ALL talk this week will be of Jermell Charlo’s daring mission to scale not only the mighty Canelo Alvarez, but two weight classes in the process. Yet one can soundly argue that the challenge facing London-based Mancunian Jordan Thompson is every bit as daunting.
Though the 30-year-old has shown flashes of raw promise during his 15-0 (12) career, he’s been nowhere near world class opposition. That fact alone might make his number five ranking with the IBF somewhat perplexing and his chances of beating that organisation’s belt-holder and current world champion, Jai Opetaia, negligeable. For the record, Thompson’s lofty rating can be explained by him twice competing for the spurious IBF European title and paying sanctioning fees to the organisation in the process.
Yet some may fancy the 11/4 underdog to pull off the upset purely because Opetaia, 22-0 (17), isn’t exactly drenched in topflight experience himself. It would also be fair to compare Thompson’s chances to those afforded to Opetaia when he himself went into a bout with the respected and favoured Mairis Briedis last July. Fourteen months ago, the Australian southpaw exceeded all reasonable expectation to defeat Briedis on points after a stirring and gruelling 12-round war of attrition. Why he hasn’t fought since then can predominantly be attributed to the injuries the 28-year-old suffered in battle, the worst of which was a broken jaw that took several months to heal.
But to say that Opetaia was plucked from obscurity wouldn’t be strictly true. A multiple national champion in the vest, and a participant in both the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games, he has a pedigree that cannot be matched by the British challenger, whose grounding in the fistic arts predominantly occurred on the unlicensed circuit. Throw in Thompson enduring an almighty scare against the unheralded Vasil Ducar last August, when the Brit ended the bout on the floor only to win on points, and those 11/4 odds against him appear generous.
Yet Thompson will of course fancy his chances. A naturally fit and strong specimen, one with a decent dig who measures 6ft 6ins, he’s shown improvement since joining forces with Tony Sims and, while stopping former Commonwealth boss Luke Watkins in April, he put his punches together both sensibly and with significant force. Even so, the jump from Watkins to Opetaia looks preposterous.
It remains to be seen how good Opetaia really is, however. Though the victory over Briedis was indeed impressive, boxers can – particularly on home soil – produce one magnificent showing that is never again replicated. Before that showcase effort it’s true that Opetaia, though a busy and powerful boxer, hadn’t exactly got the tongues of the boxing world wagging. He will also concede four inches in height to Thompson, who will need to start to fast to avoid being overrun.
Opetaia, the first leftie that the challenger has faced since he stopped journeyman Istvan Orsos in 2019, may find it difficult to stifle Thompson’s energy in the early going. And the challenger, who is acutely aware of the magnitude of this opportunity, may well have success in spots. But the feeling is that the champion will work out his opponent to successfully defend his title when the plucky Brit is rescued in the second half.
Heading the Wembley Arena undercard is the affable Ellie Scotney, 7-0, who makes the first defence of his IBF super-bantamweight strap against Argentina’s robust but limited Laura Soledad Griffa, 21-8 (1). With just one KO between them, and none of the 37-year-old’s defeats coming inside schedule, it seems likely this one will go the full 10 (two-minute) rounds.
Scotney, 25 years old and trained by Shane McGuigan, is improving with every outing. Though not particularly exciting or a hard puncher, it is nonetheless always good to watch her fight, such is her understanding of the noble art. Smart, natural and, as a consequence of being her own worst critic, she’s always eager to improve.
Griffa, in contrast, doesn’t appear to be on any kind of ascent. Though she’s the South America champion and the victor in her previous two, she lost six on the bounce before that and, barring a freak injury, seems almost certain to lose here as well. The pick is for Scotney to win practically every round.
With four spots up for grabs in the current IBF cruiserweight top 15, Cheavon Clarke, 6-0 (5), may find himself filling one of them if he can beat the aforementioned Vasil Ducar, 14-6-2 (10), in their 10-round bout. Why? Because the vacant IBF international belt is on the line. Ker-ching.
In fairness, sanctioning body shenanigans aside, this is solid matchmaking and a sensible step up for the 32-year-old prospect. Expect this one to go the full route as well, with Clarke being wary of Ducar’s power before winning on points.
Arguably the most evenly-matched scrap on the bill occurs between Warrington’s Rhiannon Dixon, 8-1 (1), and Norway’s Katharina Thanderz, 16-1 (2). The 35-year-old has had mixed results against British opposition in the past, losing in nine rounds to Terri Harper in 2020 and tightly outpointing Rachal Ball over eight the year before.
Dixon, a southpaw and 28 years old, is in good form as evidenced by her sixth round stoppage of Vicky Wilkinson in March. That bout won her the Commonwealth lightweight title and she can add the European belt, currently vacant, with victory here.
THE VERDICT: Opetaia himself proved last year that you can’t completely write off the underdog.