Home Boxing News Jai Opetaia survives late rally by Mairis Briedis to retain world cruiserweight...

Jai Opetaia survives late rally by Mairis Briedis to retain world cruiserweight title

Jai Opetaia (right) vs Mairis Briedis in their rematch. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ring Magazine cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia 25-0 (19) defeated Mairis Briedis 28-3 (20) by unanimous decision to become a two-time IBF champion at Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday night.

The bout was the main support bout to the undipsuted heavyweight championship fight between WBA, WBO, IBF and Ring Magazine champion Oleksandr Usyk 21-0 (14) and WBC titleholder Tyson Fury 34-0-1 (24).

The 28-year-old Australian was clinical, using his hand speed and in-and-out movement to control much of the fight before Briedis opened up late in the fight.

The fight was a rematch of their instant classic two years ago that saw Briedis have his nose broken and Opetaia suffer two fractures to his jaw.

Although the action wasn’t as intense the second time around, both boxer suffered broken noses in the bout – Briedis from a left hand in the middle rounds and Opetaia from an unintentional clash of heads late in the bout.

Opetaia was in full control of the bout through nine rounds before Latvian veteran Briedis, 39, hurt him late in the 10th. Sensing his opportunity, Briedis emptied both barrels in the championship rounds but couldn’t put his man away.

Judge Deon Dwarte scored the bout 117-111, while judges Robin Taylor and Bob Williams both handed in cards of 116-112, all for Opetaia.

“Mairis Briedis, I’m honoured to share the ring with a champion like that,” Opetaia said. “I idolised this guy… to be here and share the ring with him, he’s a true warrior.”

Opetaia pressured for much of the fight while Briedis looked for counterpunching opportunities. He was defensively responsible for much of the fight, banking rounds while remaining wary of Briedis’ power.

When Briedis pushed forward in the final two rounds, he had his best success of the fight. In hindsight, he may well rue not changing up his game plan earlier.

“He’s a tough dude. He kept coming forward, he wanted it, I could hear it. I could hear the pain in his fucking punches,” Opetaia said.

“We knew we were in for a tough fight. We were ready for 12 rounds of war and that’s what we got.

“We stayed smart, kept boxing and won the fight.”

Opetaia told Boxing News in the lead up to the fight he was expecting Briedis to box off the front foot before adding he wants unification bouts next.

“I feel like he’s going to come out more aggressive in this one. I feel like if he sits back and tries to box with me, he’s going to have another bad day at the office,” he said.

“I’m expecting a lot more pressure, but I’ve got an answer for everything he brings. I’ve grown as a fighter and gotten stronger and fitter.

“I’m chasing belts, that’s it. I’m not chasing names. I’m chasing belts. So, whoever has the belts, that’s who I want to fight.

“I don’t sit back and watch these fighters. I focus on my own path. I train hard every day, and whatever game they give me, that’s who I fight.”