By Scott Williamson: Cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia emphatically defended his IBF and Ring Magazine titles in a four-round demolition of British challenger Jordan Thompson at Wembley Arena on Saturday night. Opetaia, boxing for the first time since dethroning dangerous Latvian Mairis Breidis in a July 2022 thriller, showed no sign of rustiness as he made short work of his overmatched opponent.
Thompson, inexperienced at the upper levels of the sport, appeared out of his depth from the opening bell as Opetaia landed power punches seemingly at will. At 6’6, the Brit held a four-inch height advantage, but he was unable to prevent the Australian from closing the distance and landing hurtful blows.
Opetaia punctuated the first round with a barrage of punches that left Thompson visibly wobbled. The second round saw much of the same, with the champion easily finding his way to the inside and bowling shots over the top despite his opponent’s superior reach.
A series of powerful rights and lefts felled Thompson less than a minute into the third. Sensing blood, Opetaia launched a relentless assault that had Thompson staggering back to his stool at the end of the round.
The Brit’s corner would have been forgiven for calling a halt to proceedings between the action, but they sent their man out to sustain further punishment. A powerful overhand right then sent Thompson tumbling to the canvas early in the fourth, and referee Howard Foster correctly waved the fight off.
“This is what I do. I’m born for this s**, I live for it,” Opetaia said after the fight. “I feel like this fight night was Jordan Thompson’s fight night, you know what I mean? I feel like they made it about him. It was nothing to do with me. They put me in this small ring, thinking they were going to cut me off, but that’s what happens. I’ve got good footwork, and they tried to take that away from me with this little ring. But I’ve got the power, too. I told them from the start they were underestimating my power, and that’s what happens.”
Opetaia, who improves to 23-0, was returning to the ring after 14 months of inactivity following his upset victory over Breidis in a fight-of-the-year candidate. He suffered two fractures to his jaw in a grueling encounter against the Latvian and made reference to repeated surgeries in his post-fight interview. “I felt good. All the operations are upgrades. I don’t think about them anymore. I’m stronger now,” he said of his recovery.
Certainly, the champion did not seem troubled by lingering injury. Looking ahead, he set his sights on WBO titlist Chris Billam-Smith. “I’ve got this fight out of the way, and I’m looking forward. Who’s next? I’ve been saying it, I come here to earn respect, not disrespect. I’d love to fight [Chris Billam-Smith]. I want that WBO belt around my waist.”
Billam-Smith, covering the fight for UK radio, expressed enthusiasm about a potential unification. However, he is contractually obligated to rematch Lawrence Okolie, whom he unexpectedly defeated in May of this year.
With both Billam-Smith and Okolie occupied, Opetaia could face another Brit in Richard Riakporhe, who previously withdrew from an ordered bout against the Australian after their respective promoters failed to come to an agreement. Riakporhe knocked out former WBO champion Krzysztof Głowacki in January.
It is unlikely that Thompson, a one-time tennis prospect, will receive another world title opportunity in the near future.