WBO cruiserweight champion Chris Billam-Smith 19-1 (13) insists he was taking over the fight against Mateusz Masternak 47-6 (31) when their fight was stopped at the end start of the eighth round at the Bournemouth International Centre in Bournemouth, England on Sunday night.
The 33-year-old Brit had his hands full from the get-go, with Polish veteran Masternak, 36, taking the fight right up to him. Billam-Smith struggled to find his range and rhythm as Masternak outmuscled him on the inside.
The fight took a different turn in the seventh. Billam-Smith began to get on top, largely due to a sustain two-fisted body attack.
Mastenrnak returned to his stool in pain and failed to answer the bell to start the eighth, complaining of a rib injury.
The challenger was leading on two of the judges’ scorecards 68-65, while the third judge had the fight even.
Billam-Smith said he can accept that he was trailing on the cards, but says all the momentum was in his favour at the time the fight was called off.
“I was probably down in the fight,” Billam-Smith told Sky Sports. “I was probably a round down and I won the seventh and Shane [McGuigan, his trainer] was like: ‘That’s it, let’s do it.’
“I was looking too big early on. It was a hard fight as expected but I made it hard for myself really, to be honest. Made it really difficult for myself, started finding my range in the seventh round. He was obviously awkward.
“I was about to start turning the screw and unfortunately he pulled out as I was about to show everyone what I was going to do. In the seventh I really started finding my range and finding my shots and finding my rhythm.
“Obviously I started putting my shots together a bit better and then that’s what found the shot, the shot that did the rib and I could feel him getting more tired, more tired throughout the fight.
“I felt [the shot that hurt him]. I felt him sag and something happened. You could tell he felt it and I was ready to start turning the screw. I was like five rounds, let’s go, I found my rhythm now. I know what I’ve got to do.”
Billam-Smith’s longtime rival and mandatory contender Richard Riakporhe was not impressed by his performance.
“The shots he was being hit with by Masternak weren’t heavy shots but you could see it was hurting him,” Riakporhe said to Sky Sports.
“If I land one of those shots, how’s he going to react? How’s he going to react to a jab from me, or a right hand from me or a hook from me? It’s going to be very dangerous.”
He said he found Masternak’s decision to stay on his stool at the end of the seventh round baffling.
“That was quite strange. I’ve never seen Masternak in a situation like that. I didn’t ever imagine that he wasn’t going to get up off his stool. He must have a serious injury,” Riakporhe said.
“He was looking really good in there, Masternak. He was bossing it. He was getting the shots. He was landing the shots and CBS was having a tough time in there. But we knew it was going to be like that.
“He got the win and that’s the most important thing.”