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Behind the Gloves: The Human Side of Chris Billam-Smith's Journey to Becoming World Champion

Behind the shiny and glamourous appeal of boxing world titles, there is a fighter. And although we tend to forget, behind every fighter, there is a human. I say “behind” because, truly, to go against everything you stand for to violently punch someone unconscious, you end up leaving some of the human behind. But how does tapping in and out of beast mode affect current cruiserweight world champion Chris Billam-Smith and the people around him?



Last week, I had to pleasure of speaking to The Gentleman, his wife Mia and their beautiful 2-year-old son. Catching them on a restful Saturday meant I got a glimpse of their rare time together as a family, since Chris dedicates weekdays to intense training in London while Mia and sweet Frank wait back home. “Missing Frank growing up is difficult, I’ve missed a few 'firsts', his firsts steps and things like that, that’s really difficult” said Chris, “last week, I said to him “I’ll see you next week” and I think he understood what I meant – he grabbed my face, pulled in and kissed me.” The love and bond between them as a family were evident, despite the challenges faced. Chris spoke candidly about the sacrifices made, not just in terms of physical training but also in missing out on precious family moments. It was clear that each milestone he misses only strengthens his dedication both to his sport and his family, especially due to Mia's unwavering support and ability to balance their home and work life. While Mia prepared Frank’s dinner and Chris watched him excitedly jump from the windowsill onto the sofa, they told me about life before boxing.


Hailing from the coast down in Bournemouth, Chris first laced up his gloves at a young age. Although some say he is not the most naturally talented boxer, his dedication quickly became apparent as he rose through the ranks of the amateur circuit, honing his skills and earning the respect of his peers along the way until making the transition to the professional ranks in 2017. Meanwhile, Mia had been an interior designer for 7 years, passionately transforming houses into homes and projects into art. But with a job herself, a son to raise and Chris’ career becoming bigger by the day, Mia selflessly quit her job to help manage Chris’. What a journey it must’ve been for her to witness him go from not having a penny to his name and living in a caravan to champion of the world.


But it wasn’t all roses even after Chris became a professional boxer – the couple had their struggles. With a half-smile, Mia recounted their wedding: “We were due to get married in Italy with 120 people, it was all planned, deposits paid (…) and then COVID happened.” What I heard next truly reflects the kind of people the Billam-Smiths are. With already so much admiration (if you haven’t watched Stable on BBC iPlayer1 yet, I suggest you do… with tissues on hand!), here I was listening to a boxing world champion and a remarkable interior designer, mother, and wife, only to be even more surprised by their humility and simplicity: “We got married in front of 14 people at a local registry office and had our reception at a local pizza place.” With Chris having had only one fight in 15 months, Mia tenderly remembered “we were the most skint we’d ever been, we lost all our deposits… I just got a wedding ring off Etsy for 80 quid and it was awful, I’ve never worn it since my wedding day. Chris’ was even cheaper.” But with a pause followed by an exhale and a smile, Mia touchingly said “financially, it was the worst we’ve ever been, but also the closest we’ve ever been.”



It was so clear that their relationship is one stripped of any selfish motives and a true companionship. I asked Mia how it felt for her following his fights so closely. Although some anxiety is certainly expected during the build-up to a fight, I was surprised to hear just how much of a toll it can take at times: “A few weeks before every fight, I get nervous and normally have a bit of a meltdown,” said Mia. “it’s not that I think he’ll lose, it’s just I worry for his health (…) plus, there’s always drama.” In the days leading up to the last fight, Mia told me about receiving threatening emails aimed at scaring her into pulling Chris out of the match. It became clear to me how little we, as mere spectators and fans, truly understand about the ugly side of the sport. I had noticed nasty comments on Chris' posts before, but it only truly shocked and saddened me after speaking with the two and realising that, before being anything the media wants us to believe, these are two hard-working individuals, two dedicated parents, and two human beings... Living life with its ups and downs like everyone else.

 

Talking to Mia and Chris was so

pleasant that no one seemed to realise an hour had already passed, except for little Frank who suddenly became impatient with his parents’ attention being on me (can you blame him?) – Chris calmly got up to entertain him for a bit, and in this moment, it hit me that this gentle giant moving so patiently and calmly is the same man capable of knocking someone out with his fist. “Chris, what do you think turns The Gentleman into the fierce fighter we see in the ring?”, I asked. “I honestly don’t know.” Chris responded with a puzzled look on his face. “I know I’m a different person on fight mode, I’m able to flip the switch between the real me and the boxing version of me.

I think you’ve got to have a split personality and being able to control that is something I’ve fortunately been pretty good at, but I’m not sure why that’s the case. Maybe because I’ve always loved shows like Dexter… it’s almost like having a character or an alter ego that I can just tap into on fight night. I like to think of myself as a good person, and I think if you are that way inclined, you have to become someone else because when it comes to being in the ring, it’s against everything I stand for in a weird way.”

 

As our conversation drew to a close, I was deeply moved by the contrast between Chris' ferocity in the ring and his gentle demeanour at home, as well as Mia’s gentleness alongside her unshakable strength. For me, the Billam-Smiths exemplify the delicate balance between the demands of professional boxing and the importance of family, and their story is a powerful reminder that behind every fighter, is a dedicated group of people (not simply a dedicated individual) with their own personal battles, sacrifices, and triumphs. No matter how fierce the battle or daunting the challenge, it is the strength of human connections and the support of loved ones that truly helps us overcome such difficulties. Like we at CONKA like to say, 1 + 1 = 3.



 

Leticia Hosang, BSc


Leticia is a sports science, sports psychology and neuroscience researcher, previously working with Brunel London University and exploring the effects of exercise on brain activity.


 

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