Bizarre boxing fight leads to championship upset

Chris Billam-Smith scored an upset win over Lawrence Okolie to win a boxing title in the cruiserweight division, but boy did he take an odd route to get there.

By: Lukasz Fenrych | 4 months ago
Bizarre boxing fight leads to championship upset
Imago/Zuma Wire/Jeremy Landey

Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith squared off in a fight for Okolie’s world WBO boxing cruiserweight title this weekend. The result couldn’t be called pretty, but they served up a contest full of incident, with two points deductions and three knockdowns against the champion- two of the KDs being questionable at best. The whole thing ended on an upset win for Billam-Smith with, fittingly and perhaps understandably, some truly weird judge’s cards. You may not want to watch the whole fight, but luckily for you, we have the highlights below.

It’s fair to say that this was the least anticipated of the three world title cards happening simulatenously in the UK on Saturday. That’s largely because Okolie, although a good, tough, fighter who doesn’t shirk a challenge, has gained a reputation for being boring. He’s won many of his fights with displays of clinching, holding, and generally grinding his way to victory. He certainly did his best to repeat the trick but a combination of Billam-Smith being huge and strong, and the referee having little patience for nonsense, made it difficult for him. In the end, they served up both the shock win in Billam-Smith’s Bournemouth hometown, and a fascinating, memorable matchup.

The Highlights

Still, the majority of it was still an ugly grindy mess, so let’s get to those highlight moments. After four rounds of going roughly as expected, the first knockdown was the legitimate one, with CBS throwing a left hook at Okolie as he turned essentially sideways, taking him off balance. He survived, but was clearly uncomfortable with the power, and the holding went into overdrive.

That really cost him, since in the fifth and seventh rounds, referee signalled he’d had enough, chalking points off in both those rounds after numerous warnings. Then came the second two knockdowns, and while their legitimacy is questionable, they both came directly from Okolie trying to hold again. On both occasions, he took a solid shot, looked hurt, and tried to lean forward to grab. CBS stepped back, and Okolie fell.

It’s impossible to tell, really, if he would have gone down anyway if he hadn’t tried to grab. If he would have, the KDs are legit. If not, they shouldn’t have been scored. Ultimately, in a fight this sloppy and with moves that egregious, it’s hard to blame the referee.

The scorecards: How did Chris Billam-Smith get his win?

It stands to reason that such a bizarre card is hard to score, and that proved to be the case. Chris Billam-Smith won a majority decision, 112-112, 116-107, 115-108. That means that one of the judges got to an Okolie draw despite five lost points (and ultimately arrived at a score that essentially had both fighters losing 8 rounds of a 12 round fight). Points deductions do weird things to cards, but this was very hard to figure out.

On the other hand, the other scores are so wide they’d have had Billam-Smith winning comfortably even without those points, and not many observers saw the fight that way either. Although he did well not to be bullied and ground down, he didn’t do much work of his own. Even with many fans rejoicing the end (at least for now) of Okolie’s somewhat grinding reign, those cards seemed harsh.

It should be noted we haven’t been given the official cards yet, so we can only speculate on how they arrived where they did. There were likely drawn rounds in there. 10-10s are more common in British scoring anyway, but the way deductions work, 9-9s somewhere are also likely. They’re deducted from the round score once it is complete, so they don’t function the same way a 10-8 knockdown does.

Mind you, on that note, it’s also possible that the drawing judge scored some of the knockdown rounds 10-9 to Billam-Smith. That’s something we’ve seen recently if the fighter dropped was winning the round in the judge’s eyes otherwise- previously rare, but even this weekend, a prelim fight on the Wood-Lara card saw it happen. That may generate further controversy if those cards are released, but it’s not actually against the rules (in most jurisdictions). Hopefully we’ll find out.

We may also see this fight again. It’s unclear if there’s a rematch clause at this stage, but there often is in this kind of matchup where Okolie was definitely granting Billam-Smith a favour. If that happens, hopefully it’s at least as bizarre as this.

More boxing action from the card

There was one more highlight from the evening: a meeting of sluggers, in Sam Eggington and Joe Pigford, ended in a bruising stoppage of Pigford. Both fighters are generally known as being defence-free, but Pigford proved the more so, leading to Eggington unloading on him along the ropes till the ref stepped in.

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About the author
Lukasz Fenrych
Lukasz Fenrych

Lukasz Fenrych is an analyst and writer. He has been covering combat sports since 2019, and joined Bloody Elbow's boxing team in 2022.

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