Chris Billam-Smith weathered an early storm, taking Armend Xhoxhaj’s best punches before ultimately landing a devastating KO punch at the end of an eight-shot combo to finish 2022 with aplomb – remaining on course for a cruiserweight world title shot in the new year. Prior, there were contrasting stoppage victories for Dan Azeez and Caroline Dubois among others.
Billam-Smith scores highlight reel KO against Xhoxhaj
R5, 1:52 – Chris Billam-Smith bt. Armend Xhoxhaj via KO
- “I wasn’t switched on enough to start, caught with silly shots but got back… was more annoyed than hurt, shouldn’t be getting hit with shots like that because I know that’s what he’s good at,” Billam-Smith reflects after being wobbled in round two
- BOXXER promoter Ben Shalom: “Some called this a tune-up – this was an absolute war – what a finish! CBS is putting Bournemouth on the map. [WBO world champion] Lawrence Okolie, Richard Riakporhe and Billam-Smith, it’s gonna be a good 2023.”
- “Jai Opetaia is a great champion, he beat the man… and now it’s my turn to do the same,” Billam-Smith reaffirms desire to bring world title opportunity to Bournemouth next year, while former foe Riakporhe dismisses his chances in potential rematch
As his trainer Shane McGuigan warned beforehand, Xhoxhaj’s herky-jerky style was going to cause problems. He began with forward pressure, Billam-Smith looked a step slow early on but fired back with a short left hook and relatively composed as he flicked out his jab in R1.
In the second, Xhoxhaj landed a clean overhand right that briefly silenced a partisan crowd urging their man on. Finally aware of the danger, almost everyone watching temporarily froze.
Billam-Smith acknowledged the shot with a wry smile – while the German-Kosovan’s corner urged him to maintain that tempo and keep the home fighter guessing, silencing the crowd.
Wobbled and with whispers about an upset growing louder, it was no surprise both started the third furiously to try asserting themselves in the early going.
Billam-Smith landed the better work in the clinch, but his head was open for counters and Xhoxhaj took advantage where possible, as both had moments of success at close-range.
Billam-Smith got the crowd going again as he landed looping lefts and rights, while Xhoxhaj was whizzing wildly on power punch attempts.
A good body-head combo saw Xhoxhaj take a backwards step, before Billam-Smith did the same after absorbing two looping rights seconds later. They went back-and-forth, with uppercuts and body work seeing CBS finish the fourth strong.
R5 saw them scrap at short-range in the early going, Billam-Smith landing uppercuts as he returned fire after briefly being pushed back against the ropes.
Then, without warning, an eight-punch combo saw Xhoxhaj lay out unconscious and there was no need to count. After getting to three, the referee swiftly realised and waved it off.
Billam-Smith’s real-time reaction said it all. So, is a world title shot next? We’ll have to see. One thing’s clear, after a lull at cruiserweight in recent years, there’s no such accusation anymore.
Assertive Azeez breaks down Fielding, secures R8 TKO win
R8, 2:05 – Dan Azeez bt. Rocky Fielding via TKO, retains British and wins vacant Commonwealth light-heavyweight titles
- I’m really happy, he was tough… thought I’d get him outta there a little earlier but even when I tried to blast him out, he knew to cover up. I want to be on the January 21 card, feel good, been in the gym, weighed my career lightest,” Azeez says in interview
- Shalom: “He needs a break! He’s hungry, now showing his level, massive 2023 coming, there are some big names in the light-heavyweight division but I want him to win the European title next,” as Lyndon Arthur takes to social media immediately afterwards
Rocky Fielding said while he does things well, Dan Azeez is nothing he hasn’t already fought before – so we’d see what he can deliver. That we certainly did in destructive style here.
Fielding boxed behind the jab early, but Azeez’s forward pressure and persistent punch variety proved decisive. The damage wore on the former world title challenger, whose corner threw in the towel with less than a minute left in the eighth.
Hooks, body shots aplenty, Fielding knew he was in for a battle from the off but had no way to repel the heat coming back his way. Although he fired back well off the back foot in the early exchanges, it didn’t last.
Being outworked and frequently beaten to the punch, Azeez’s only issue was being ticked off by the referee for leading with his head – in R3 and again four rounds later.
