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Jai Opetaia is determined to show his progress ahead of his rematch against Mairis Briedis

Jai Opetaia poses with both championship belts during a photo session at Wickedbodz on April 26, 2023 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

Ring cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs) could be forgiven for thinking of Mairis Briedis (28-2, 20 KOs).

Again the 39-year-old Latvian fighter has been on the cards since Opetaia overcame Briedis' late bout and two broken jaws to strip the champion of the IBF title via unanimous decision on the Gold Coast in Queensland. , Australia in July 2022.

Previous attempts to pair the 28-year-old Australian southpaw with Briedis also came to naught until they were offered a supporting role in a vacant heavyweight title fight between Ring champion Oleksandr Usyk (21-0, 14 KOs) and Tyson Fury (34). -0-1, 24 KOs) at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 18.

But even this card was delayed when the original date of February 17 was pushed back three months after Fury had his right eye cut during a match late in camp.

Despite the setbacks, Opetaia's focus never wavered.

“This is still an ongoing battle in my eyes,” Opetaia told The Ring. “We are still moving forward. I'm on the main card to be part of the biggest fights of the decade, the Usyk-Fury card, boxing in the main event. It's big. The fight is for the world title alone even if we were fighting for the belt, you know what I mean? Being on that card is huge and I feel like everything is progress.”

Opetaia was unable to cash in quickly with his title effort against Briedis. Surgery to repair his broken mandible was followed by another surgery on his shoulder to repair a small muscle tear. After 15 months of not playing, he finally returned to play at Wembley Arena in London in September last year. Opetaia proved he didn't miss a beat, tossing six-foot Jordan Thompson six feet before stopping him for fourth. Three months later he did it again, blasting Ellis Zorro with a fertile left cross to the chin in the opening round in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

With each win, Opetaia has made the boxing world take notice, even if his last two opponents weren't what you'd consider world heavyweights. A rematch with Briedis, The Ring's No. 1 ranked Opetaia, will give the champion an opportunity to prove, once again, that he is the class of the 200-pound division.

“To be honest, I don't feel any more pressure than I normally do,” said Opetaia. “We always have that pressure to do well and look good in the ring. It all depends on my preparation and how I trained for the fight.

“I know I've ticked all the boxes and I know I'm going to go into that ring with a good camp under my belt, so the rest just falls into place.”

Repetition has a funny way of producing surprises. Sometimes boxers are wary of their opponents. In some cases, familiarity breeds contempt.

Opetaia admits he's not sure how Briedis will handle the fight. The only thing he knows is that he will be ready to make any changes necessary to impose his will on his opponent.

Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis lost the Ring Magazine IBF cruiserweight title fight in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Peter Wallis/Getty Images)

“I want to see how you get out,” he said. “Every striker when he fights me brings a different approach. They have their game plan and stuff and that's where I have to adapt to, how aggressive they're going to come out. They should give me things to fix. I'm excited and like I said, I've been training hard and I feel like I have an answer to every question they ask. I am blind.”

Briedis has not fought since his first hard fight against Opetaia which saw him go down the last eight rounds with a broken nose. There's no doubt he's a top-level player who has achieved almost everything he can in his 16-year professional career, but the question remains how much money is left in the tank after nearly two years of layoff and his 40th birthday. just around the corner.

“Briedis has been at the forefront for a long time,” said Opetaia. “He's probably one of the best cruiserweights of the decade. He has only lost to me and Usyk. He was a great fighter for a long time. He has won Muhammad Ali's title, he's a three-time world champion, so I'm not taking anything for granted and I'm not expecting an easy fight here. I expect another fight. I was training for 12 rounds of the fight.

“I personally think he can go deep when he needs to. Like I said, he's been around a long time, but he's a decorated fighter. I feel like this fight will be his last fight. Whether he wins or loses – don't get me wrong, I'm going in there to win – but I feel like this is his last fight so he's going to leave it all in the ring. He wants to go out with a bang and I expect that. I expect him to be aggressive right away, but even if he doesn't, I can adapt to whatever he comes up with.

“I definitely don't take him lightly. I know he will come out firing.

“Anyone who enters that ring must be in good shape. They know I train hard. All my talking I do in the gym and in the ring. They know that if they fight me they have to come good, so I won't expect anything less.”

For Opetaia, more time in the gym has been a blessing instead of a curse. Under the watchful eye of his boxing coach Mark Wilson and his strength coach and trainer Mark Mathie, Opetaia pushes himself into dark places, always looking to refine his technique and improve his fitness. It's the one percent that counts.

“We're adapting,” Opetaia said of the postponement of the war that has halted his career. “We are used to it. We've had a lot of releases and other things that didn't go well, so if something has changed we sit down with the team, write a new plan and go from there.

“Overtime doesn't hurt us. We don't expire like these other cruiserweights. I climb every day. You will still see the good in me. These other guys, I feel like they're keeping what they've had over the last few years. Their bodies are getting weaker while mine is getting stronger.

“I'm not worried about that. I'm younger than anyone else at that level they're up against my name, you know what I mean? People my age are people who climb. I'm happy, I'm pushed, I'm ready.”

Bigger, fitter, faster, stronger. That could spell trouble for Briedis on May 18.


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