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The slight Opetaia's camp haven't forgotten ahead of Briedis rematch

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Jai Opetaia heads into his rematch with Mairis Briedis in Riyadh at the weekend with plenty to fight for.

While he holds The Ring cruiserweight world title at cruiserweight, the Australian is no longer the IBF champion, having reluctantly vacated the belt late last year under the threat of it being stripped
.

In fact, no Australian male currently holds a world title belt with any of the sport’s four major sanctioning bodies after Tim Tszyu
and Jason Moloney
suffered losses in recent months.

MORE: Unbroken: The story behind one of Australian boxing’s greatest victories

Quietly, the southpaw will also be relishing the opportunity to get another one over the man who broke his jaw and, according to Opetaia’s team, had shown a lack of respect at the time of their first meeting in July 2022.

Opetaia’s manager Mick Francis recalled the perceived slight.

“Throughout the build up for that fight, [Briedis] didn’t want anything to do with Jai and the event,” Francis told The Sporting News.

“He was too busy calling out the Paul brothers, going to boxing events dressed up like a cartoon character and completely overlooking Jai.

“He didn’t help sell the event, didn’t put anything on his socials, did absolutely nothing about the event, thought he was going to come in, turn up, take the belt home and live happily ever after.”

As it turned out, Opetaia claimed a unanimous decision victory
, hanging on for the final few rounds with a jaw that had been completely fractured on both sides
.

“After the fight, [Briedis] came into the dressing sheds and wanted to meet Jai,” Francis added.

“That’s the first time he’d showed any sort of respect towards Jai. 

“He came in with a stack of excuses regarding his performance and was asking Jai for a rematch.

“It just ticked Jai off. Well, now he’s got his rematch.”

It’s a rematch which was first ordered last August but delays on Briedis’ end saw Opetaia take fights against Jordan Thompson and Ellis Zorro, the second of which took place in Riyadh and saw the Aussie vacate the title rather than give up the chance at a career-high payday.

The win over Briedis, along with brutal knockouts over Thompson
and Zorro, have the 28-year-old rated number one in the division in the eyes of many.

Ahead of the rematch, which features as the chief support to Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk’s clash for the undisputed heavyweight championship
, the bookies are tipping Opetaia to make easier work of the now-39-year-old Briedis this time around.

Opetaia doesn’t see it that way, though, and is expecting a more direct approach from the three-time cruiserweight world champion.

“I don’t let that stuff get to my head,” Opetaia told The Sporting News.

“We’ve got to keep proving it every time we step into the ring. It’s all got to be earned.

“I’m expecting him to come out more aggressive this time. 

“I think he knows now if he sits back and tries to box with me, he’s going to have a big problem. 

“I’m expecting him to come out firing.”

In their initial meeting, Opetaia had Briedis hurt at various stages during the first half of the bout but stuck to the gameplan of boxing and moving, eventually giving the Latvian enough of a window to swing the momentum and nearly steal the fight.

Since then, Opetaia’s fight-ending power has been on display, particularly with a one-shot first-round knockout of Zorro
in December.

“It was the first time I’ve knocked someone out with one punch, out cold like that,” he said, crediting his surgically repaired left hand with his improved stopping power over recent fights.

“Getting that left hand surgery was a massive change in my career. 

“We’ve only had this new left hand for about three fights. 

“Just being able to use my power now without my left hand hurting so much.”

A second win over Briedis would put an exclamation point on Opetaia’s claims as the division’s top dog and potentially line up a unification bout with either Chris Billam-Smith or Richard Riakporhe, who meet next month.

Much like former undisputed champion at 200-pounds Usyk did, many are tipping the Gold Coast-based fighter for success at heavyweight down the track.

“We’ll have to sit down and see but there’s talks about fighting for the WBO next,” he said. 

“Hopefully that comes through but we just focus on this fight.

“I’ve got a job to do first. We’ve got a couple boxes we want to tick as a cruiserweight first, until they’re done, then we’ll start thinking about heavyweight.”

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