Jai Opetaia ended an unwelcome layoff with a sensational first title defense.
The unbeaten lineal and IBF cruiserweight champion made work of Jordan Thompson, whom he stopped in the fourth round. Opetaia scored two knockdowns, the latter which forced the stoppage at 0:20 of round four in their DAZN-aired main event Saturday evening from OVO Arena Wembley in London.
“I stand here in this ring and I’m born for this shit,” Opetaia said after the first successful defense of his cruiserweight championship.
Nearly 15 months had passed since Sydney’s Opetaia dethroned Latvia’s Mairis Briedis (who was ringside on Saturday) last July 2 in Broadbeach, Australia. A broken jaw suffered that night, followed by shoulder surgery earlier this year left Opetaia in a position to have to honor a mandatory title defense.
Back-to-back withdrawals by Mateusz Masternak and Richard Riakporhe permitted an optional defense for the unbeaten southpaw, which created an opportunity for Thompson. There was concern that the Manchester-bred, London-based cruiserweight was underprepared for such an opportunity given his lack of experience at this level.
It showed in the ring as Opetaia landed power shots virtually at will for as long as the fight lasted.
Opetaia hurt Thompson in the opening round and drew blood early in the fight. Thompson was willing and had confidence in his own equalizer but never really had the chance to land such a shot to turn the tide.
Thompson enjoyed modest success with his right hand in round two but only in singular moments. Each were immediately met with left hands by Opetaia, the youngest ever Australian Olympian who competed as a teenager in 2012 London who was unfazed in his first pro fight in the U.K.
Opetaia scored the first of two knockdowns on the night early in round three. It came after Thompson landed a power shot before he caught one in return, though he argued that he was wrestled to the canvas. He was forced to take an eight count before action resumed. Opetaia continued on the attack and badly rocked Thompson just before the bell.
Head trainer Tony Sims warned Thompson between rounds that he had to show him something to avoid a stoppage.
Opetaia quickly took that decision out of their hands.
Thompson was cornered early in round four as Opetaia moved in to close the show. A left hand down the middle crashed home on Thompson’s bloodied face, and a right hook caused the Brit to tip forward. Foster intervened as Thompson melted to the canvas.
It was a harsh reality check for Thompson, who fell to 15-1 (12KOs) with his first career defeat. Many suspected the fight would be too much, too soon for the first-time challenger given his relatively thin resume, though his conqueror felt like he needed to send a clearer message.
“I felt like this entire fight week was about Jordan Thompson,” said Opetaia. “It was nothing to do with me. They put me in this small ring thinking they were going to cut me off but look what happened. I got good footwork… I told them I got good power, too. Look what happened.”
Opetaia advanced to 23-0 (18KOs) with the win and sent a dangerous statement that he is the man to rule the cruiserweight division.
Briedis was in the house for the event but the former three-division titlist will likely need another notable win to arouse interest in a rematch. Also ringside was reigning WBO cruiserweight titlist Chris Billam-Smith (18-1, 12KOs), who won the belt over then-unbeaten Lawrence Okolie in May and eyes a potential rematch later this year.
Of any fight that can be made at cruiserweight, Opetaia-CBS is the most attractive but comes with its share of complications. Opetaia is co-promoted by Matchroom Boxing and Tasman Fighters, while Billam-Smith is with BOXXER. The business could ultimately dictate if it’s worth it for those two sides to come together, though Opetaia isn’t at all concerned about who comes for his crown.
“I’ve been saying at all press conferences, I’ve come here to earn respect, not disrespect,” stated Opetaia. “Chris Billam-Smith, I’d love to make that fight happen. I want that WBO around my waist.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox