Jai Opetaia vacates IBF cruiserweight title, will fight Ellis Zorro next

Jai Opetaia announced on social media that he has vacated his IBF cruiserweight title after the organization ruled he must next face mandatory challenger Mairis Briedis in a rematch.

Instead, Opetaia (23-0, 18 KOs) will proceed with a fight vs. Ellis Zorro on Saturday’s stacked card in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, headlined by Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder in separate fights.

“I fought through absolute agony to win that belt and it saddens me to relinquish it,” Australia’s Opetaia said. “But the fact is, Briedis isn’t ready to fight on Dec. 23 and I need to stay active. I simply can’t turn down a career-high payday.”

Opetaia, ESPN’s No. 1 boxer at 200 pounds, fought through a broken jaw in July 2022 to outpoint Briedis for the IBF title. Opetaia went on to defend the title with a fourth-round TKO of Jordan Thompson this September.

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According to Opetaia’s statement, Briedis (28-2, 20 KOs) had agreed to step aside to let the Zorro (17-0, 7 KOs) fight to take place.

“This was one extremely bizarre circumstance where the mandatory boxer was actually happy to not have it immediately enforced as he’s injured,” said Opetaia’s manager, Mick Francis.

“We were left with three options: vacate, be stripped if Jai fights on Dec. 23, or wait for Briedis.”

Briedis’ previous defeat came versus Oleksandr Usyk via majority decision in a 2018 cruiserweight title unification. The 38-year-old Latvian hasn’t competed since the loss to Opetaia.

“Belts should be won and lost in the ring,” Opetaia said. “… I am the true king of the cruiserweight division. … I look forward to getting that IBF belt back as soon as possible and adding all of them, one by one.”

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