Chris Bellam-Smith became the new WBO cruiserweight champion as he dethroned former gym mate Lawrence Okolie on a memorable night in Bournemouth.
Fighting in his hometown in front of 15,000 cheering fans, the weak Bellam Smith threw Okolie three times en route to a majority points victory.
A frustrated Okolie was twice frustrated by being held and grappled as he lost his undefeated record.
The judges’ scorecards read 112-112, 116-107, and 115-108.
Okolie – who was part of the coach Shane McGuigan’s gym Before the duo broke up earlier this year – he suffered his first career defeat in his 20 professional bouts.
“I would love to be a winner, I would love to be a champion but I have to take my hat off to him, it was a very good job,” the undefeated fighter told Sky Sports.
“I’m happy to be here in front of 15,000 with Chris, my friend.
“I just tried to keep my cool but this stuff plays in your mind. I’ve been training really hard because I know what Chris is made of. It’s made of good stuff.”
British, Commonwealth and European champions, Bellam-Smith, won his first world title as he extended his record to 18 wins and 1 loss.
“I was sick in bed all week, didn’t eat from Tuesday to Thursday, and managed to put on a brave face,” he said.
“I just want to dedicate this to my mom who is having breast cancer right now. Mom, this is for you, I love you so much.”
Bellam-Smith takes a shine as Okolie frustrates
On a clear summer’s evening at the Vitality Stadium, with the full support of his Bournemouth supporters, 31-year-old Bellam-Smith was catapulted to boxing stardom.
The general atmosphere was that of a football crowd, but remarkably intimate for a match at the stadium. The sounds of Okolie’s jeers, Pelam Smith’s jeers and chants mocking their Southampton rivals reverberated between the four stands.
Okolie was under pressure to deliver an entertaining fight, however He has been criticized in the past for his awkwardness Far from the style familiar to the masses, he often claws his way to victory.
But there were two grabs within Okolie’s first 30 seconds, which are a sign of things to come.
The referee repeatedly separated the fighters each time Bellam Smith closed the distance. The challenger had a frustrated look on his face early in the second, with Okolie cautioned against pushing and holding.
There were question marks over whether Okolie would return to writing or if the coach would be the SugarHill Steward It can transform the hero into a more entertaining fighter.
But Okolie would follow up his single shots with more grappling, often wrestling.
Having fought over 300 rounds together, Billiam-Smith should know Okolie’s strengths and weaknesses better than any other cruiserweight.
Out of nowhere, he unleashed a left hook that hit the reckless Okoli – who had never been a pro – in the fourth round. The Londoner got back to his feet but his legs were unsteady.
Okoli was tipped by a point in the fifth and seventh rounds, with referee Marcus McDonnell shrugging his shoulders indicating he had no other choice.
The Hackney fighter fell to the canvas again in the tenth, tipping into a left hook by Bellam Smith.
A bloodied Bellam Smith withstood a sudden flurry in the eleventh to knock Okolie down again with an inside punch before sealing the win.
Tonight belongs to Belam Smith
In an era where an undefeated record often dictates a fighter’s value and marketability, Okolie must regroup after his shock defeat.
Okolie did not say whether he would activate the rematch clause. At 6ft 5in, he is a senior cruiserweight and has previously said he plans to move up to heavyweight in the future.
The night, however, belonged to Bellam Smith, although the credit must also go to McGuigan for creating the perfect game plan.
Bellam Smith first entered McGuigan’s gym as a sparring partner for George Groves and David Hay. Despite not having an ornate amateur career, he persuaded the trainer to let him join the stable and has now reached heights few could have predicted.
For years he played second fiddle to Okoli. It was the Londoner who was selected for TeamGB and selected for the Olympics. Okolie was the man leading the cards and being pushed towards world title fights when they were both signed to Matchroom.
British, Commonwealth, European and now World Champion, Pellam Smith showed he belonged at the top echelon on an evening he and the thousands in attendance on the south coast will never forget.