Three belts on the table and world title shot in the offing as Tommy McCarthy prepares for rumble with Shane McGuigan protege Chris Billam-Smith
THREE coveted belts are on the line and the promise of a world title shot is lingering tantalisingly in the background when Tommy McCarthy takes on Chris Billam-Smith for the British, Commonwealth and European cruiserweight titles at the Matchroom Fight Camp in Brentwood, London on Saturday night.
And since Billam-Smith is coached by Shane McGuigan, once cornerman of McCarthy's close friends Carl Frampton and Anto Cacace, a personal sub-plot is bubbling away just under the surface.
Affable McCarthy makes no secret of his feelings for McGuigan: “I don't like him,” he says matter-of-factly, but McGuigan won't be in the ring on Saturday night and so McCarthy's focus must stay locked on his protégé Billam-Smith, AKA ‘The Gentleman'.
“I don't really get too personally involved in fights,” says McCarthy.
“When I went to Italy to fight Fabio Turci a couple of years ago I took it personally because I felt disrespected. They were using me as a stepping stone so I wanted to show that they'd made a mistake and I did.
“It's the same with Billam-Smith. He's been calling me out, he wasn't on my radar at all, I've been trying to pitch for a world title but he hasn't stopped calling me out. So it's the same thing, I need to go in and show him that he's made a mistake.
“The first time I ever met him was at the press conference at the venue a couple of weeks ago. We exchanged a couple of words and that was it.”
McCarthy added: “I don't like Shane and that's no secret.
“But Shane is just a coach, but I'm not fighting him, he's not the main focus. I have to take care of business, put my emotions to the side and take care of the job and then enjoy it after.”
McCarthy and Billam-Smith have an opponent in common – hard-hitting Londoner Richard Riakporhe. Riakporhe stopped McCarthy in the fourth round when they met in 2019 and, in his next fight, he claimed a split-decision win over Billam-Smith. McCarthy looked hesitant and lacking confidence against Riakporhe that night in Peterborough but he has grown in stature since and insists that he has the edge in experience and quality now.
“Billam-Smith (12-1) is a decent fighter but I don't think he's a high-level operator,” he said.
“He's been well-matched. If you look at his record, Riakporhe is the only proper fight he's been in and he lost it. All the rest have been sub-par opposition.”
With an 18-2 record, McCarthy has the edge in experience. After a successful amateur career, the Lenadoon native has become a road warrior who has boxed just seven times in Belfast as a professional. Despite giving away home advantage, he travelled to Italy as the underdog and beat Fabio Turci handsomely to win the WBC International title and built on that by out-classing Billal Laggoune in Wembley last year to claim the European title.
“There's no substitute for experience and I have loads of experience over him,” says McCarthy.
“He can't match me at all in that department and that gives me more confidence.
“But I can out-do him in every department and I have to go in there and use all my tools. I need to be switched on and make sure my defence is switched on but I'm faster than him, I have a better boxing brain and I hit hard. So as long as I bring everything I've got in my arsenal it shouldn't be a problem.
“I need to start fast. For every contest, but especially this one, you don't want to be playing catch-up so if I start slow it could give him confidence so I want to take the fight away from him straight away.
“The only way he can beat me is if I don't perform. The power is in my hands.
“Everything has gone great in training. This fight was announced straight after the last one (a knockout win against Alexandru Jur in May) so I had a week off and then I went straight back into camp so it was a continuation. I was already fit, I didn't have to lose weight or anything so everything has gone great.”
Defending his European belt, taking Billam-Smith's Commonwealth strap and adding the vacant British title will certainly push McCarthy into world title contention.
“The winner will go on to world honours,” he said.
“Not too many fighters from here have won a clean sweep like this so when I win British, Commonwealth and European, there's nowhere else for me to go but to a world title. I can't wait to get going, I've done two camps back-to-back so I'm itching to get back in. I've been ready to go for the last four weeks, I've been in fighting shape so I can't wait to get in and get the show on the road.”
COVID-19 put paid to Sean Duffy's chances of being involved in next month's Feile an Phobail fight night at Falls Park.
The 4-0 Keady super-featherweight was offered a fight with Belfast up-and-comer James McGivern (2-0) but he was forced to withdraw due to lack of fitness as he recovered from the virus.
“I would have been happy to take the fight but it was just at the wrong time,” the Harry Hawkins trained box-fighter explained.
“I did a couple of fitness tests a month ago and I wasn't even close to what I should have been at that stage. With the whole Covid thing, my lungs just weren't right.
“I hadn't been in bed struggling for breath – I probably should have been – but it zapped all the energy out of me. I just found that even when I wasn't as active as a usually am I was still struggling for energy and there were points in the day when I was really getting fatigued. My missus is pregnant and she has about 10 weeks' to go and I was on the same level as her energy-wise. We were laughing that the two of us were pregnant together – we were having twins!
“To take the fight knowing I wouldn't be fit was too much of a gamble at this stage of my career. It was just the wrong time.”
Duffy's previous outing was a mighty impressive knockout win over Paul Holt in March and he is obviously disappointed that he won't be able to fill his slot on the bill – he appeared on the previous Feile card in 2019.
“The only good thing I can think of is that, whenever people are taking a break after the Falls Park bill, I'll be ready to go because I'm training constantly trying to get back to fitness again,” he said.
“I'm hoping that I'll be back out in September-October.”
Feile an Phobail bill, Falls Park, Belfast (Friday, August 5)
Super-bantamweight: Michael Conlan (15-0) v TJ Doheny (22-2)
EBU European Bantam Title: Lee McGregor (10-0) v Vincent Legrand (32-0)
Vacant World Boxing Organisation Inter-Continental Super Lightweight title: Tyrone McKenna (21-2-1) v Jose Felix (39-4-1)
World Boxing Council International Silver Super-Middleweight title: Padraig McCrory (11-0) v Sergei Gorokhov (11-2-2)
Light: Sean McComb (11-1) v Vicente Martin Rodriguez (39-6-1)
Lightweight: James McGivern (2-0) v Ed Harrison (2-7)
Super-featherweight: Callum Bradley (4-0) v Brett Fidoe (15-65-5)
Welterweight: Paddy Donovan (6-0) v TBC
Middleweight: Fearghus Quinn (2-0) v Dwain Grant (3-10-1)
Lightweight: Cian Lewis (debut) v Carlos Arroyo (5-19-1)