His piercing jab popped Fielding’s head back and while the Scouser was still finding the target himself, it was intermittent work up close with pit-pat shots. Azeez’s pressure was a relentless nuisance for Fielding and you could see him getting increasingly comfortable as time wore on.
Talking to and beckoning him forward in the sixth, it looked like the referee would stop it after seeing Fielding absorb two big lefts that rocked him up against the ropes.
Wincing in the seventh with a left eye injury, the 35-year-old continued absorbing punishment. Whenever he’d land two or three shots, he’d get triple the output fired back his way. A disguised body shot knockdown, just as R7 was ending, proved the beginning of the end.
A furious onslaught to start the eighth didn’t blow Fielding away but after a lull, the pressure resumed and Fielding once again pinned up against the ropes.
As the commentators stressed a few rounds earlier, Fielding’s corner weren’t going to let him endure a one-sided beatdown if he could no longer win. So, the towel was mercifully thrown.
Dubois wastes no time as plaudits soar for 21-year-old
Talk about making a statement.
- “This was amazing, I can’t wait to step up and show it [at a higher level]. I want big fights,” reaffirms Dubois after 5-0 start to her pro career
- Her trainer McGuigan says she’s ready for titles next year and is improving all the time
- Shalom: “To be honest, we thought we were taking a risk… Sofia had never been stopped. They say Azim is the future, Caroline is the same for women’s boxing! We want her to be the face – a special future ahead, gonna be a multi-weight world champion.”
Women’s lightweight prospect Caroline Dubois wasted no time securing her fifth win in ten months as a pro, overwhelming Argentina’s Sofia Rodriguez with volume and power to blast the 25-year-old into submission after just 60 seconds – becoming the first to stop her in the process.
This was a fourth consecutive stoppage for the 2020 Olympian, who needed to exercise both patience and poise before breaking down Milena Koleva over five rounds in mid-October – said as soon as she hit her, she could feel the power. There was no need to apply the handbreak here.
First finds a way to earn shock, amid mouthguard controversy
In a tussle between unbeaten lightweights in vastly different timelines, 41-year-old Yorkshireman Jimmy First improved to 14-0 with a laborious UD 76-73 win over big favourite Cori Gibbs.
First missed a lot but was the more active puncher in R1, while Gibbs made a conscious effort to mix up his attacks. Digging to the body, he briefly wobbled the five-year professional with a fast combo before the danger was soon averted.
Gibbs roughed him up in the clinch, First replied by landing some attacks of his own but the power coming back his way was visibly a problem. After repeated warnings, Gibbs was deducted a point in R4 for his mouthguard coming out a fourth time.
Coincidence or not, that felt like First’s best round – punctuated by a sequence in the final seconds where he was landing a flurry of punches with Gibbs pinned back against the ropes.
First landed a series of clean shots to start the fifth too, including uppercuts, before yet another brief stoppage (and subsequent deduction) in the Gibbs corner.
There was another point deduction in R6 after Gibbs’ guard came out once more, a precursor to what was a more back-and-forth round with both having success.
Gibbs landed a barrage of body punches early in R7, appearing to hurt First twice but instead of continue, he held on in the clinch. That typified what was a frustrating watch throughout.
The final round was nip-and-tuck but judging by their body language immediately afterwards, both felt they won. Gibbs would have, but those point deductions were ultimately decisive.
Robinson’s tireless gym work rewarded with R4 knockout
They both promised it wouldn’t last the full eight rounds and they were right. Steve Robinson overcame a sluggish start to overwhelm Nick Campbell and end his 5-0 unbeaten streak, after scoring two R4 knockdowns en route to a TKO finish with three seconds left of that round.
Campbell asserted himself well early on, working nicely behind the jab and landing one-two combos – as well as sneaky uppercuts in the clinch.
Campbell tried to counter at distance but found himself outworked in R1, a theme that wouldn’t last long if he allowed himself to keep absorbing such damage.
An unanswered onslaught rained down on him in R2, though Campbell didn’t get overeager and instead let the openings show themselves with time.
Big shots landed for both in the third, Robinson starting to display some resistance for the first time – but it came at a cost up close when exchanging counters.
Then in the fourth, his power really was on display.
Robinson scored an early knockdown after connecting with a one-two combo, then continued to press forward before flooring Campbell with a left hook later on in the round.
