“THURSDAY? That’s running up steps at 7am and then boxing at around 11am,” Jordan Thompson tells Boxing News. The relief at knowing exactly what he will be doing every single day is clear in his voice.
Years ago, Thompson would effortlessly chalk up ascents of the notorious Jutland Street hill in Manchester City centre. Back then, ‘Troublesome’ Thompson was a gifted athlete, blessed with determination and power but without a real plan.
These days, ‘The Practitioner of Artistic Violence’ finds himself at the heart of the action at the Matchroom gym in Essex and fights for the world cruiserweight title this weekend.
His standing in the sport has changed dramatically but he is still running the hills and steps. Thompson drove himself up and down them until he got where he needed to be.
“I like the pain. It’s similar to how you feel in a fight. The legs definitely start talking to you.”
Thompson spent years flitting between the small halls and arena undercards. Each and every time he appeared, you felt confident in informing the stranger sat next to you that they were watching a future star only to find yourself having the exact conversation again a few months later.
Thompson was raw but dedicated, looked the part, spoke well and most importantly he rarely – if ever – disappointed in the ring. For a cruiserweight division in desperate need of star power, he seemed like the perfect project. For some reason, it never happened. Deals came and went and although he seemed poised for take-off, nobody ever seemed willing to lay down a concrete runway for him.
“Really, I always seemed to be chopping and changing. There wasn’t any consistency or structure or foundation to anything I was doing. Especially at the start of the career, there wasn’t any consistency or momentum,” he said.
“I was always stopping and starting. It was very up and down.
“After fighting Vasil Ducar I had various conversations and – let’s be honest – it was a reality check at the end of the day wasn’t it? I thought, ‘Look, if I’m gonna do this, it has to be all or nothing.’ I couldn’t carry on trying to put pieces of the jigsaw together. Doing this here and that there. There were three things we came up with that I need to find. Consistency, structure and routine. Those were the three things that we targeted and the main focuses I need to concentrate on to get to the next stage of my career.”
Vasil Ducar is unlikely to ever be a champion himself but last October he was stubborn enough to hang around until the 10th and final round of his fight with Thompson. As he drifted towards a seemingly inevitable decision defeat, the Czech fighter began to let his hands go.
Thompson ended the fight on his hands and knees. Hurt but aware enough to hear the referee’s count over the sound of the final bell, he got to his feet and remained unbeaten.
Thompson is a realist and a couple of things will have hit him like a tonne of bricks the following morning. The aches and pains at having boxed more than four rounds for the first time will have eased pretty quickly but the realisation that the approach which had carried him to 13 straight victories was unlikely to get him where he wanted to be was jarring and harder to shake. He decided that it was time to become part of the machinery and got in touch with Tony Sims, one of the most established and reliable trainers in British boxing.
“I beat myself up for a little while. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I hold myself accountable and that was on me, nobody else. I think it was just a mindset which I had going into the fight which was totally wrong and totally negative then I got complacent and paid the price. I genuinely believe – and I know it’s an old cliche – that it was a blessing. It came at exactly the right time. The last ten seconds of the fight,” said Thompson, who had his first fight under Sims’ watch in April and stopped Luke Watkins.
“Only good things have come from it. It was down to me to make those changes that I had to make for myself. I held myself accountable. At the end of the day I had to do what was best for me. It was a tough decision, but you only get one shot at this, that’s one thing that’s become more apparent as my career has gone one. It’s a difficult career and a punishing one. You have to give yourself the best chance.
“After one session with Tony – which was special to be fair – I knew this was where I was going to find those three things. He’s a great guy with a wealth of experience. Everything is close to home. Everybody has good relationships with each other and get on across the board which just makes for an easier career.
“I think it was just trying to find somebody who I trusted and the routine has never changed. The structure is amazing, and the consistency is there. All three boxes ticked.”
Some fighters prefer to be given a time and place to be, turn up, do what they are told and go home. Others want to know the how’s, where’s and why’s of every aspect of their training.
For somebody who has been as self-sufficient as Thompson, there may have been times when putting his entire professional life into somebody else’s hands felt like a dereliction of duty but the one thing he retains total control over is the amount of effort and self-motivation required to succeed. For a professional fighter, there needs to be a big ‘I’ in team.
“I’m my own biggest critic. I love holding myself accountable,” he said.
“I played football for a little while at a decent level. I played for Macclesfield and then ended up at the Manchester City youth academy. Team sports are tough. You’ve got a lot of other people to depend on which sometimes can be a good thing and at other times can be a very bad thing. Especially when you’re a competitive freak. That doesn’t always go down well in competitive sports that’s for sure. It’s all good experience but I quickly realised that I was destined for the individual sports.”
Thompson comes from a family who thrive in intense individual pursuits. That ‘Practitioner of Artistic Violence’ nickname is a recent addition but it has deep roots.
His dad, Geoff, founder of the Youth Charter for sport, was a five-time karate world champion and his mum, Janice also held world titles in the sport. His sister trained as a ballerina and Thompson’s prowess as a junior tennis player is well known. At their highest level, all aesthetically pleasing sports that require a mastery of detail.
Thompson found his true calling in an activity better known for blunt force trauma than grace and precision. As a teenager, he made his way in the world of unlicensed fighting. It takes a strong mind to hold your nerve and technique as you make your way through a crowded a nightclub to take on the local doorman in front of their mates.
“A couple of times there might have been a few of us going to fight from the same area but a lot of the time it was just myself and my Mrs at the time. She’d be driving me about. It definitely gave me some different experiences and things I can put in my toolbox. They were crazy times. It’s definitely character building and it shows you a different side of boxing at a very early stage. It’s kind of make of break isn’t it?
“Unlicensed might be a bit different these days but back then, well, let’s just say it was definitely interesting.”
All of which brings us to Jai Opetai, the IBF belt-holder and widely regarded as the best cruiserweight in the world.
Thompson took the scenic route this far up the mountain but has jumped in a cable car to reach the summit. Opetai represents a massive step up from Vasil Ducar and Luke Watkins.
His path might have been more circuitous than the vast majority of unbeaten world title challengers, but it has seen him amass all of the component parts required to be a top-level fighter. Thompson has athletic ability, power, patience and mental toughness. We are about to find out whether Tony Sims has had enough time to assemble those parts into a fighter capable of ruling the world.
“Opetaia’s a good operator. He’s got good experience in the game. He’s a good boxer. He showed determination in his last fight against Mairis Bredis but apart from that I don’t know a lot about him in honesty,” Thompson said.
“There was a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes with mandatories and voluntaries and all that stuff but I try my best to stay out of the business of boxing. I’m a fighter. That’s where it helps having a team looking after you. You know everything is sorted on that side of things.
“Timing is everything. Everything has fallen into place. I’ve got the perfect structure and the perfect set up. I’m getting better every single day with every single spar I’m having. Things are happening for me and they’re happening at a fast pace, but I’ve been blessed with being a quick learner. On September 30 it’s about showing a new and improved version of myself.”