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Jai Opetaia ready for Ben Kelleher rematch while waiting for international borders to reopen

Anthony Cocks

Australian-based boxing journalist Anthony Cocks has been covering the sport for over 15 years for various print and online publications. He refuses to believe that Roberto Duran ever lost to Tommy Hearns and says that Jeff Fenech would destroy Chuck Norris, Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali on the same night.

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World-rated cruiserweight Jai Opetaia 19-0 (15) is looking forward to getting back in the ring when he takes on former Australian champion Ben Kelleher 13-1-2 (4) at the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane, Australia on Thursday, October 22.

The fight is a rematch of their clash in January 2018 that Opetaia won by third-round stoppage when Kelleher was unable to continue after injuring his hand.

Sydney southpaw Opetaia, 25, who is ranked IBF number four and WBO number 10 at 200-pounds, relocated to Queensland when COVID-19 hit in order to keep his career moving when it became apparent there was little chance of advancing his career internationally in the immediate future.

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“It’s difficult with all this COVID stuff going on, but we’re trying to stay positive, stay active,” Opetaia told Fox Sports Australia.

“It’s hard to get those international fights at the moment.

“But this fight is a rematch. I fought Ben Kelleher in the past and he hurt his hand in the third round, so he should be coming to fight and putting on a good show.

“He’s fighting in front of his home crowd so I’m expecting a tough fight.

“Just with all this COVID stuff I’m only allowed to fight people in Queensland, so this made sense.

“He’s also had about six fights after my fight with him and won all his fights, so I think he’s a worthy opponent. I’m looking forward to it.”

Opetaia is coming off the longest layoff of his career following his impressive eighth-round knockout of former world title challenger Mark Flanagan last November.

But he says he hasn’t been sitting around idle for the past 11 months.

“I wouldn’t call it rest because we’ve been training very hard with no excuses to taper off training. It’s been a bit of torture with training,” he said.

“But yeah, active-wise I’ve had a bit of time off. I’m happy that Tasman Fighter has put this fight card together for us fighters. It’s been a difficult time myself and I guess everyone.

“We’ve just got to focus on the positives and what’s ahead.”

While his world championship ambitions are on hold at the moment, Opetaia knows he can’t afford any slip-ups while waiting for international travel to resume.

“We’ve got to win these fights first. It’s just a stepping-stone to getting there, especially with this COVID stuff it’s hard because all the borders are closed,” he said.

“We’ve just got to keep staying busy, keep training hard. Everything else will fall into place.”

All things going to plan, Opetaia says he would entertain a fight with any other top-ranked cruiserweight in the world.

“Any of them in the top 10. I’m willing to go and fight anyone,” he said.

“It would also be awesome to bring them over to Australia and get those big fights here. It would be awesome for Australian boxing and also be able to have the other Australian fighters box on the undercard, which will also promote them

“So big opportunities ahead. I’m just looking for a good fight, I can’t wait.”

As for his prediction for the Kelleher fight, Opetaia insists he is keeping it simple.

“I’m just looking to put on a good show. If the knockout comes it comes. I want to put on a boxing clinic,” he said.

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