IBF cruiserweight world champion Jai Opetaia flew in from Australia to wipe out Jordan Thompson inside four rounds on his Matchroom and UK debut this past Saturday at Wembley Arena, London.
Opetaia (23-0, 18 KOs) shot into the consciousness of boxing fans from the relative obscurity of Australia’s small hall scene to defeat Mairis Briedis in a fight of the year candidate but has been sidelined for 14 months since, until this weekend's knockout victory.
“I’m happy with my performance, we came in to make a statement and I feel like that’s what we did.” Opetaia said as he sat in Camden Market enjoying his second Heineken in an exclusive for ProBox TV. “I thought he was a worthy opponent going into the fight, he’s a dangerous fighter. It was good to get it done in good time.”
The Sydney born southpaw had question marks hanging over him coming to London to defend his title against an Englishman who we also knew little about at world championship level. The undefeated 28 year old jumped out of nowhere to snatch the title against Briedis in his native Australia, he almost jumped back after a double broken jaw followed by a legal dispute with his then promoter.
“I was ready for 12 hard rounds, I personally thought the fight was going to go longer.” Opetaia continued on his win over Thompson. “I thought he was going to be a bit more active, but once he felt my power with my body they looked like they really underestimated my power. He was planning to bully me! He thought because he was such a big dude he was going to be able to walk in there and control me, but I took it away from him pretty early especially with the pace, the leading right hand and and the footwork.
“It was definitely the Jordan Thompson fight night. They were really praying for my downfall and praying for him to take the belt off me, which I understand. The Aussie coming here, they wanted to keep the belt in the UK. But, we came here to get respected and that’s what we did. It’s all business, Eddie and Jordan, I’m sure they are really good dudes. There is no personal hatred from me or my team at all. We are here to do a job, once that job is done we are also here to help each other to go where we need to go. We are in the game of boxing, there can only be one.”
Last summer we saw Opetaia’s crowning moment when he scored a unanimous-decision win to claim cruiserweight glory. His moment was made ever more heroic, suffering a double broken jaw which he fought through for the majority of the 12 round contest. However, a long period of inactivity coupled with a promotional legal dispute followed.
“It has been crazy inside and outside of the ring.” Opetaia said of the past 14 months. “There was a lot of outside noise and stuff. So much has been dragging me back and stopping me from getting where I’m trying to go. We have just stayed focused, we have trained hard and I’ve been locked into the gym. You can’t let the negative people hold you back, and it showed [against Thompson], you know what I mean? Michael Francis has definitely been there since day one, we started Tasman Fighters [Opetaia’s co-promoter]. We were trying to get on all these cards and we were getting shit pay and we weren’t getting any main events, so we started Tasman Fighters. Build it and they will come, that’s what happened.
“My main goal is to get those big fights over in Australia. I would love to fight at Gosford Stadium in my hometown on the Central Coast, I want to do a unification fight there. It is a process though, we are willing to do those hard things needed to make those things happen. Matchroom has that international platform that we need. It just fits good. The cruiserweight division is massive over here in England so it opens up a lot of doors for us. It is hard for us down in Australia to get that international experience and international bouts, but having Matchroom on our side will make things go a lot easier.”
Promoter Hearn confirmed to ProBox TV that a rematch between Opetaia and Briedis will be next after a fight with Boxxer’s Richard Riakporhe fell through prior to Saturday’s explosive performance in London.
“Briedis is the mandatory that I will have to fight if the IBF demands it,” Opetaia explained, “I will have to wait and see, if so then we will do the rematch. I believe it will be the same result if not better this time. I would prefer to have a unification fight, we will see what happens. I’ll just have to stay fit and stay strong. Whoever they put in front of me is who I have to beat. I believe he is still one of the hardest fights in the division, he’s a great boxer, he’s getting a bit long in the tooth but he showed in my last fight that he can still do 12 hard rounds.
“Riakporhe, I believe, is one of the better in the division as well. He is dangerous and looks like a good fighter but I have no doubt I beat him. I leave a lot of the business side of things to my team. I’m sure Riakporhe was happy to take the fight, but it’s those guys in fancy suits that are telling boxers what to do. The business side of it all becomes a circus, but that’s not my job to worry about, my job is to beat whoever they put in front of me. They have thrown so many names in front of me, it’s all talk, until I see a contract signed. Words are just words.”