Aussie restores order, wins back belt in Saudi slugfest

Murray Wenzel |

Jai Opetaia has beaten Latvia’s Mairis Briedis to win the IBF cruiserweight world title.
Jai Opetaia has beaten Latvia’s Mairis Briedis to win the IBF cruiserweight world title.

Unsung Jai Opetaia has called out his next target after restoring Australian boxing order by reclaiming his world title in a bloody rematch with Mairis Briedis.

Opetaia won a fluctuating contest for the IBF cruiserweight title on the Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk undercard in Saudi Arabia on Sunday morning.

A unanimous points decision took a turn in the 10th round when Briedis, in his first fight since their first encounter nearly two years ago, accidentally headbutted Opetaia’s nose and launched a late rally.

Opetaia (l) suffered a broken nose during the fight. (AP PHOTO)

The 39-year-old Latvian, who broke Opetaia’s jaw in two places in their last meeting, found his range to have the Australian on the ropes in the final two rounds. 

But the NSW product’s early dominance made it an easy night for the judges, who ultimately awarded Opetaia the contest 117-111, 116-112, 116-112.

In improving his unbeaten record to 25-0, Opetaia has morphed from the country’s youngest-ever Olympian – a 17-year-old heavyweight at London 2012 – to now being Australia’s only male world boxing champion.

“I want the WBO (belt) next, then after that I’ll collect the rest of the belts,” he triumphantly said while graciously lauding his gallant opponent.

“I watched this guy coming through, he’s a true warrior. I broke his nose, he broke mine, we kept punching on.

“I could hear the pain in his punches, I take my hat off to him.

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

Opetaia (r) dominated the fight early. (AP PHOTO)

The Gold Coast-based 28-year-old’s victory snapped a run of recent title-fight losses by the more-celebrated Australian quartet of Tim Tszyu, George Kambosos Jr and Moloney twins Jason and Andrew.

Opetaia reclaimed the belt he took off Briedis in 2022 and defended once, before he was forced to give it up earlier this year when he fought Ellis Zorro in Saudi Arabia against the organisation’s wishes.

He struggled to find an opponent to defend the IBF title in the first instance, talks to fight Brits Richard Riakporhe and Chris Billam-Smith both falling down.

That pair will duel for the WBO strap in London next month and Opetaia has again called for a unification bout against the winner.

With Cristiano Ronaldo among the celebrities in the front row, Opetaia was in cruise control in the first half of Sunday morning’s fight.

He rattled Briedis with a short left hook in the sixth round, then with a straight left that appeared to break his nose.

The tough Latvian dropped to 28-3, his only losses by points decisions to Opetaia twice and Usyk.

David Nyika (r) had no troubles in a fourth-round stoppage of Germany’s Michael Seitz. (EPA PHOTO)

Earlier, Queensland-based New Zealand Olympic bronze medallist David Nyika improved to 9-0 with a business-like stoppage of previously undefeated German Michael Seitz.

Cruiserweight Nyika pounded the body of his opponent, who eventually succumbed in the fourth round.