Despite Richard Riakporhe being the betting favorite and having hometown advantage for his fight with WBO cruiserweight titleholder Chris Billam-Smith, his trainer, Angel Fernandez, says that there is no pressure on his fighter’s shoulders ahead of the fight at London’s Selhurst Park this weekend. 

Mark Tibbs was in Riakporhe’s corner as he battled his way to a split decision victory over Billam-Smith back in 2019, but Riakporhe has been working with Fernandez since July 2020. This will be their seventh fight together.

Earlier this year, Fernandez told BoxingScene that he has wanted another crack at Billiam-Smith, of Bournemouth, England, for some time.

With the fight now close at hand – and with a world title on the line – Fernandez believes that although the refinements both fighters have made in the intervening years will ensure the rematch is a more technical affair, it will be just as tough and keenly contested as the first encounter was. 

“We’re gonna get a different fight,” Fernandez told TalkSport at the open workout ahead of the fight. “Both of them have improved. I think it’s going to come down to the night, and the best man wins.

“[Billam-Smith] has got a lot of experience. He’s been through hard times in the last three or four fights and he’s overcome these challenges. We expect a very hard fight and a very good, improved CBS. We’ve prepared for it, and the best man wins on the night.”

Many observers seem to think that the timing is right for Riakporhe, 34, to repeat his victory over Billam-Smith and claim the title, citing the slow start CBS made in his maiden title defense, against Mateusz Masternak last December.

Billam-Smith was on the receiving end for the vast majority of the seven high-contact rounds he and Masternak shared, but he held his nerve and composure, trusted in his stamina and slowly began to grind the 37-year-old Masternak down. Eventually, he found the answer and hurt his opponent to the body, and the veteran Masternak was unable to answer the bell for the eighth round.

Fernandez isn’t pinning too much emphasis on Billam-Smith’s performance that night, but he did seem to suggest that the undefeated Riakporhe (17-0, 13 KOs) will try to remove as many of Billam-Smith’s potential routes to victory as possible and refrain from engaging in a back-and-forth battle.

“He just did what he needed to do,” Fernandez said. “Call it luck, but that’s what world champions do. Somehow, they win the fight. We have to be very careful with these kind of situations. There may be opportunities that we could give to CBS.

“There’s no pressure. We feel like we’re at home. The pressure is on the champion to defend the belt. We just train like the challenger and come in as the challenger. The pressure will always be on the champion.”

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