THE emergence of Queensland as an active state for professional boxing continued on Thursday night.
With the dust well and truly settled from the domestic super-fight between Jeff Horn and Tim Tszyu in August, a pair of new faces took centre stage at the Fortitude Music Hall.
Although at very different points in their respective careers, undefeated cruiserweight Jai Opetaia (20-0, 16 KOs) and amateur sensation Justis Huni (1-0, 1 KO) have been packaged as an eventual end product.
The Polynesian pair shared a platform for the first time in the paid ranks, with Opetaia topping the bill with his regional title unification and rematch against Ben Kelleher.
Here are our five takeaways from an entertaining night in Brisbane.
1. Huni makes history in professional debut
The significance of Justin Huni’s first professional scalp cannot be understated.
Moreover, the dominant nature of his maiden professional win perhaps diminishes the achievement, given the one-sided nature of Huni’s dethroning of capable national titleholder Faiga Opelu.
In a pre-pandemic climate, Opelu (now 13-2, 10 KOs) had fought eight times in a calendar year, including a career-best effort against Kris Terzievski to capture the Australian heavyweight title last November.
The only thing more impressive than the activity of Opelu, was the fact he competed again 21 days later, folding former national champion Hunter Sam.
As forensically noted by leading broadcaster Ben Damon last week, the 21-year-old Huni is the first fighter to win the national crown on debut. Many have tried, including Barry Roberts and Andrew Crutchett in smaller weight classes in both 1993 and 1995.
This surpassed a previous effort by former lightweight world champion, Michael Katsidis, who won the Australian lightweight title in his second professional bout.
2. Opetaia cleans out cruiserweight division domestically
An undeniable symptom of travel restrictions has been the rebirth of domestic clashes across all divisions.
The latest in a growing line of fan-friendly pairings was the inevitable rematch between unified regional titleholder Jai Opetaia and former Australian champion Ben Kelleher.
In an earlier meeting on the stacked Mundine-Browne bill in 2018, a hand injury suffered by Kelleher derailed an entertaining albeit short-lived clash. This time around, the 25-year-old former Olympian removed all doubt, retaining his IBF and WBO affiliated titles with a one-sided win.
After consecutive dates against world rated Belgian Bilal Laggoune failed to eventuate, Opetaia appears destined for an eventual world title eliminator against South African Kevin Lerena, who hold top-five ratings with three of the four major sanctioning bodies.
An argument could be made for undefeated duo Jason Whateley and Floyd Masson — but their comparative inexperience as professionals will like rule them out in the short-term. Within Australasia, unbeaten Kiwi David Light, who holds a credible position within the IBF and WBO, could be a mouth-watering next step.
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3. Kelleher is gracious in both victory and defeat
There are few combatants that speak with more composure and class than Ben Kelleher.
It comes as no surprise that the former national and regional cruiserweight titleholder carried himself with grace throughout the build-up to his rematch with Opetaia.
When given the opportunity to speak, both at the official weigh-in and post-fight, Kelleher (now 13-2-2, 4 KOs) expressed gratitude for the televised platform, as well as his appreciation for a second opportunity to face Opetaia, the only person to beat him.
The 33-year-old concluded the post-fight formalities by calling Opetia a ‘great champion’, while offering his genuine well wishes for whatever comes next.
4. Benjamin Hussain was braver than he needed to be
When two undefeated prospects collide, more often than not, the stock of both fighters will rise, irrespective of result.
This was the case on Thursday night, when Muay Thai convert Ben Mahoney (now 10-0, 6 KOs) risked his zero against former national amateur champion Benjamin Hussain, in an earlier than expected clash for the two-fight prospect.
As promised, Hussain (now 2-1, 2 KOs) provided the high-octane challenge that he pledged, only for the 25-year-old Mahoney to match his efforts in a memorable non-title meeting, that offered action from start-to-finish.
The talking point quickly shifted from Mahoney’s scalp, which was secured after the ringside physician withdrew Hussain, who appeared to suffer a broken jaw and lacerated tongue in the early rounds.
The live broadcast crossed to Hussain’s corner shortly after the injury was made apparent. After sitting on the stool, Hussain states to trainer Luke Sheehan that his mouth was numb, confirming the diagnosis which ultimately ended the fight.
Trailing on all three scorecards by a sizeable margin, an earlier stoppage would’ve saved Hussain from further unnecessary damage, and a significant stint on the sidelines.
5. An eventual Opetaia-Huni fight is worthy of stadium billing
If and when a salivating fight between Opetaia and Huni is made, a stadium location is a near certainty.
With Opetaia plotting a challenge at the IBF cruiserweight title held by Mairis Briedis, and the currently vacant WBO crown, a meeting in the immediate future is far from probable.
However, if a forecasted move to heavyweight is made while Huni is still within his ascension from prospect to contender, a potential Polynesian super-fight would be too lucrative to bypass.
The sport has a history of scuppering even the best-laid plans, and the aforementioned fight is far from negotiated or realistic in this climate. But while their professional journeys continue to mirror each other, speculation surrounding a future fight will remain.
Meanwhile, Huni continues his dual pursuit of professional glory and Olympic gold in Tokyo with his first professional title already banked.
Photo: Chris Hyde/Getty Images