Boxing fans will be focused on Las Vegas Saturday night for the historic showdown between two undisputed champions, Canelo Alvarez and Jermell Charlo. But get your errands done early, and set aside time to watch the top cruiserweight talent returning to the ring in London. Catch the card at Wembley Arena in London on DAZN starting at 2 pm ET/11 am PT.
Jai Opetaia of Sydney, Australia (22-0, 17 KOs) scored an upset victory over IBF and lineal champion Marius Briedis on July 2, 2022. He paid the price for the decisive decision victory with a jaw broken in two places – imagine the breaks near where the jawbone attaches to the skull. By the end of the fight, Opetaia couldn’t conduct a post-victory interview because he couldn’t speak.
Opetaia said he felt it “crack” from an uppercut but didn’t let his corner know he was hurt and didn’t realize the jaw was completely broken until the 11th round. It wasn’t a first for Opetaia, who fought in the past with a broken hand. He made Briedis pay himself with a fractured nose in round four.
It was a determined effort based on sheer will. Opetaia’s trainer, Michael Francis, said, “No one will ever do it ever again in the history of the sport,” after his victory last July.
We call it a cracking good fight. It’s worth viewing the highlights before Saturday’s return by Opetaia.
Thompson Answers The Call
After a lengthy rehabilitation, the 28-year-old southpaw Opetaia is ready to defend his titles and uphold Australian and Samoan boxing glory. The challenge was initially offered to British cruiserweight Richard Riakporhe. When he turned it down, countryman Jordan Thompson of London (15-0, 12 KOs) answered the call.
“It was a long recovery, and a few things didn’t go to plan getting back in the ring, but we’re here now,” said Opetaia. “We’ve grown outside the ring and inside the ring, I am just ready to show it on Saturday night.”
Thompson may not be well known to American fans, but the 30-year-old is a familiar figure for his exploits as a sparring partner for Tyson Fury, with whom he’s put in more than 100 rounds. He’s also sparred Oleksandr Usyk and Opetaia’s former foe, Briedis. Thompson is convinced his work prepping world champions for their biggest wins will carry him to a victory of his own on Saturday.
“There was not really any time to plan for this, we’ve had to improvise, but I am some that firmly believes in myself and my potential,” said Thompson. “I know where it comes from and I am excited to go out there and prove to the world and to myself that I’ve got what it takes to become a World Champion. This is just another chapter to the story, another stepping stone, and we’re going to show everyone.”
Opetaia: ‘However it happens, it happens'
Opetaia, who competed in the Olympics for Australia and missed the medal round by a single point, is proud to represent his country. “I have earned this spot, and I am excited. I want to earn respect for my team and my country, I’m ready.” But this time, he’s fighting in London on the challenger’s home turf. No matter, says Opetaia.
“We adapt as well, to all different styles. I’ve been boxing my whole life, I’ve earned this, it didn’t happen by accident. So Saturday night, we do it again. I want to collect all the cruiserweight titles. I’m winning this fight, however it happens, it happens.”
Thompson says he’s also an adaptable fighter able to employ different styles in the ring. “We’ve prepared for whatever, we’re ready for whatever and we’re willing to do whatever it takes when it comes to it.
“I can’t wait to go out there and claim what’s mine on Saturday night. We all know boxing and what it takes to become a world champion, I am going to take the belts off him and I am going to do it by knockout.”
Both men move well in the ring, throwing like light heavyweights with heavyweight strength. If Opetaia is willing to test the repaired job in a slugfest, fans are in for some fun. He would be wise to dial back the aggression, looking to capitalize when he catches Thompson too focused on his own offensive effort.
Thompson has plenty of experience sparring a southpaw in Usyk, but that's not the same as fighting under the bright lights. Opetaia’s corner should help guide him to a solid late TKO win.
Show the Cruiserweight Division Some Love
Britain is a hotbed of cruiserweight talent. Apart from Thompson and Riakporhe, there’s also Lawrence Okolie and Chris Billam-Smith. Three of the world’s top four cruiserweights are from England. Thompson is in the top 20 and hopes to rise in the rankings with his performance.
Thompson has done much of his training without Tony Sims, who had obligations with the return of Conor Benn last weekend. Thompson has worked with American Kevin Mitchell.
Should Opetaia retain his titles, he owes former champion Briedis a rematch. Briedis agreed to step aside for this fight due to timing issues. No one would be mad to see a repeat of the nonstop action fight between Briedis and Opetaia again.
Waiting in the wings are champions Badou Jack (WBC) and Arsen Goulamirian of Armenia, now a Big Bear, California resident.
The cruiserweight division is boxing’s redheaded stepchild (and I can say this). It was established to accommodate smaller heavyweights in the no-man’s land, between light heavyweight at 175 pounds and 200 pounds.
It’s no tiny bit of irony many of history’s great heavyweights would compete at cruiserweight today, like Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis, who both weighed 190 in their prime, as well as Gene Tunney, Max Schmeling, Jack Dempsey, Jersey Joe Wolcott, Ezzard Charles, and James J. Corbett.
Evander Holyfield and Oleksandr Usyk were celebrated cruiserweight champions before making their fame and fortune as heavyweights. Tomasz Adamek, Virgil Hill, James Toney, David Haye, and Tony Bellew have all won cruiserweight titles. Do yourself a favor and show the cruiserweights a little love this weekend.
On the undercard, Ellie Scotney makes her first defense of the IBF World Bantamweight title against Laura Soledad Griffa of Buenos Aires; British super flyweight prospect Shannon Ryan and flyweight Maisey Rose Courtney are in action; and British cruiserweight prospect Cheavon Clarke tests himself against veteran Vasil Ducar of the Czech Republic.