Angel Fernandez has warned Chris Billam-Smith that Richard Riakporhe is an even more improved fighter than he is. 

The 34-year-olds, on Saturday night at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, contest Billam-Smith’s WBO cruiserweight title, and do so in the knowledge that when they first fought in 2019, Riakporhe emerged as the winner via split decision.

Billam-Smith has perhaps demonstrated greater improvement since then than any other British fighter, and to the extent that it was Lawrence Okolie – a long-term sparring partner he used to struggle with – he dethroned to win his title in May 2023.

Where Riakporhe has since had a further seven fights, Billam-Smith has had 10 and demonstrated abilities it was previously believed he didn’t have, but Riakporhe’s trainer is confident that his fighter has also evolved considerably away from the spotlight, and that that will prove the key throughout Saturday’s fight.

“He’s improved hugely,” Fernandez said. “Technically; tactically; spiritually; in so many different aspects he’s improved. As well as CBS. Both have improved massively, but Richard has improved in a better way than CBS.

“CBS has been overcoming a lot of challenges, which could make a point in this fight. He has been on the back foot for a bit, and he ended up winning the fight, and that’s what champions do. It’s a 50-50 if you see it that way – one is fresher; one’s got a bit more experience. I believe Richard’s got more in his arsenal to win this fight.

“CBS probably knew how to beat Okolie. It will be a bit foolish if they think Richard is like Okolie. Richard has got a lot more to him. He can box; he can fight. He can fight on the back foot; he can fight on the front foot. It’s going to be an interesting fight. 

“[Billam-Smith has] improved technically. His experience; he’s a great fighter. He’s a gentleman. We respect him so much. We’re looking forward to the challenge. 

“We’ve had [our eyes on] the fight for a long time. We was targeting him. The first fight could have gone either way, and now it’s for both men to prove who has improved the best. Let’s settle things.

“He’s prepared for everything. We had a very, very good camp. He was very raw, but both came a long way. He has improved way better than what he was.”

The heavyweight Frazer Clarke, another of Fernandez’s fighters, told the Spaniard that, having sparred Riakporhe and Anthony Joshua, Riakporhe’s power compares with the former heavyweight champion, and Fernandez said: “We’ve [also] had people that have sparred other champions, and they came in camp and they all said the same thing. ‘Power; strength.’ It’s not just one factor that wins the fight, there are other factors. We’re gonna bring all those on Saturday.

“[Clarke] definitely said, ‘He’s raw power’. He doesn’t need to put technique behind the punch. He’s just like, a little touch, and we’ve seen people rocked – and that’s 18, 20oz [gloves].”

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