Lawrence Okolie Vs Chris Billam-Smith And The All-British Cruiser Classics

This weekend's WBO title fight is part of a fine tradition
10:00, 24 May 2023

The cruiserweight division is relatively young as far as weight divisions go. Bridgerweight is yet to gain a foothold since being ratified in 2020 while super middleweight took four years longer than cruiserweight to crown its first world champion, doing so in 1984. But still, the division is not as entrenched as heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight or lightweight in the annals of boxing history. 

Still, even in its comparatively short time with us, the 200lb (originally 190lb) class has crowned some wonderful champions and staged some epic fights. Evander Holyfield is arguably still the greatest to walk through the halls of cruiserweight history, while the likes of James Toney, Carlos De Leon and Oleksandr Usyk have also forged incredible legacies there.


But Britain has long had a particular affinity with this weight class. No less than seven boxers from these shores have captured a version of the world cruiserweight championship. In honour of the fact current WBO king Lawrence Okolie putting his crown on the line against countrymen Chris Billam-Smith this weekend, here is a rundown of some of the greatest cruiserweight battles of Britain.

Carl Thompson vs Chris Eubank, 18/04/98

Chris Eubank had spent his career at middleweight and super middleweight, racking up world titles in both divisions. After coming up short against Joe Calzaghe in a world title challenge, ‘Simply The Best’ added over 20 pounds to his frame to face WBO cruiserweight boss Carl Thompson.

Thompson got the better of a thrilling, savage and close fight. The champion triumphed by a single point on two of the three cards. Eubank’s valiant efforts were recognised when a rematch was staged three months later. In what would turn out to be his last fight, Eubank was stopped after nine rounds due to a grossly swollen eye. A torch had been passed, with Thompson superseding one of the greats of the era.

Johnny Nelson vs Bruce Scott, 15/05/99

The first defence of a record-setting reign for one of Britain’s all-time great cruisers. Johnny Nelson is the longest reigning champion in the division’s history and his 13 different defeated opponents in world title defences is a cruiserweight record.

The first of those defences arrived against British and Commonwealth king Bruce Scott. ‘Lionheart’ mixed with some of the biggest names of the era and was always good value. So it proved on this night as he took Nelson the 12-round distance before dropping a unanimous decision. Scott would go for the WBC title in his next fight, losing to Juan Carlos Gomez. Meanwhile, Nelson would never again taste professional defeat before retiring in 2006.

Carl Thompson vs David Haye, 10/09/04

Just as Eubank had passed it to Thompson, many imagined that the torch would be passed again when ‘The Cat’ came up against big-punching prospect David Haye. But rather than become the eleventh victim of ‘The Hayemaker’, Thompson upset the rising star.

Haye started this IBO cruiserweight title clash in the ascendancy before gassing down the stretch and being picked apart by the veteran. Thompson finished Haye via TKO in the fifth round, becoming the first man to defeat the previously-unbeaten prodigy. It is a fight which Haye credits with teaching him about pacing and conditioning. He would parlay those lessons into world titles at cruiserweight and heavyweight in a superb career. 

David Haye vs Enzo Maccarinelli, 10/11/07

It is impossible to convey how big this fight felt at the time. WBC, WBA and The Ring champion David Haye putting his belts on the line against unbeaten WBO kingpin Enzo Maccarinelli. Two supreme knockout artists who looked set to define British boxing’s future.

The result was a harbinger of what was to come for each man in their careers. Haye knocked Maccarinelli in two rounds, going on to establish himself as one of the most formidable Brits of the modern era. His conquered foe never again lifted a world championship, though he did box on. Maccarinelli won the British, Commonwealth and European titles over the remainder of his career as well as scoring a memorable stoppage win over a faded Roy Jones Jr.

Nathan Cleverly vs Tony Bellew, 22/11/14

‘Bomber’ Bellew was on a revenge mission when he met old foe Nathan Cleverly again in 2014. The pair had met as light heavyweight prospects in 2011, with then-WBO champion Cleverly taking the majority decision nod in a thrilling affair. 

Bellew had been round the block in the years since, losing a world title tilt to the dangerous Adonis Stevenson. Those experiences stood him in good stead for the rematch, where another close fight went his way via a split decision. Both men would go on to great things from here, with Bellew winning the WBC cruiserweight title in 2016 and Cleverly picking up the WBA strap back down at light heavyweight.

Okolie vs Billam-Smith odds*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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