Sometimes a fighter scores a marquee win and goes straight into another huge fight.
Rarely, a fighter takes a breakout scalp and finds himself on the outside looking in.
The latter has happened to Australian southpaw cruiserweight champion and consensus 200lbs No. 1 Jai Opetaia.
Following an outstanding victory over Mairis Briedis in July 2022, the world was at the Aussie’s feet.
However, Opetaia suffered a broken jaw in that bruising encounter and once that healed, he was due to face Mateusz Masternak, but a shoulder injury required surgery.
The WBO champion insists he is good and ready to make up for lost time now, though.
But he also enters the UK with a challenger’s mindset.
Although he brings the belt, he knows that his opponent Jordan Thompson was a Matchroom fighter well before Opetaia put pen to paper with the promotional force.
And, of course, the contest is in Wembley Arena, a long way from home for the champion.
“Definitely, it’s a challenge,” admitted Opetaia. “All of it’s a challenge. The fight’s not won until my hand’s raised. So, one mistake, one fault, and the fight could be over. I could lose, and that’s why I train hard every day, I’m not looking passed this fight at all.”
It is Thompson’s first excursion at this level, but the Tony Sims-trained prospect is athletic and can punch. Thompson has good variety, too, and Opetaia says he’s excited by the bout. More so, he is ready to put more than a year of inactivity since becoming the champion behind him.
“It’s been frustrating, you know, obviously after winning a world title you’d think everything’s going to fall into place and it’ll be easier to get the fights, but it’s been the complete opposite,” admitted Opetaia. “But it is what it is. We’ve been through a few adversities, but September 30 we get the job done. We’ve been growing. It’s been over a year since we’ve been in the ring, but we’ve been busy at camp and just training hard. We’ve been growing in every way and I just can’t wait to go again.”
The shoulder injury that snapped Opetaia’s progression immediately after claiming his title occurred while in training but he said he feels fine now. More than that, Opetaia talks with something that converges in a Venn diagram somewhere in the middle of anger, distrust and menace.
There are no airs and graces. In fact, even though unintentional, Opetaia talks with a devil-may-care attitude that is reminiscent of no-nonsense and short-fused Aussie hardmen like Jeff Fenech and Lester Ellis.
But that does not stop him from giving Thompson his props as the challenger.
“He is a good fighter,” Opetaia continued. “I respect him as a fighter. I think he’s a good challenge, but I see me winning the fight. I feel like I’ve got too much ammunition for him. I’ve got an answer for anything he’s going to bring, so let’s get it on.”
Thompson is 15-0 with 12 stoppages. He has done 10 rounds once, and knocked out 10 opponents in two rounds or less. Opetaia is a marked step up, unbeaten in 22 fights and in search of unification contests.
“Yeah, I think I’m the best fighter that he would’ve fought so far, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be there,” Opetaia went on. “I’m not taking this fight lightly at all. I think he’s got good ability and he’s got good power so we’ve been training extremely hard. I’ve been training for 12 rounds of war, I’m ready to go wherever this fight leads.”
Thompson might not be well-known outside UK boxing circles, but Opetaia has plenty of respect for him and has been doing his homework on the challenger.
“We have,” Opetaia replied, when asked if he’s studied tape. “Obviously his [Thompson’s] height and range is one of the biggest aspects of it. Like I said, if he wants to stay at long and box, I’ve got the footwork and the speed to do that. If he wants to bang inside and he wants to come in close, I’ve got the power and the mongrel [dog] to do that, and to top it off, I’ve got the fitness to do whatever he picks to do for 12 rounds straight. I’m ready. I’m ready to fucking go wherever this fight goes.”
His last contest saw Opetaia dig in with a broken jaw to win the title in Australia. He has shown he is willing to dig deep before, and he is prepared to do so again.
“You know it is what it is, if we got the broken jaw, we push on,” added the champion. “We’ll do the same thing September 30th. We try and win by any means necessary.”