Shortly before his match with Chris Billam-Smith, European cruiserweight Tommy McCarthy certainly talked a big game. Convinced he was the more experienced of the two men, he paid no mind to the constant heckling the Englishman gave him for over a year, from his public tweets that he would thrash him to his frequent name drops in post-match interviews. However, despite his cool response that he will “put my emotions to the side and take care of business,” the outcome of the match would not go his way.
On July 31, McCarthy ate his words after losing his European cruiserweight title to Billam-Smith in a grueling battle in Essex at Fight Camp. The fight was exhausting, and very close, with McCarthy scoring 116-112, 115-115, and 116-115. The fight was such a struggle for both men, that Billam-Smith said he was open to a rematch in the future despite being the victor. As for McCarthy himself, the Belfast man was absolutely furious with the result of the scorecard and demanded a rematch as soon as possible.
Tommy McCarthy is a boxer not without his share of shortcomings. In fact, you could say his career has been wrought with a streak of bad luck. In 2012, he planned to participate in the London Olympics as a heavyweight boxer but was assaulted a month prior by a nightclub bouncer. Suffering a concussion and a broken vertebra in his neck, his training was greatly hampered, affecting his performance in the Turkey qualifiers. As a result, he did not qualify for the only heavyweight spot on the team.
In 2019, McCarthy had the chance to take on British champion Riakporhe – and was promptly taken down. In four brutal rounds, Riakporhe maintained the upper hand and dealt a vicious blow to McCarthy’s head that caused the referee to halt the match. Later on, McCarthy would come to admit that had the ref not stopped the contest, a second blow would have left him seriously injured.
McCarthy’s boxing career would continue to have obstacles, this time in the form of a virus. The COVID pandemic brought to a stop many opportunities and events for people all across the world, and the boxing world was no exception. For most of the lockdown, McCarthy stayed at home with his wife and four children but returned as soon as he could for more boxing opportunities.
Tommy McCarthy wasn’t the only boxer to taste defeat at the hands of Riakporhe (and he certainly won’t be the last). Chris Billam-Smith’s first-ever loss in his boxing career was also to a bout with Riakporhe. Having built himself up following that loss, Billam-Smith had risen the ranks and obtained the title of Commonwealth cruiserweight and has held that title since 2019. Billam-Smith soon began to make a name for himself as McCarthy’s personal heckler, tweeting that he would “punch holes” in McCarthy and mentioning him in every fight interview.
He also had something to say about McCarthy’s technique, calling him “a traditional boxer with a more amateur style.”
For McCarthy’s part, the Belfast man was confident that Billam-Smith had an issue with maintaining his stamina, saying he would be quick to gas out after the first few rounds, something that the Englishman admits was an issue but wouldn’t for the match.
Although boxing is of course primarily a physical sport, there did seem to be a psychological aspect during the match between McCarthy and Billam-Smith. Many fans who bet on boxing struggled to pick a winner, due to the close stats of each fighter, both in terms of physicality such as height and reach, but also in their records of victories over tough opposition.
Recently retired boxer Carl “The Jackal” Frampton, a good friend and mentor of McCarthy, showed up to the bout to cheer in McCarthy’s corner. His high-profile appearance in the contest generated a lot of publicity for the event but also drew some disdain from a select few, including Billam-Smith himself but most notably, Billam-Smith’s mentor, Shane McGuigan.
Frampton had just settled an intense legal battle with McGuigan’s father Barry over his management of Frampton’s boxing career, and McGuigan the younger took it personally. He and Billam-Smith both believed Frampton’s appearance was some sort of mind game, using his status to try to throw them off their game and perform poorly.
Later, McGuigan would mock Frampton for showing up and McCarthy losing, calling him childish for attending after the court case and saying he looked like “an absolute plum.” For Frampton’s part, he defended these accusations and merely went to support his friend McCarthy in an important bout.
The match between Tommy McCarthy and Chris Billam-Smith was an important one for McCarthy: one more fight after that one and he would be in line for a world title. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned for the Belfast boxer, and his own cruiserweight title had to be relinquished to the Englishman Billam-Smith.
However, McCarthy is no stranger to hardship and adversity, having lost his mother at seven and constantly proving his worth in the boxing ring. Suffice to say, the question we should be asking isn’t will McCarthy bounce back from his defeat, it’s when.