Jai Opetaia’s big-money Saudi fight on the ropes

Murray Wenzel |

Jai Opetaia is poised to march on with plans to fight Ellis Zorro on a blockbuster Saudi Arabia card, despite the IBF threatening to strip the Australian of his world title.

The Gold Coast-based cruiserweight was included on a December 23 card at Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena that features Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and Daniel Dubois.

But the IBF have stated Opetaia (23-0) must next fight mandatory challenger Mairis Briedis, who he beat to claim the belt and the Ring world title in July 2022.

Currently injured and unable to fight, Briedis had given Opetaia permission to fight British boxer Zorro first, the Latvian happy to wait his turn for a big-money rematch also in Saudi Arabia.

But Zorro (17-0) doesn’t have a world ranking and the IBF are unwilling to provide Opetaia with another exemption to take the fight, which will reportedly net the 28-year-old $680,000.

Opetaia’s manager Mick Francis told AAP on Tuesday that he remains in negotiations with the IBF and promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, but is concerned that time is running out to achieve a resolution.

Promoter Eddie Hearn
Promoter Eddie Hearn has urged Aussie Jai Opetaia to vacate the world championship belt and fight. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Hearn has urged Opetaia to vacate the belt and fight, given his status as the division’s No.1-ranked man meant his IBF belt would “start not to matter”.

“He’s got a two-fight deal in Saudi, and it’s life-changing money for him,” Hearn told Boxing Social.

“So what are you going to do? Give it all up? Because of a silly decision by a committee?

“I think belts matter. To be a world champion holds value, no question. But you shouldn’t let it disrupt and distract your career.

“For Jai, those two fights could finally secure his future and his children’s future. 

“You’re going to let a belt and a governing body and a committee stop you from doing that?

“If rules are inconsistent or unfair, you have to stand up against them.”

Opetaia broke his jaw twice during the win over Briedis, then had two opponents withdraw at the final stages of negotiations as he tried to arrange a title defence.

Eventually Opetaia secured an exemption to fight Jordan Thompson in England, 14 months after winning the title.