The events from this past week were a mere reminder of Jai Opetaia always conducts business—merely to focus on what you can control.
It matters little that the IBF cruiserweight title is no longer at stake this weekend, after Sydney’s Opetaia was relieved of his title for failure to honor an ordered mandatory defense versus former champ Mairis Briedis. Nor does he equate his being a massive favorite to upend England’s Ellis Zorro with an automatic victory.
There still remains the responsibility to win and look good doing so as part of the highly publicized ‘Day of Reckoning’ Pay-Per-View event this Saturday from Kingdom Arena in Saudi Arabia. The absence of a physical sanctioning body title leaves him unbothered ahead of a show that he feels is in direct contrast to the roadblocks often presented in the sport he loves.
“I’m pumped to be here. This is a massive thing for boxing in itself,” Opetaia insisted during the final pre-fight press conference. “Shoutout to His Excellency for being the man we need, to put all these politics aside and allowing the best to fight the best.
“This is a massive change. The name Opetaia will have its print on it. I’m here to make a statement”. I cannot wait for the next step.”
Opetaia remains the recognized lineal and Ring cruiserweight champion, which puts at stake this Saturday versus Zorro. The unbeaten Aussie is a -2500 favorite to prevail according to bet365 sportsbook, which lists Zorro as a longshot +1200 underdog.
The path to undisputed status was complicated earlier this week. Opetaia (23-0, 18KOs) committed to the fight with Zorro (17-0, 7KOs) on this show. It came at a time when he was ordered to face Briedis (28-2, 20KOs) in what would have been a rematch to their thriller last July 2, when Opetaia overcame a fractured jaw to win the IBF title via unanimous decision.
Injuries and the time spent watching other challengers—Mateusz Masternak and Richard Riakporhe—walk away from ordered title fights left him inactive for more than a year. Opetaia managed just one title defense, a fourth-round knockout of unbeaten but overmatched Jordan Thompson on September 30 at OVO Arena Wembley in London.
An offer to land a slot on the talent-rich lineup to be presented this Saturday—and the career-high payday that came with it—was too tempting for Opetaia and his team to ignore. Zorro (17-0, 7KOs) was the provided opponent for his placement on the show, largely due to the Brit’s status as a Queensberry Promotions fighter (Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren holds an influential role in Saturday’s show) despite the fact that he is unranked by the IBF.
That part was not as much of a factor in the ultimatum delivered to Opetaia by the sanctioning body—honor your mandatory or give up the crown.
Opetaia—a 2012 Olympian for Australia as a 17-year-old, the younger boxer ever to represent his nation—chose the latter. He is fine with the distinction as the division’s true recognized champion, and carries the mentality that he still has something that everyone wants, especially Zorro.
“This is his chance to become world champion,” noted Opetaia. “To be the best, you got to beat the best. Here I am. I’m expecting the best version of him. I’ve prepared for the best version of him. I’m ready to go to war.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. X (formerly Twitter): @JakeNDaBox