By: Sean Crose
He had only previously lost on a single occasion – and that was to none other than current heavyweight world titlist Oleksandr Usyk. There was little doubt, then, that Mairis Briedis should win his IBF cruiserweight throwdown on Saturday against Jai Opetaia. Australia’s Opetaia may have been fighting for the title in his home country, but most felt the 21-0 contender wouldn’t get past the 28-1 Breidis.
The first round saw Opetaia boxing well while Breidis looked a bit sloppy. Perhaps surprisingly, the southpaw Opetaia looked even better in the second as he fired and landed effectively. By the third, Breidis started looking like the stronger of the two fighters. The referee had no problem with the combatants engaging on the inside, a decision which may have benefitted Breidis. The fourth, however, proved to be an impressive one for Opetaia, who outlanded and outslicked his man, appearing to frustrate the Latvian titlist.
The fifth was all Opetaia, who showed blistering speed and who put his punches together nicely as Breidis’ face began to truly bloody. Only in the final second or two was the defending champion able to land hard and effectively on his opponent. The sixth was all about Opetaia’s southpaw jab and his footwork. True, Breidis could land on occasion, but the round belonged to the slick Aussie. Breidis, however, had a better seventh. He may not have done enough to win the chapter, but he was certainly in the fight.
Things may have been truly turning around in the eighth, as the stronger Breidis asserted himself, striking his man and keeping Opetaia from outslicking him. Opetaia reasserted himself in the ninth, simply by being quicker on the draw. The tenth was close, with Breidis having the more show moments due to the strength of his punches. The pace was slower in the eleventh, as both men clearly had to be exhausted. Opetaia went down (and subsequently got up) from a push in the twelfth and final round, as Breidis spent the chapter trying to land clean.
Opetaia earned a unanimous decision win, as well as the IBF cruiserweight title.