Jai Opetaia Prepared For ‘Best Version’ Of Mairis Briedis In Cruiserweight Title Rematch

May 14, 2024
2 weeks
Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis during their first fight in 2022

Jai Opetaia says he will not take Mairis Briedis lightly in their cruiserweight world title rematch on Saturday despite the Latvian’s recent inactivity.

Opetaia (24-0-0 19 KO) and Briedis (28-2-0 20 KO) will contest the vacant IBF world title in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in the ‘Ring of Fire’ co-main event. The card is headlined by the undisputed heavyweight world title fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk.

The only reason the IBF cruiserweight title is vacant is because Opetaia, who defeated Briedis on points to win the belt in 2022, did not fight the former champion as his mandatory challenger last December.

The Australian instead fought Ellis Zorro, whom he knocked out in the first round, on the undercard to Anthony Joshua’s bout with Otto Wallin. The IBF responded by stripping Opetaia of the title and ordered the top two – Opetaia and Briedis – to fight for the vacant belt.

Opetaia Not Taking Briedis ‘Lightly’

Opetaia could feel unlucky for having to fight for the title again, particularly against an opponent as accomplished as the former three-time world champion whose only other defeat came against Usyk.

Still, the Australian is the firm favorite to seal his 25th professional win – a stance boosted by the fact that Briedis has not fought since their last fight almost two years ago. That doesn’t mean the southpaw is looking beyond the Latvian, far from it.

“To be honest, I don’t even think about it,” Opetaia said in an interview with BoxingScene. “I’m not thinking about him. I’m preparing for the best version of Briedis. I’m not taking him lightly. I’m expecting him to come out guns blazing, so I’ve been training very hard and we just focus on our own camp and our own performance.”

Opetaia is notoriously serious in fight week, frequently refusing media and interview opportunities and avoiding distractions as his next challenge approaches. He, like the rest of the fighters and teams involved in ‘Ring of Fire’, touched down in Riyadh on Monday.

A Future Heavyweight Champion?

However, the Australian insists that away from boxing, he’s quite different from the serious persona he portrays in public during fight week.

“Besides boxing, I’m never really serious, you just ask my missus,” he said. “I’m just a normal person who likes to have fun, who enjoys the little things but when it comes down to work, I like to work. I don’t like to waste time when it comes to important things. If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it properly. But if you give me a weekend off, ‘See you later!’”

Opetaia is widely expected to follow in Usyk’s footsteps by first becoming the undisputed cruiserweight world champion before making the step up to heavyweight.

The Australian refused to comment on his future plans, but he is into the third fight of a three-fight deal with Saudi Arabia. His working relationship with Saudi Arabia and its boxing chief Turki AlShaikhkh – who has pushed heavyweight boxing far more than any other division – suggests a move to the top division will happen sometime in the future.