Opetaia to fight Zorro, vacates cruiserweight title

Boxing

Jai Opetaia announced on social media that he’s vacated his IBF cruiserweight title after the organization ruled he must next rematch his mandatory challenger, Mairis Briedis.

Instead, Opetaia (23-0, 18 KOs) will proceed with a fight vs. Ellis Zorro on Saturday’s stacked card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, headlined by Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in separate bouts.

“I fought through absolute agony to win that belt and it saddens me to relinquish it,” Australia’s Opetaia said. “But the fact is, Briedis isn’t ready to fight on Dec. 23 and I need to stay active. I simply can’t turn down a career-high payday.”

Opetaia, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 200 pounds, fought through a broken jaw in July 2022 to outpoint Briedis for the IBF title. Opetaia went on to defend the title with a fourth-round TKO of Jordan Thompson in September.

According to Opetaia’s statement, Briedis (28-2, 20 KOs) had agreed to step aside to allow the Zorro (17-0, 7 KOs) fight to take place.

“This was one extremely bizarre circumstance where the mandatory boxer was actually happy to not have it immediately enforced as he’s injured,” Opetaia’s manager, Mick Francis said.

“We were left with three options: Vacate, be stripped if Jai fights on Dec. 23, or wait for Briedis.”

Briedis’s previous defeat came against Oleksandr Usyk via majority decision in a 2018 cruiserweight title unification. The 38-year-old Latvian hasn’t competed since the loss to Opetaia.

“Belts should be won and lost in the ring,” Opetaia said. ” … I am the true king of the cruiserweight division. … I look forward to getting that IBF belt back as soon as possible and adding all of them, one by one.”

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