Jai Opetaia: ‘One Of The Best Fighters On The Planet’ Destined To Follow In Usyk’s Footsteps

April 23, 2024
1 month
Jai Opetaia during his first fight with Mairis Briedis

Jai Opetaia is fast forging a reputation as one of the most dominant fighters in boxing. Barring any unforeseen catastrophe, the Australian is widely expected to clear out the cruiserweight division sooner rather than later, with hopes heightening that he will then take his talents to heavyweight.

Opetaia (24-0-0 19 KO) returns to the ring on May 18 as part of the ‘Ring of Fire’ event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk will contest the first undisputed heavyweight title clash of the four-belt era.  

The Sydney native has title targets of his own that night and faces former cruiserweight world champion Mairis Briedis in a rematch for the IBF world belt.

Opetaia possessed that particular strap as recently as December last year, only for the IBF to strip the champion after he opted for a payday fight on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s bout with Francis Ngannou instead of facing mandatory challenger Briedis.

Just five months later, Opetaia will have the chance to become a two-time world champion while continuing to cement his status as one of boxing’s brightest talents.

Ahead of his showdown with Briedis, here is everything you need to know about Jai Opetaia.

Boxing Journey

Opetaia has boxing in his genes. Of mixed Samoan and European Australian heritage, Opetaia comes from four generations of boxers on his Samoan father’s side and three generations on his mother’s side. The sweet science is simply in his blood.

On top of that, he is cousins with Australian soccer legend Tim Cahill and rugby league player Ben Roberts, so competitive sport runs deep in the family.

Opetaia enjoyed an excellent amateur youth career, claiming a gold medal at the 2011 Junior World Championships in the heavyweight division just one month after his 16th birthday. At the 2012 London Olympics, 17-year-old Opetaia was the youngest heavyweight at the Games and controversially lost in the first round to eventual bronze medallist Teymur Mammadov.

Rather than wait four more years for a shot at Olympic glory, he opted to turn pro at the age of 19.

Opetaia made his debut on August 1, 2015, and would reel off five more wins before contesting his first title – the Australian heavyweight belt, which he won with a first-round knockout.

The powerful southpaw then became a two-weight national champion when he added the Australian and Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation cruiserweight titles to his collection in July 2017.

Progressing from the confines of Australia, Opetaia started to make a name for himself further afield by becoming the WBO’s Asia and Pacific cruiserweight champion in April 2018, before getting his hands on his first minor world title – the WBO Global – with a points win over Nikolas Charalampous in July 2019.

Three more victories followed until Opetaia got his first shot at world glory: a showdown with IBF champion Briedis in July 2022. The Australian duly earned a unanimous decision in his toughest fight to date to become the lineal champion and lay claim as the king at 200lbs.

He made one successful defense of the title – a fourth-round knockout of Jordan Thompson in September last year – but was then incredibly stripped of the belt for failing to face mandatory challenger Briedis in a rematch.

Instead, Opetaia decided to face the unbeaten Ellis Zorro in Saudi Arabia in December and destroyed his opponent in the first round.

Now the rematch with Briedis is just weeks away, and Opetaia will aim to continue his dominance of the division ahead of potential unification bouts against fellow champions Chris Billam-Smith (WBO), Noel Mikaelian (WBC), and Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez (WBA) – all of whom he would be expected to beat.

Opetaia Fighting Style

The comparisons with Usyk are immediate. Both fight southpaw, both possess brilliant technical ability, both land punches with speed and laser accuracy, both have excellent defense and sharp boxing brains, and both can turn off their opponents’ lights with power. They are even similar heights – Opetaia is 6ft 2in to Usyk’s 6ft 3in – and have similar reaches (76in vs 78in).

It’s little wonder, then, that Fury recruited Opetaia to join his camp as a sparring partner in preparation for Usyk. However, their working relationship only lasted five rounds, with Fury’s team claiming the WBC champion was seeking more “orthodox sparring”.

It was an excuse few people believed after several leaks from inside the camp claimed Opetaia dropped Fury several times in sparring and battered him around the ring. That remains speculation, though, as Team Fury denied it ever happened.

Opetaia Future Plans

Of course, nothing is decided beyond his May 18 bout with Briedis but the general expectation is for Opetaia to eventually move up to heavyweight. Whether he fully emulates Usyk by becoming undisputed champion at cruiserweight first or makes the step up sooner, only time will tell.

Eddie Hearn, whose Matchroom Boxing co-promotes Opetaia as part of a global partnership, rates Opetaia among the finest boxers in the world and expects him to follow in the Ukrainian’s footsteps.

“I believe Jai can do the same thing [as Oleksandr Usyk],” Hearn said after Opetaia’s destructive win over Zorro. “I would like to see him become undisputed at cruiserweight before he moves up to heavyweight.

“And that is inevitable, this is one of the most exciting fighters on the planet. He’s one of the best fighters on the planet.”

Former WBC cruiserweight world champion Tony Bellew, whose final fight was against Usyk, agrees with Hearn and feels Opetaia is as good as they come.

“Jai Opetaia is a bad man,” Bellew said. “I am not sure any of the cruiserweight guys beat him. They have the power to knock Jai out but actually putting it into play and beating him, I am not too sure. Jai Opetaia is some talent.”