Will Gold Coast’s Jai Opetaia cruise to a world title victory?
Natalie O’Driscoll | June 28, 2022
Gold Coast professional boxer Jai Opetaia is pumped for a Saturday night showdown in his hometown when he takes on the world cruiserweight number one in an epic fight for his first world title.
"Living on the Gold Coast is so awesome, it’s got everything I need. I’m surrounded by good people, I’m surrounded by people who are hungry like me, who have the same sort of mission to get the job done" - Jai Opetaia
Jai Opetaia is a man on a mission. Born in Sydney, raised on the Central Coast and calling the Gold Coast home for the last 18 months, the 26-year-old Samoan-Australian has fought tooth and nail for everything he’s ever gotten.
As a result of his talent and focus, Jai was selected to represent Australia at the London Olympics at the tender age of 16. Ever since he has carved out an impressive professional boxing career that sees him hold a 21-0 record, 17 of which were knockouts.
This Saturday is the first time Opetaia will be tested against elite international competition, taking on the world’s number one cruiserweight and three time world champ Mairis Briedis from Latvia, in a fight to determine the holder of the IBF Cruiserweight World Title and the Ring Magazine Title.
It’s a David and Goliath fight that’s sure to raise the roof at the world-class Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) and test the fighters’ limits. It might be his first grab at a world title, but gutsy underdog Jai is as ready as you can possibly get.
“This is the fight of my career,” he says. “It’s the fight of anyone’s career! A legitimate world title – it doesn’t get any bigger than this.
“I might have a little bit of butterflies but I’m feeling good. I’ve been working hard, training hard, hitting the gym every day, and I’m backing myself.”
And with good reason. This unstoppable south paw fought for nearly six years with a broken left hand and still won every fight. He’s even battled through broken ribs and torn cartilage and has come out the other side of it all fighting fit.
“I’ve got no more injuries, no more pain,” he tells us. Everything’s good. And we’re ready for fight night.”
Jai’s friends and family with his belt and a Samoan flag
Jai Opetaia in action
Promoter Dean Lonergan has been working with Jai for the last three years, a sometimes frustrating task through Covid and various cancellations. But he believes 100% in his tenacious prodigy.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest upset in Australian boxing history,” Lonergan states frankly.
“Even when Jeff Horn beat Manny Pacquiao, Jeff had come off a series of regular fights. Jai’s had one recent fight and shattered some rib cartilage just seven weeks ago. He’s had to fight and scrap for everything he’s got.
“He’s the toughest athlete I’ve ever met, the way he can push himself through the pain. Superior boxing skills will win it, but I think he’s going to put Briedis on his arse.”
Of course it helps that Jai gets to train consistently in his home town, and fight in front of a friendly Gold Coast crowd at a top shelf venue like the GCCEC.
“The Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition centre is without doubt one of the best boxing venues you can be at,” Dean declares.
“There’s not a bad seat in the house, and 90% of all seats are elevated and as good as it gets. A brilliant venue.
“We should shout out to all the Gold Coast Marathoners who will be running the next day actually. There are still some tickets available. Come along to the fight and carbo load on some beers and a hot dog before the race!” He chuckles.
“There’s no disruption this way,” Dean continues about Jai’s hometown advantage. “He gets to train in the same gym with all the regular partners, the right trainers and the right food and doesn’t have to go 12,000 miles to Latvia, whereas Mairis has had to travel all the way here.
“Although Briedis and his team do seem to be having a really great time on the Gold Coast,” he acknowledges. “They’ve been really easy to work with.”
Marias Briedis in action. Via facebook.
Jai Opetaia with belts
It’s not just the venue that is the perfect fit for the Opetaia team. Jai feels validated in his choice to move to the Gold Coast in 2020.
“I was coming back and forth for about two years and loved it here so much, and I met some great people, and it just became a regular thing,” Jai explains.
“I came up for every camp in the lead up and then I just decided.
Living here is so awesome, it’s got everything I need. I’m surrounded by good people, I’m surrounded by people who are hungry like me, who have the same sort of mission to get the job done.
And now he gets to fight in front of a friendly crowd, too.
“To fight for a world title is a massive thing but to be able to do it in Australia and on the Gold Coast and have my whole family there… it puts more fuel in the fire.”
Jai might be the underdog for Saturday, untested as he is at this level so far. But he and his team believe what will carry him through to the win will be his non-stop hard work, dogged perseverance and unquenchable desire to see his hand raised at the end.
“No way is anyone else as hungry as me,” he states. “I’m in the gym working hard every day of my life. None of this was an accident – I deserve these opportunities, and I’m going in there confident because I’ve ticked every box.
“Let’s go. I’m pumped.”