It was survival mode for the Glaswegian, who tried desperately to make it to the bell before the referee stopped him on his feet after one too many clean punches in the final seconds.
During an emotional post-fight speech, the 32-year-old implored those who lack self-belief to just try whatever it is that scares them – using himself as an example.
“I wasn’t bothered being down a few points, I’m not the best boxer but since the Shane Gill loss, I’ve been in the gym for nine months doing everything I was told, I’m not a gimmick and am gonna prove it.
This is just the start. I work hard, next time you’ll see another improvement, was caught with some daft shots but so be it. I’ve just knocked out a 5-0 boxer, who had all knockouts.”
Prelim results, featuring prospects and McKinson’s return
Bournemouth’s own super-welterweight Lee Cutler improved to 12-1 after a gritty 60-54 UD win over Joel Julio, whose experience made it tougher than you’d have expected after R1.
Although he was whizzing punches at times which narrowly missed their target, Lee’s left was landing nicely in the early exchanges and Julio needed time to acclimatise to the speed.
By R3, Cutler could sense Julio was increasingly hurt and stepped on the accelerator. First sign came after a stumble backwards, the second was immediately after a digging body shot.
Both times, Julio regained his composure and held Cutler in clinch situations to ensure the 25-year-old’s work was increasingly messy.
Cutler had Julio backed up against the ropes in a vulnerable position with seconds left to go in the fourth, but such was his prior success that he temporarily abandoned method and was again being guilty of overextending — throwing too many haymakers without set-ups early in R5.
The fans bayed for a knockout finish in the sixth, given Cutler’s continued success over previous rounds as Julio’s tank was visibly emptying. Ultimately though, it didn’t come.
McKinson back on track against credible challenge
Four months after his stock rose despite a first pro defeat in Texas, Michael McKinson returned to winning ways with a competitive but comfortable 59-55 UD win over Roberto Arriaza.
The 32-year-old Nicaraguan, 2-4 in his last six six fights – all against quality opposition including world title challenger Egidijus Kavaliauskas and perennial contender Sebastian Formella – didn’t come to the south Coast just to make up the numbers for McKinson’s UK return.
He wanted to cause an upset. After a tense start, it was his looping lefts which breached McKinson’s guard at times to reinforce the threat of ever-present danger.
McKinson countered better and timed his shots with more accuracy in R2, while showcasing his speed advantage and fought well at distance in the third. Arriaza chained together a good punch combo sequence early in the fourth, but was largely second best in that round too.
The same couldn’t be said for the fifth: landing some sneaky uppercuts and body shots, just as McKinson appeared to slow. He was told before the sixth, in no uncertain terms, to avoid standing with Arriaza and making it a 50-50 fight. Box his head off, his father urged.
So that’s what he came out and did in the final round, landing jabs aplenty and counters to pin him against the ropes. A morale-boosting end to an eventful year, all things considered.
Another home favourite in Mace Ruegg improved to 8-0 after an entertaining back-and-forth clash at lightweight against the gamely Jahfieus Faure.
After a cagey start by both, they exchanged furiously in the pocket though Ruegg’s insistence on throwing one shot at a time was quickly apparent – much to the growing frustration of his fans.
Why? Well, the 36-year-old southpaw standing opposite him matched him in that regard. He landed the more impactful shots in R2, though Ruegg’s looked better and were less scrappy.
There was more of the same in the third, Faure roughing him up in the clinch but Ruegg’s fancy footwork and defensive boxing on the back foot was easy on the eye.
The final round was scrappy at times, but Ruegg finally intensified his pace as confidence soared – the referee appeared to warn him for showboating en route to a 40-36 decision win.
In the night’s opener at super-welterweight, Harvey Lambert began his professional career with a second-round stoppage against Sebastian Wojtan.
The 25-year-old, from Hull, used speed and activity to quickly swarm the Pole and it was quickly clear this wouldn’t last long. Increasingly hurt and red from several clean punches to the head and body, Wojtan was several steps slow to counter effectively.
Lambert’s corner audibly stressed a need for him to stay patient and pick his punches methodically, rather than just headhunting as Wojtan missed wildly. Two quick knockdowns to start R2 and just like that, the contest was all over 29 seconds after the restart:
Picture source: Getty Images, Lawrence Lustig / BOXXER