Aussie champ Jai Opetaia loses IBF world title after opting for $2m Saudi payday instead

Aussie champ Jai Opetaia loses IBF world title after opting for $2m Saudi payday instead
  • PublishedDecember 19, 2023

Australian boxing world champion Jai Opetaia has blown up at the IBF after being forced to vacate his cruiserweight belt after his decision to take a $670,000 payday in Saudi Arabia.

Main Event’s Ben Damon reported Opetaia (23-0, 18 KO’s) will land $US450,000 for taking part in a blockbuster card in the Middle East on December 23, facing England’s Ellis Zorro (17-0, 7 KO’s).

He reportedly has more than $2 million coming his way on a three-fight deal that’s in the works with the Saudis.

But fighting on the Day of Reckoning card (also featuring Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Joseph Parker and Daniel Dubois) means snubbing the IBF’s mandatory title defence – against Mairis Briedis, who Opetaia beat last year to win the belt despite suffering a broken jaw in two places.

Opetaia defended his title in September.

Opetaia defended his title in September.

Briedis was reportedly happy to allow Opetaia to fight Zorro first – but the IBF refused to back down and would have stripped Opetaia of his title if he fought Zorro.

Code Sports reports that the IBF rejected an appeal from Opetaia’s team on Friday, before Opetaia’s team officially sent a letter on Monday informing the IBF that Opetaia was vacating the belt (before he could be penalised or stripped of his belt).

Just minutes later, Opetaia told Ben Damon: “It’s bulls**t. It’s f***ing not right.”

Opetaia, currently training in Saudi Arabia ahead of the bout, said: “They’ve really left me with no choice, you know what I mean? This is a massive card that I can’t say no to. So they’ve stripped me.

“But it is what it is. They can do what they want. I’ll get the belts back. All I’ve got to do is train hard, keep winning, and they’ll come back to me.”

Asked how it felt about the IBF’s decision, though, he was more succinct.

“It’s bulls**t. It’s f***ing not right. But it is what it is. I’m not going to sit here and sook. I’m going to get a job done on the 23rd of December. When that one is done, we’re going to get another job done… The belts will come back. They have to. They can’t deny me.”

“I’m not sitting here pointing fingers and s**t. S**t like this has been happening my whole career. The odds have always been stacked against me. But I’m still here on the biggest card in history… They’ve tried to hold me back but f*** them. I’m here trying to move forward.”

“We’ve made it clear to Jai’s team that he cannot fight Ellis Zorro for the title,” an IBF spokesperson said last week.

“We had already given Jai an exemption to fight Jordan Thompson in his last fight, so he can’t get another exemption to fight Zorro, who does not have a world ranking.

“In our rules, it can’t be done. He can’t have back-to-back exemptions.

“If we break the rules for Jai, it opens the floodgates for everyone else.

“The IBF have notified Jai’s team that he cannot fight Zorro — we’ve said his next fight has to be a mandatory against Briedis.

“If Jai Opetaia goes ahead and fights Zorro, he will be stripped of his IBF world title.”

Opetaia’s manager Mick Francis told Code Sports that it was a ‘gut-wrenching’ situation for his boxer.

“Jai would be gutted to give up the belt,” Francis said.

“It’s massively disappointing. Jai has worked so hard to get to this point in his career. He is a world champion and he has earned it the hard way.

“The IBF won’t allow the Zorro fight, they have ordered a mandatory against Briedis, so that’s the situation we’re left in.

“Briedis is happy for Jai to have this fight, he has no issues, but the only people not happy are the IBF.

“It’s gut-wrenching to be in this position.”

Promoter Eddie Hearn last week said the IBF decision was “really disappointing”.

“We’ve just got to have a little bit of common sense,” Hearn told Boxing Social.

“You’ve got the No. 1 in the division, who is going to vacate his belt. The belts are going to start not to matter.

“He’s got a two-fight deal in Saudi, and it’s life-changing money for him. 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? We should all abide by rules, but if rules are inconsistent or unfair, you have to stand up against them?”

SOURCE: NEWS.COM

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