British cruiserweight Jordan Thompson’s world title challenge ended in a brutal fourth-round stoppage loss to IBF and Ring Magazine champion Jai Opetaia in London.
Thompson, 30, appeared out of his depth from the opening bell and was dropped in the third round at Wembley’s OVO Arena.
Australian Opetaia, 28, continued to land powerful shots and Thompson was en route to being floored again when the referee halted the contest.
“I thought this fight night was made about Jordan Thompson,” a pumped-up Opetaia told Dazn.
“They put me in this small ring thinking they were going to cut me off. I’ve got good footwork and they put me in this little ring but I’ve got the power too and they underestimated that, and this is what happens.”
Mancunian Thompson was defeated for the first time as a pro in his 16th fight, while the undefeated Opetaia – making a first defence of his belt – extended his record to 23 straight wins.
Opetaia powers through Thompson
With two relatively unknown fighters headlining, it was a low-key affair in London. The top section of the arena was closed and there were a number of empty seats. The attendance may have possibly been watered down by another boxing show, headlined by Briton Caroline Dubois at London’s York Hall, also on Saturday evening.
A relaxed-looking Thompson – in a regal blue and gold trim robe – made his ring walk, rapping along to his entrance music, beating his chest and taking in the applause.
Sydney-born Opetaia, of Samoan heritage, marched to the ring quickly with a wide-eyed and stern look, before the Australian and Samoan national anthems were sung by his cousin, opera singer Benson Wilson.
Opetaia started strongly, repeatedly throwing a powerful southpaw backhand down the barrel. Towards the end of the first round, Opetaia whipped in another left, which staggered Thompson.
The Australian sensed an early finish as Thompson, backed into the corner, was saved by the bell with referee Howard Foster poised to jump in.
A London 2012 Olympian who had already stopped 17 opponents inside the distance, Opetaia possessed punching power to match his technical ability.
He dished out more punishment in the second. A double left hook landed flush. Thompson fought back valiantly but looked dazed by every punch.
The Briton looked to his corner for help mid-round before landing a one-two in the third, which teased fans into thinking he could turn the tide. But it spurred the champion on.
Opetaia came back fighting, dropping Thompson with a barrage of punches. More combinations landed as the referee looked on intently.
Those ringside were expecting trainer Tony Sims to throw in the towel as Thompson – just about – survived another round. But the end was inevitable.
“I’m so happy I got this fight under way,” Opetaia told BBC Radio 5 Live. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. Going to get some beers and burgers.”
‘King of division’ Opetaia eyes Billam-Smith
It may not have been the career-defining night Thompson wished for, but his achievements in the sport are impressive for a fighter who took up the sport aged 18.
What started out as a way to earn some money after his budding tennis career did not work out has gone from Thompson debuting in a hotel in Greater Manchester to becoming European champion and now challenging for a world title.
But he was simply levels below as champion Opetaia demonstrated his world-class talents after 14 months of inactivity.
He dethroned Mairis Briedis in a huge upset in July 2022, but his career then stagnated because of two fractures to his jaw and a court battle with his former promoter. But there were no signs of mental or physical damage as he powered to victory.
Opetaia was fighting outside Australia for just the third time in his career and admitted he lacked a profile outside his homeland, but introduced himself to a wider audience in style on Saturday.
He could now face three-time cruiserweight champion Briedis – who was ringside – in a rematch, with the Latvian next in line to challenge for the IBF belt, but is also targeting British world champion Chris Billam-Smith.
“I come to earn respect, not to disrespect,” Opetaia said. “Chris Billam-Smith, I’d love to make that happen. I want that WBO around my waist.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn added: “Unfortunately Chris has got to fight Lawrence Okolie, which will put a damper on his career.
“He should be saying to his promoters, ‘Can’t I go talk to Eddie Hearn and make a massive unification fight that everyone wants to see for loads of money?'”
Billam-Smith, part of the 5 Live commentary team, welcomed the prospect of a unification clash in 2024.
“Absolutely. The whole point of boxing is the best fighting the best,” he told BBC Sport. “I’ve got a belt, he’s got a belt, so I’ve got some business to do in the meantime this year, but next year we’ll be looking to unify.”