Jai Opetaia Upsets Mairis Briedis For IBF Cruiserweight World Title
Jai Opetaia 22-0 (17) achieved his dream by defeating Mairis Briedis 28-2 (20) to claim the IBF and Ring Magazine world championships at the Gold Coast Convention Centre in Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia on Saturday night.
The 27-year-old Australian southpaw was able to best the Latvian champion in the early rounds with his speed while landing hard shots to the body and head. Opetaia had the 37-year-old Briedis cut over his right eye by the end of the first, and by the fourth, blood was pouring from his nose.
Opetaia earned a unanimous decision victory by scores of 116-112, 115-113 and 116-112.
“Since he was 12 years old, this is what he’s wanted,” his mother said after the fight.
Despite losing, Briedis did manage to break Opetaia’s jaw during the fight.
“I didn’t know it was broken until the 11th round when you can evidently see that something was really amiss with it,” Trainer Mark Wilson told foxsports.com.au.
“I thought, ‘We got through that, we’ve only got one to go. Run. Run. I believe we were two or three or four rounds up, I thought. We were starting to maybe lose a couple late. I said, ‘Just move, mate. We’ve got to move. Don’t do anything silly. Move, move.”
Promoter Dean Lonergan compared Opetaia’s performance to Muhammad Ali’s first bout against Ken Norton, where Ali also suffered a broken jaw.
“There’s no boxer who’s come through more adversity than him in the last six or seven years,” Lonergan told foxsports.com.au.
“Five years ago he fought with a broken hand and he kept fighting because he needed the money rather than stopping. We got that fixed about a year and a half ago.
“We had this fight set, then Briedis got Covid and Jai turns around and gets a unique rib injury that the surgeons had never seen before. I thought we had no chance of making this fight night and him being right. So for him to come out and perform like that, that’s one of the all-time great Australian performances.
“Reminiscent of what Jeff Horn did five years ago to the day against Manny Pacquiao, but that performance might have even exceeded what Jeff did on that night because Jeff didn’t have to fight nine rounds with a broken jaw.
“To come through a fight like that with a broken jaw, it’s just incredible. The last guy who did that was Muhammad Ali. I think he (Ali) broke it in the fifth round, in a world title fight. So for (Jai) to do that is nothing short of stunningly incredible.”
Due to his jaw injury, Opetaia was unable to be interviewed after the fight, however, Lonergan has made it clear he has plans for the newly minted champ to make his first title defense against a fellow Australian, with his former sparring partner Jason ‘Warrior’ Whateley 10-0 (9) the likely choice.
“As soon as it’s right, my preference would be that we fight in Australia against an Australian,” Lonergan said.