LAST month we were provided evidence of why fringe and regional titles can sometimes be a poisoned chalice for British boxers when Daniel Dubois, the WBA “regular” heavyweight champion, was found to be out of his depth in the presence of Oleksandr Usyk, a man far more experienced and skilful.
Tonight (September 30), too, we were given further evidence of this in the form of Jordan Thompson, the IBF “European” champion, stepping up several levels to challenge Jai Opetaia, the number one cruiserweight in the world. For much like Dubois, Thompson, now 15-1 (13), was not only out of his depth at Wembley Arena this evening, something clear from the outset, but was also punished and beaten up and shown that just because you possess a title of some description and have worked your way up the rankings does not necessarily mean fighting the best in the world is either advisable or particularly good for your health.
Indeed, as far as Thompson is concerned, it was obvious from as early as 30 seconds into the fight that he was no match for Opetaia. By then, the Australian southpaw, four inches shorter than Thompson, had already, and quite effortlessly, closed the distance between them and found it just as easy landing his left cross as well as whatever other punches he felt inclined to throw.
At the very least, one had expected Thompson’s size to present an issue for Opetaia, but that was never really the case. Nor was his power ever a factor, either, despite the pre-fight claims that he would be the puncher and would, for that reason alone, be a danger.
As it happened, though, neither Thompson’s power nor his height was a factor in the fight. Rather, tonight was all about Opetaia and his ability to first close the distance and then land, with startling accuracy and economy, any number of punches on his unproven British challenger. Most notable of these was the cross, of course, which did most of the damage, but also mightily impressive were the body shots Opetaia used to wind and soften Thompson in the very first round, as well as the right hook which typically followed the cross whenever he stabbed that shot in the direction of his upright and vulnerable challenger.
Smooth, both in terms of his movement and the execution of his punches, Opetaia didn’t take long to settle into the fight, this despite being on foreign soil, nor did the Australian waste any time doing damage to his opponent. In fact, following a flurry to end round one, which unsettled Thompson and had him unsteady on his feet, Opetaia was then, in the second, able to bloody the underdog’s nose and continue to chip away at his resistance and, every bit as important, his self-belief.
By round three, the finish was merely a matter time. In that round, and in something of a last stand, Thompson swung in tandem with Opetaia, hoping to catch him during an exchange, yet came out of this exchange worse off, nailed more than once before eventually being cuffed to the floor by a right hook.
After that, having been counted by referee Howard Foster, Thompson continued to try to land something to now turn the fight around, only walked into an additional stream of shots, mostly left hands, all thrown by Opetaia with increasing urgency and a confidence that nothing coming back would have much of an impact.
So one-sided was the fight now, in fact, Opetaia, when finishing his final combination of the round, turned to referee Foster at the bell and shot him a look; a look as if to say, “I hope you’re keeping an eye on him (Thompson)”; or, if not that, it was a look to say, “How much more of this do you want to see?”
About 20 seconds, as it turned out.
That was the length of time Thompson lasted in round four and that was all it took for Foster, sickened by the sight of his countryman shipping stiff left hands, to intervene and call a halt to proceedings.
By then, not only was Opetaia bullying an overmatched opponent with frightening ease, but even Thompson’s trainer, Tony Sims, had warned his fighter, between rounds three and four, that the writing was on the wall. “Listen, Jordan,” he had said, “you’ve got one more round in there.”
Even that, in truth, sounded a tad ambitious given all that had happened in the previous three. Because Thompson, despite clear physical advantages, and despite possessing power at domestic level, demonstrated nothing whatsoever to suggest he had it in him to be competitive with Opetaia tonight, much less push him close or dethrone him. All he was able to produce, in fact, much like Dubois in August, was a cautionary tale; a reminder that just because a spurious title leads to a shot at a bigger one doesn’t always mean this shot is deserved, nor mean the title challenge will be beneficial for either their health or any long-term goals.
As for Opetaia, relieved to be back following a prolonged period of injury, there could be no better way to remind people of his quality on the world stage. That he did this in front of a half-full Wembley Arena is not exactly ideal, no, but if he can demolish mismatched opponents like Thompson in this manner, making the fight thrilling in spite of its lack of two-way action, there’s every chance Opetaia, now 23-0 (18), could be exactly what the cruiserweight division needs.