Moments after dismantling Jordan Thompson inside four one-sided rounds at Wembley Arena last night, IBF and Ring Magazine cruiserweight champion, Jai Opetaia, caught the eye of a familiar face at ringside.
“I want that WBO belt around my waist,” Opetai (23-0, 18 KO’s) said. “It’s a fight I really want. Respect to Chris Billam-Smith but there can only be one king of the cruiserweight division and that’s me.”
The 200lb division currently revolves around the undefeated champion from Sydney. The man he beat to take the titles last July, Mairis Breidis, was also in attendance in London. He was recently installed as the IBF’s mandatory challenger for his old belt and the three-time cruiserweight champion made sure to make his presence felt at ringside.
Billam-Smith (18-1, 12 KO’s) was providing color commentary for BBC Radio 5Live and said, “I know what Mairis is like. He wants a rematch. He isn’t here for no reason. He’s here to make a fight. The first fight, I think he had a few problems going into it so he’s going to want to put things right in the rematch.”
Before he can target Opetaia himself, Billam-Smith has business to attend to. We are still waiting to find out whether his contracted rematch with Lawrence Okolie will go ahead - something ‘The Gentleman’ and his team are open to - but he will want to fight before the end of the year and maintain the momentum he created by outpointing Okolie in front of a sold out football stadium in May.
Nonetheless, Billam-Smith was clearly pleased to be at the centre of discussions about the future of the cruiserweight division. Despite seeing Opetaia quickly take Thompson apart from just yards away, the Bournemouth man was still able to see ways in which he could impose his own attributes on the Australian.
“He said that he wants the fight and that he wants the WBO title,” he told Chris Lloyd on the 5live broadcast. “Eddie [Hearn, Opetaia’s co-promoter] was telling me in the week that it’s a family reason, I think it’s his grandpa who apparently loves the WBO - it’s his favorite - so he’s got a lot of motivation behind that belt but that’s my belt and it’ll staying [here].
“That’s a fight I’ve been trying to make, before I even had the Lawrence [Okolie] fight. You’ve got to play to your own strengths. My strengths are my toughness and my workrate. He’s not as big or as tall as me. He’s a fantastic fighter but I’ll be looking to play to my strengths.”