Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk, Mairis Breidis and Jordan Thompson, and the sparring sessions that threaten Jai Opetaia

Jordan Thompson is relying on his time spent sparring Tyson Fury, Oleksandr Usyk and Maris Briedis compensating for his inexperience when on Saturday he fights Jai Opetaia. 

The 30 year old is challenging the world’s leading cruiserweight for the IBF title in only his 16th fight after turning professional in 2015 with minimal amateur experience. Since then, however, without making a significant impression in one of Britain’s most competitive weight divisions, he has contributed to career-best performances from the world’s two finest heavyweights, and also to what was is widely regarded as Breidis’ best win.

Thompson sparred Fury when Fury was preparing for his rematch in 2020 with Deontay Wilder, in which he became the first to defeat the American by stopping him in seven rounds. He was also among Usyk’s sparring partners for the remarkably cultured performance he produced when being crowned the undisputed cruiserweight champion by defeating Murat Gassiev in 2018. 

If Opetaia succeeded Breidis as the world’s leading cruiserweight by defeating him in 2022, Breidis had previously succeeded Usyk – by then pursuing Anthony Joshua – with victory over Yuniel Dorticos in 2020. On Saturday at Wembley Arena Thompson will in turn succeed Opetaia, 28, in the event of victory; if he does so he will know that he succeeded because of his time around some of the very best.  

“What other people call their amateur pedigree, I did through sparring,” he said. “I sparred Tyson Fury; [Mairis] Briedis; [Oleksandr] Usyk. I’ve sparred some of the best in the game and did really well. They speak really highly of me, and it gave me a lot of confidence from those spars – I think that’s all been an amazing part of my development. 

“We’ve done a lot of work with Fury; over 100 rounds. They’ve been second to none. He’s been there with Sugar Hill [Steward]; amazing experience from him; good teaching points. I’m learning on the job – when I go into situations like these, I’m a sponge.

“Even one-to-one, [Fury’s] given me some real good advice; shed some light on what he thinks I should be doing; what it feels like; how I should be going about things. Those are things that I have taken into my career and taken into consideration. Those are things that I’m still exercising now.

“[Sparring Usyk] was an amazing experience. Ukraine; Kiev. Interesting; had its ups and downs, but again it was trials and tribulations that you’ve got to put up with. I learned a lot about myself.

“I didn’t see a lot of Ukraine. I was sparring; hotel; sparring; hotel. Pretty simple.

“[Usyk] gave me a lot of lessons in the ring. Part of being me – part of being the fighter that I am now. It was a tough time out there.

“How relaxed; smart; technical; intelligent [Usyk is]. His ring IQ, I remember I thought I’d never been in with someone so relaxed – apart from, funnily enough, Tyson Fury.

“It’s crazy to say, but, world title fight – Ring Magazine fight – I’m gonna be in there and I’m gonna be learning on the job [again]. But again, I’m a winner, and I’m going to win.”

Thompson’s respected trainer Tony Sims was absent for some of the final days of his preparations for Saturday’s fight, owing to his being in Orlando for the controversial return to the boxing ring of Conor Benn. In his absence Kevin Mitchell oversaw his training and sparring sessions; Thompson also continues to use what he learned from Sugar Hill Steward, even more widely respected than Sims. 

“Maybe that was just because of the style of fighter that I am,” explained Thompson. “You’ve got Tommy Hearns – long levers. Gerald McClellan – long levers; big puncher. Lennox [Lewis]; Tyson Fury; so again that might have helped a lot. Seeing what he’s done with other fighters – like what he did with Fury in the rematch with [Deontay] Wilder. There was a big, big difference [in Fury’s tactics and power], and a major part as to why he won the fight, and in the fashion that he won the fight.

“Now I’m on the other end of the sparring where I’ve got fresh sparring partners coming in after a brutal day the day before of S and C [strength and conditioning] or training. 

“I didn’t really have time to plan [my career progress], so we had to improvise. When you’ve been blessed with the skill set, and the power, and the speed, and the athleticism that I have, there is no time like the present.

“These are opportunities that you can’t really pass up, and that was made clear to me and my team. I trust my team; I trust myself; so we’re keen to take the opportunity [to challenge Opetaia].”

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