By Anthony “Zute” George – Jai Opetaia is now a world champion. Thanks to a grueling twelve-round unanimous decision over Maris Briedis. The recognized top cruiserweight in the division. Scorecards read 116-112 twice and 115-113. The struggle to get to the end was much closer than the scorecards in a marvelous prize fight with several fights chocked into one instant classic.
The first round was uneventful, with Jai doing very little work and the Champion taking more inventory of the young southpaw than interest in landing punches. Round two could be seen as a graduation ceremony for the now IBF champion Opetaia. Briedis started to get it going with stiff punches. It appeared as if he saw what he needed to in that first round and was about to take Australian-born pugilist to school. However, as the round came to a close, it was Opetaia doing the better work. Looking more than capable against a fighter who had reached a much higher level long ago.
The next few rounds saw the southpaw outbox and out slug Briedis. Stalking his opponent and going in for the kill on more than one occasion. Busting up the nose of the Champion in the process. Still, Maris Briedis is no pushover. A star in his own right that should have received more shine than he has ever received in the past.
Briedis was the boss from round eight on. Clearly landing the more damaging blows. Sapping the momentum and the gas from his opponent. Looking like he might stop the twenty-seven-year-old. Through sheer guts and guile Opetaia held on and benefited from the early lead to become a world champion.
As the fight came to a close, the handsome Opetaia looked more like an extra on The Walking Dead. His jaw visibly cracked in half with nothing but instinct left in his toolbox.
After the decision was read, it was said that Opetaia actually broke his jaw in round two during his graduation ceremony. The continuous onslaught in the last quarter of the fight worsened the break, if you will.
No matter how you cut it, Jai Opetaia’s performance was brilliant. It should not go unappreciated what occurred in that second round. A broken jaw or no broken jaw, we saw a kid learn on the job at the highest level. Then, we saw just how gutsy he could be as the Champion did all he could to retain his title. Remarkable.
Hopefully, this fight accomplishes two things. First, bring more respect to the cruiserweight division. The likely outcome is that Opetaia will also be named The Ring Magazine champion because he beat the man who had that title. At one time, The Ring Magazine did not even acknowledge the cruiserweight division, and, unless your name was Holyfield or Usyk, the attention for the division has only slightly improved. This needs to change. Those who get paid to shine a light on boxing should shine a proper light on this division. There have been many great cruiserweight fights and fighters, and the future indeed looks bright. I’ll wait.
Second, in a perfect world, this fight brings more respect to the state of boxing today. What happened Saturday morning-here in the United States-proves that boxing never did and never will go anywhere. Granted, you have to work a little harder to see the greatness of boxing circa 2022. But that is of no fault of the fighters. I often hear how young fight fans are anemic regarding the history of boxing knowledge. Well, if you never heard of Jai Opetaia up until today-hopefully you heard of him today- you threw away your clues a long time ago. Which is a shame. The extraordinary story of boxing is far from over, and fighters like Jai Opetaia and Maris Briedis have the same right to the coverage and respect given to Harry Greb, Ralph Dupas, Mando Ramos, Bennie Briscoe, Carlos Monzon, and the like.
This is unlikely. The power of The Old Man Card appears to be more devasting than a Pipino Cuevas left hook. Or Tank Davis, for today’s fight fans. It is not like fighters like Wood/Conlan, Serrano/Taylor, Opetaia/Briedis, and so many more are not trying. Oh well, what can you do? I am sorry you are missing it.
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