Jai Opetaia will leave behind the IBF title to proceed with his current plans.
The unbeaten lineal cruiserweight champion remains on course to face England’s Ellis Zorro as part of Saturday’s ‘Day of Reckoning’ super card from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The physical sanctioning body title is no longer at stake, after the IBF rejected an appeal filed by Opetaia’s team to permit a second consecutive voluntary defense.
BoxingScene.com has confirmed that his decision has been communicated to the IBF, thus officially declaring the cruiserweight title vacant.
Sydney’s Opetaia (23-0, 18KOs) was previously ordered to next face mandatory challenger Mairis Briedis in a rematch to their thriller last July. IBF rules forbid consecutive voluntary defenses but will consider appeals extreme exceptions such unification bouts.
“I fought through absolute agony to win that belt and it saddens me to relinquish it,” Opetaia said of his decision. “But the fact is, Briedis isn’t ready to fight on December 23 and I need to stay active. I simply can’t turn down a career-high payday.
“Belts should be won and lost in the ring and I’m still the Ring Magazine champion and all roads in the cruiserweight division go through me.”
The IBF will next order a vacant title fight between the two highest ranked and available contenders. Briedis (28-2, 20KOs) remains the mandatory, while former WBO super middleweight titlist Gilberto ‘Zurdo’ Ramirez (45-1, 30KOs) is one spot below.
Opetaia-Zorro was one of two title fights booked as part of Saturday’s eight-fight show. Six heavyweight non-title fights dominate the card, while Opetaia was slated to defend his cruiserweight crown and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11KOs) risks his belt versus England’s Lyndon Arthur.
The event will move forward uninterrupted, just with one less belt in tow.
Opetaia overcame a fractured jaw to dethrone Briedis in their lineal/IBF championship last July in Australia’s Gold Coast. He has since healed from that injury as well as shoulder surgery to move forward with his reign. His lone title defense thus far came in a fourth-round knockout of England’s Jordan Thompson in an approved voluntary defense on September 30 at OVO Arena Wembley.
Thompson and Zorro are similar in that they are unbeaten Brits but largely unproven on the contender stage.
However, Thompson was ranked at the time he was approved as an opponent and after two previously assigned mandatories—Mateusz Masternak and Richard Riakporhe—refused to move forward with their respective opportunities to challenge Opetaia for the division’s top prize.
The win over Thompson was immediately followed by direct instructions issued to Opetaia to enter negotiations for an ordered rematch versus Latvia’s Brieidis. The two sides failed to reach terms, which prompted the IBF to schedule a November 21 purse bid hearing.
As previously reported by Boxing Scene, the session was canceled after it was learned that Opetaia would land on the December 23 Riyadh card. Briedis—a former three-time cruiserweight titlist— agreed to not object to the fight but who fully expected the mandatory to still take place within the IBF’s imposed deadline.
It proved moot, as Opetaia was never approved to next face Zorro (17-0, 7KOs), an unbeaten but unproven contender who is currently not ranked among the IBF’s Top 15 contenders. That distinction was not necessarily factored into the decision made by the IBF championship committee, whose instructions were direct and clear—follow orders or give up the crown.
“I am the true king of the cruiserweight division and I’ll be defending that prestigious Ring Magazine title on December 23,” stated Opetaia. “I look forward to getting that IBF belt back as soon as possible and adding all of them, one by one.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox