ON JUNE 15, almost five years after they first engaged in the ring, Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe will rekindle their rivalry. Meeting in London at a press conference to announce the return fixture, each boxer finds himself in a very different space.

Still unbeaten, Riakporhe may be perceived as the “home fighter” in Selhurst Park, while Billam-Smith has ascended to the top level and will defend the WBO cruiserweight belt he took from Lawrence Okolie last May.

While Billam-Smith’s in-ring improvements have led to world title glory, Riakporhe reckons he only sees deterioration in a champion who takes too many shots.

“Chris is a great fighter and he’s tough but if I want to be known for any attribute, I don’t just want to be known for being a tough guy. Tough guys suffer in the sport of boxing. CBS has taken a lot of damage,” he said.

Sensing that top table nerves led to the champion’s spiky interruptions during question time, Riakporhe is already searching for a psychological edge.

“He was cutting me short a lot without listening to what I had to say,” shrugged the man who describes himself as a normal guy living his dream. 

“This fight is very important to me because there’s legacy on the line. There’s a chance for me to cement my name in history, in the books with all the other great fighters of my division. Chris has already done it so now I feel like it’s my time. Every dog has its day.”

Declining the opportunity to overcomplicate matters or envision outcomes, Riakporhe (17-0, 13 KOs) vowed to use his brain and look for opportunities as he attempts to recreate the scenes of their first fight, which ended in a 10-round split decision win on the Dillian Whyte-Oscar Rivas undercard. 

That bout took place at the O2 Arena and Chris has embarked on a 10-fight winning streak since. While Billam-Smith had been hoping to secure a return to the home comforts of Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, he holds the belt and will travel to defend it.

The 33-year-old insisted that his press conference ripostes were a simple case of pointing out Riakporhe’s shortcomings. Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) also conceded that Riakporhe had the edge in punch power and that he had seen improvements in his opponent since their first fight.

“He’s calmer, more patient and he’s a little bit neater,” said the champion.

“Don’t judge me on the first fight. Okolie found out that I’ve made changes and Riakporhe will find out the same. 

“It’s not personal for me. It’s nice to avenge a loss. That’s all that matters. I just want to box and beat every man I’ve ever faced, and now I have the opportunity to avenge that loss.”

Cutting short the chatter, Riakporhe’s reply went straight to the point: “When I throw my hands, the fight is done. Get ready, the midnight train is coming,” he concluded.