Why Jai Opetaia Welcomed the Mairis Briedis Delay, and High Hopes for Australia

Boxing Scene

Jai Opetaia was quietly relieved when his rematch with Mairis Briedis was rescheduled earlier this year because the Australian had torn a calf muscle.

Any decision to try and recover before his February date with Briedis was postponed and taken out of Opetaia’s hands when the headline fight in Saudi Arabia between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk was delayed (with Fury picking up a cut in sparring just days away from the contest).

The whole bill was moved to this Saturday, and Opetaia has been just fine with that.

Asked about the change in the date, he said: “It was alright, it sort of worked in our favor, though. We had a few things … I actually tore my left calf probably about three days before Fury got the cut, and we were trying to get it sorted, trying to get the scan sorted. And we went and saw doctors, and then we found out the date had been changed. So it worked in our favor, really. It gave us more time to prep.

“Even though we were fit – I was fit, strong, ready to fight – but with that injury, I think I had maybe trained too hard and was pushing my body. I love to chase that pain and push my body, but when you’re training like that, you have to maintain it as well. You have to hit the recovery centers, and I feel like that’s one thing I slacked off on a bit – my recovery and the ice pools, the hot-cold pools, the massages and stuff like that. And I feel like that’s why my calf went. But we learned from it, the date got changed, and now we’re here and it’s all positive.”

Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs) was stripped of the IBF title he won from Briedis for facing Ellis Zorro in December after a rematch with Briedis could not be made, so now they rematch for the cruiserweight title they originally boxed for in July 2022.

“We tapered down, we went on a fishing trip,” Opetaia said of what he did after the postponement. “But even when I’m not in camp, I’m always active, I’m always doing something. We had a great base, we were very fit when the date changed, we sat down and we re-programmed it. Now we’re here and I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in.”

There is a political backdrop concerning fights at the Kingdom, but from a boxer’s perspective the Saudi Arabian riches flowing through the sport are a godsend, and Opetaia is making his second appearance in Riyadh.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “I feel like what they’re doing is exactly what boxing needs at the moment: putting the politics aside and [keeping] the best fighting the best, in that sense. So it’s great. I love to be a part of these big fight nights. I feel like they’re historic fight nights, as well. To have my last name imprinted on these big, changing boxing cards is huge, and I’m honored to be part of it.”

While Opetaia’s compatriot Skye Nicholson captured a world title, it has been a rough period for the Australian men, with big-fight losses for Liam Wilson, Michael Zerafa, Tim Tszyu, and Jason and Andrew Moloney in recent weeks. Opetaia is hoping to buck the trend against Briedis and is proud of how the sport is growing in Australia. This is a so-called Golden Era for Australian boxing.

“I’m proud to fly the flag every time I fight, and with the boys and girls that are fighting and representing our country, it’s awesome to see,” he added. “It’s good to see other Australians, and we’re hitting that international level. It’s not that common for people from this neck of the woods to get on these big cards and on these big stages, but I feel like we’re opening doors for people who have come through the pathways that we’ve had. It’s more common for Americans and people from the U.K. and the Europeans – you see them all the time, there’s heaps of them coming out of those sorts of areas. But with Aussies, and even me being Samoan-Australian, it’s something to be proud of. We’re raising the bar for people that live around us.”

It is not just the aforementioned fighters, either. More are on the way.

“Heaps,” Opetaia continued. “[Liam] Paro, [Justis] Huni, Nikita Tszyu. We’ve got people coming out the woodwork – great fighters – and guys that have just reached that international level. We’ve still got guys I’ve seen [that are yet to burst onto the scene]. I’ve seen the potential that our country holds, and the better they are, the better we become. And we can lay a pathway, and they can raise the bar.

“Even our amateur team … we’ve got nine Aussies going to the Olympics. [The heavyweight] Teremoana [Teremoana], he’s a f****** force to be reckoned with, that dude. He’s a giant who’s starting to move a bit better. He’s a dangerous fighter. Seeing where I was and seeing the pathway now, it’s really something that I’m proud of – and I’m proud of my own countrymen.”

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