Nathan Thorley’s unbeaten bubble burst in shootout with Chris Billam-Smith

Nathan Thorley’s unbeaten bubble burst in shootout with Chris Billam-Smith

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: Cardiff’s cruiserweight Nathan Thorley (14-1, 6KO) lost his unbeaten record as a professional in an abrupt challenge to Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith (11-1, 10KO).

There was no ‘thunder’ forecast at the second week of Eddie Hearn’s Fight Camp, instead it reached 30ºC in Brentford, Essex. Thorley’s hopes to win the Commonwealth title, having won a bronze medal at Commonwealth Games as an amateur in 2014, were burst in two rounds at the Matchroom mansion bubble.

Given the ‘The Gentleman’ moniker by his handlers, Billam-Smith was anything but gentle once the first bell rang. The 30-year-old surged forward and landed jabs to Thorley’s body. They were accompanied by clever feints and Billam-Smith soon found his rhythm. Thorley was chased to the ropes and spent much of the opener in his shell, looking to get away from the stronger Billam-Smith, who also stepped in with hard body shots.

It looked to have settled down by the close of the round. The pair were in a loose clinch when Thorley waited for referee Mark Lyson to separate them. Billam-Smith spotted the opportunity to work when Thorley wasn’t and two hard left hooks landed to the Welshman’s jaw. He was buzzed and dipped to one knee, taking an eight count that coincided with the bell to end the round. It had been a torrid three minutes in Thorley’s first real test since leaving the 175lbs light-heavyweight division to join the 200lbs cruiserweights.

Gary Lockett, in charge in the corner, implored Thorley to let his hands go and offer a deterrent. That would have to wait, though. Billam-Smith, guided by Shane McGuigan, was looking for a quick finish. He landed quality jabs through the middle of Thorley’s high guard and the Welshman was stuck in his own corner. Three consecutive right hooks landed high on Thorley’s temple and he was toppled for a second time.

Thorley took the time for a few deep breaths and nodded to the referee’s questions. He was ready for what would be his last stand and he finally complied with his corner’s instructions. Billam-Smith, looking to end it, moved into range and he was met by a fast four-punch combination. Then Thorley’s looping right found the target and he pushed on again. He had the space to set his feet and long straights staggered the champion on to the ropes, briefly threatening a reverse of fortunes. Sky Sports commentator Adam Smith was noticeably excited at the prospect of a dramatic turnaround but it wasn’t to be.

Billam-Smith backed off to entice Thorley forwards and it tempted him to trade right hands. They threw the same shot at the same time and it was Billam-Smith who scored first, heavily knocking Thorley to the floor. The third knockdown was enough for all parties and the fight was ended after five minutes and five seconds. The early finish set Billam-Smith up for a European title shot against Belfast’s Tommy McCarthy.

“It was different with no crowd. Happy with the win, happy with the finish,” Billam-Smith told ringside interviewer Andy Scott. “I felt as though I hurt him in the first round, not visibly but I could tell when you’re landing those shots, y’know. Then obviously, I dropped him at the end of the first and I knew the finish was coming. He had a fight back in there but as soon as he had success, I knew he’d get reckless, so I just walked him on to a shot.”

Along with millions of others, Thorley had been furloughed from his day job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed him to have an uninterrupted 10-week training camp as a full-time boxer, a bonus he’d rarely benefitted from in his five-year professional career. However, numerous spars with Swansea’s former world champion Enzo Maccarinelli, who was planning a comeback for his 50th and final fight, couldn’t compensate for Thorley’s jump up in class.

Aside from a second-round knockout of Pontypridd’s Jermaine Asare for the Welsh title in 2017, Thorley had competed exclusively amongst journeymen. Those opponents didn’t inspire the 27-year-old and, for that reason, he had no reason to regret taking the gamble of a test like Billam-Smith, even if he wasn’t ready for it.

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

Image by Matchroom.

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