Tommy McCarthy came out the wrong side of a tight and tense war of attrition in a brilliantly glammed-up Matchroom headquarters on Saturday night.
The Belfast cruiserweight and Chris Billam Smith served up a sensational blood and guts 12 rounds in the first Matchroom UK show exclusive to DAZN.
Both fighters had moments throughout an ebb and flow encounter that was ultimately scored the way of the English fighter.
‘The Gentleman’ took a 114-115,115-114, 116-112 decision and added the European and British titles to the Commonwealth strap he already owned.
The drama began well long before the first bell as Carl Frampton was sent to Billam Smith’s dressing room to watch Shane McGuigan, his former trainer and former friend wrap the hands of the cruiserweight – and reports suggest words were exchanged between the teams well before ring walks were underway.
However, the real action was seen in the ring with action of note from first to last bell. Both had their moments, both took big shots and both dug deep in a bid to keep alive their world title dreams.
The first round was a tentative affair. McCarthy was struggling to find rhythm and employ his skills but just when it looked like the round was going the English fighter’s way, ‘The Mack’ landed a sensational right hand to hurt his opponent. Billam-Smith had to take a left hook soon after but with just 17 seconds remaining in the round, the Belfast fighter hadn’t enough time to finish.
McCarthy, 30 looked more assured in the second but was big right-hand happy, something he got told off for between rounds.
The majority of the quality came from a more relaxed McCarthy in the third. Billam-Smith kept marching forward and did have success but the more eye catching shots appeared to come from the Oliver Plunketts graduate.
McCarthy found his range in the fourth and was countering well and landing combos but again Billam-Smith was still there applying pressure.
A fight broke in the fifth. ‘Big Tommy’ held his feet early in the round and the exchange that followed handed back the English fighter the initiative. Billam-Smith bulled forward and landed some eye thudding hooks. McCarthy took them well, fought back and was able to regroup as the stanza came to a close. However, it was still a big round for the Shane McGuigan trained operator.
The sixth was even enough and hard to score but McCarthy exited it with a cut over his right eye and looking tired. ‘The Mac Attack’ showed his skills under pressure in the seventh, landing some quality shots from range and distance. However, his opponent looked the aggressor and was pushing the Belfast man back. The cut also seemed to get worse as a tense and exciting bout progressed.
Tommy McCormack sorted the cut between seven and eight, which was a punch for punch round three minutes where both had to dig deep.
A jaded McCarthy was still able to consult his high boxing IQ in the ninth and he started to land big looping right hands again – but again his opponent took them and had his moments of success.
The fight was in the balance going into the championship rounds. There was still a what you like element in terms of scoring in a tight, tense and entertaining battle. Each round seemed to be up for grabs in the last 30 seconds and the tenth was no different.
McCarthy went on his toes in the penultimate round and ‘The Gentleman’ looked lost, eating some well-timed jabs. The Shane McGuigan trained fighter also ate a big right hand as McCarthy got his flow back.
The final round saw both somehow find the strength to let their hands go and the clash got a fitting entertaining ending. Also, fitting was the tight nature of a round where both bit down on their gumshield.
A big embrace followed the final bell as the animosity that existed was replaced by respect.