Jai Opetaia
Unbeaten Australian boxer Jai Opetaia has been toiling in Riyadh for his fight with Ellis Zorro. Image by HANDOUT/MATCHROOM BOXING
  • boxing

Fury ripple effect could lure Opetaia-Briedis duel home

Murray Wenzel February 3, 2024

The ripple effect of Tyson Fury’s sparring mishap has sent Jai Opetaia’s camp scrambling to secure his highly anticipated world-title rematch with Mairis Briedis, possibly back on Australian soil.

Fury’s undisputed heavyweight champion clash with Ukranian Oleksandr Usyk, scheduled for February 17, was postponed after the British star suffered a cut during sparring.

 An injury to Tyson Fury (pictured) has forced a change of plans from the Jay Opetaia camp. Image by AP PHOTO 

The pair were set to battle in Saudi Arabia to unify Fury’s WBC heavyweight championship with Usyk’s WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts, crowning the first unified heavyweight boxing champion since 1999.

Opetaia and Briedis’s fight for the vacant IBF belt – almost two years since the Australian broke his jaw twice during an incredible upset defeat of the Latvian – was to be the co-main event.

IBF mandatory challenger Filip Hrgovic is reportedly in the mix at short notice to replace Fury and salvage the main event, however event boss Turki Al-Sheikh has said that fight will be rescheduled and tickets refunded.

Adding to the logistical nightmare is the fact Saudi Arabia will not host boxing events during Ramadan, which begins on March 10 and continues until April 8.

Gatton-based New Zealand Olympic bronze medallist David Nyika, another cruiserweight with world-title ambitions, was also scheduled to fight on the Fury-Usyk card.

“We heard at 3.30am last night,” Opetaia’s manager Mick Francis told AAP on Saturday.

“The first reaction was shock. Tyson’s had such a good camp, in the week we were there (last month) he looked good, the best I’ve ever seen him.

“That’s boxing though, the ripple effect of one second in the ring … I’ve spoken to Jai and he said it’s a setback, one of those things, but is prepared to fight where and when he’s asked.”

Gold Coast-based Opetaia earned a reported $680,000 for a brutal first-round knockout of Ellis Zorro in Riyadh late last year and the Fury slot was to be the final fight of a lucrative Saudi deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing. 

Opetaia was stripped of his IBF belt when the body refused to sanction the Zorro fight, insisting Briedis be the Australian’s next opponent despite the Latvian being injured.

The undefeated 28-year-old now has an opportunity to win it back, part of the plan to unify the division before stepping up to heavyweight.

Francis flagged a switch from February 17 to the Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou card in Riyadh on March 8, while he’s also pitched for the fight to return to Australia after the pair’s war on the Gold Coast.

Opetaia’s Tasman Fighters stablemate Justis Huni is already fighting on the March 8 card.

“If that (March 8) works for them, great,” Francis said.

“We’ve got an agreement in place with Matchroom and Jai is still passionate about fighting down the track on a Fury card; the biggest name in boxing.

“But that Fury fight might not happen for months and time is running out.

“This rematch has so much interest and we could bring the fight back to Australia with the right government support.”