ability, Shane explains: “He can definitely whack and he’s got intelligence behind his boxing. He’s not just getting success with his athleticism or ruggedness, everything he’s doing is clever.
“I wouldn’t be working with him if I didn’t believe he could go all the way and that’s the way it is. He has to believe he can and the two of us definitely believe it.”
They say a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter, and Chris is enjoying life in the McGuigan camp alongside the likes of George Groves, Josh Taylor and Chantelle Cameron.
He says: “It’s a great atmosphere, every day we have a good laugh which is great. Here you’re spending all day with them because we’ve all travelled, like Josh who has obviously come from Scotland, so we live in the same house. Everyone is the practical joker in their own right – and Shane loves winding people up,” he laughs.
Shane also comments on Chris’ positive impact and keeping a good atmosphere in the gym: “At this stage of my career as a coach I want to surround myself with people that I enjoy training, and I also believe can get to the top.
“I don’t want to waste time with egos and I just felt like he’s gonna bring so much goodness into the gym and also he can really fight – he’s a good person to have in the gym.”
Away from boxing, Chris likes relaxing, travelling and eating good food – enjoying some downtime from the high-intensity life that being a professional athlete requires. For now, though, the brakes a very much off, and he and the McGuigan team are eyeing a swift rise through the paid ranks.
With the bit well between his teeth, he is due to fight twice more before the year is up. Next stop – a third fight, on the undercard of Josh Taylor vs Miguel Vazquez on November 11th – and he is eager to put on a show.
You can continue to follow Chris’ journey through his social media channels: Twitter: @ChrisBillam Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/chrisbillamsmith/ Instagram: chrisbillam
Sam West is World Boxing News correspondent for McGuigan’s Gym. Follow Sam on Twitter @samwest944