Jai Opetaia Vacates His IBF Cruiserweight Belt To Pursue His Saudi Fight

December 19, 2023
3 months
Jai Opetaia Vacates His IBF Cruiserweight Belt To Pursue His Saudi Fight

The IBF cruiserweight champion, Jai Opetaia, has relinquished his belt in favor of fighting in Saudi Arabia. 

According to reports, the Australian had to choose between fighting Ellis Zorro in Saudi on December 23rd 2023 or facing his mandatory Mairis Briedis. The order for Opetaia to take on Briedis was made on July 2nd, 2023. A deal was never made as a purse bid hearing was scheduled for November 21st, 2023. Then Opetaia announced he would be fighting in Saudi. But under the IBF rules, champions are required to make the first defense against their mandatory or be stripped. That left Opetaia with a tough choice to make. 

IBF On Opetaia

“We’ve made it clear to Jai’s team that he cannot fight Ellis Zorro for the title. We had already given Jai an exemption to fight Jordan Thompson in his last fight, so he can’t get another exemption to fight Zorro, who does not have a world ranking. In our rules, it can’t be done.

“He can’t have back-to-back exemptions. If we break the rules for Jai, it opens the floodgates for everyone else. The IBF have notified Jai’s team that he cannot fight Zorro — we’ve said his next fight has to be a mandatory against Briedis. If Jai Opetaia goes ahead and fights Zorro, he will be stripped of his IBF world title,” IBF said 

The decision to vacate the belt has had many consequences. A unification fight against Chris Billam-Smith is off the table. Billam-Smith is the WBO cruiserweight champion after he defended his belt against Mateusz Masternak. It also means that Opetaia may not be the A-side in negotiations with other fighters since he no longer holds the belt.

That has not sat well with him since the chance to fight on the Saudi card is huge for his career. He is likely to get a career-high payday and be exposed to a bigger audience. Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder and Dmitry Bivol are also on the card, which will help Opetaia grab new fans. As such, he hit out at the IBF.

Opetaia Vacates

“It’s bull****. It’s no f*****g right. They’ve really left me with no choice, you know what I mean? This is a massive card that I can’t say no to. So they’ve stripped me. But it is what it is. They can do what they want. I’ll get the belts back. All I’ve got to do is train hard, keep winning, and they’ll come back to me. I’m going to get the job done on December 23rd. When that one is done, we’re going to get another job done….The belts will come back. They have to. They can’t deny me,” Opetaia stated 

The same has happened to Terence Crawford. The former was stripped of his IBF belt after failing to fight the interim champion at the time, Jaron Ennis. But since Crawford was bound to rematch Errol Spence Jr. due to their contract, the decision to strip him was criticised as it came around two months after his win. Frank Warren has now hit out at the Opetaia decision.

“It’s very short-sighted of the IBF if they go down this road. It’s too big a fight not to happen and it’s too big an opportunity for the fighters not to fight. It [the IBF’s decision] is ridiculous really,” Warren stated 

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