When two of the biggest ONE Super Series kickboxers enter the Circle to chase the same dream, only one of them can take a step closer to making it a reality. On Friday, 28 January, that man was Rade Opacic.
When the opening bell sounded inside the Singapore Indoor Stadium, the two giants stepped toward each other and immediately began exchanging hard and fast punches.
Xhaja repeatedly jabbed and hit Opacic with low kicks, but he might as well have been trying to topple a telephone pole. Unwilling to budge, the Serbian swung back. His punches, even when deflected off Xhaja’s arms, shook up his opponent.
But it was a high left kick thrown by Opacic late in the first round that truly rattled the Albanian debutant. The Serbian followed up with a six-piece boxing combo that dropped “Smile” to the canvas, drawing an eight-count from referee Justin Brown.
Xhaja survived the count and the remainder of the round, but he wouldn’t have the same luck in the following stanza.
The 26-year-old Albanian behemoth showed grit as he tagged Opacic with short and long punches to begin the second frame, but the latter walked through them, searching for an opening to his rival’s body. He found it with a left hook, and Xhaja turned away and doubled over.
Once again, Brown initiated the eight-count. And yet again, “Smile” answered.
Opacic pressed forward with punches in bunches, and this time, he slammed an overhand right into the side of Xhaja’s head. Another knockdown, another eight-count, and yet another display of heart by the Albanian, who returned to his feet.
However, the next exchange would be the last. The surging Serbian sent a right hand through Xhaja’s midsection, causing him to exhale any hope he had left. An uppercut and shovel hook followed, “Smile” went down, and Brown waved off the bout at the two-minute mark of round two.
The win elevated Opacic’s record to 16-5 and made him a future contender for the ONE Heavyweight Kickboxing World Title – when the strap is officially inaugurated, that is.