Mairis Briedis has encountered another delay ahead of his next title defense.
The May 11 date set aside for Briedis’ second defense of his lineal/IBF cruiserweight championship versus mandatory challenger Jai Opetaia is no longer in play, as the fight has suffered a second postponement. A rib injury suffered by Opetaia during training camp forced the unbeaten contender to withdraw from their planned title fight at Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre in the Gold Coast suburb of Broadbeach, Queensland, Australia.
“Unfortunately, I have sustained an injury during training requiring a small operation,” Opetaia revealed through his verified social media channels. “This has meant the rescheduling of my mandatory IBF Cruiserweight World Title Fight against Mairis Briedis.
“I am bitterly disappointed but that’s boxing and I thank you all for your support and well wishes at this time. I am recovering well and will come back stronger than ever from this.”
The discovery was made April 6, ironically the originally scheduled date for their title fight. Briedis was forced to postpone due to testing positive for Covid in early March. The five-week delay gave Briedis enough time to recover from the infectious disease, though unfortunately leaving too much time for something else to go wrong.
With that, Briedis will now have to play the waiting game ahead of the second defense in his third tour as a cruiserweight title claimant. The 37-year-old cruiserweight king enjoyed a homecoming for his first title defense, a third-round knockout of overmatched challenger Artur Mann last October at Arena Riga in Riga, Latvia. Breidis hadn’t fought in more than a year prior to the bout, having won the championship in a twelve-round decision over Yuniel Dorticos in the final round of the World Boxing Suer Series season two cruiserweight tournament in September 2020.
Briedis previously held the WBC title, which he claimed in a twelve-round victory over record-tying former WBO cruiseriweight titlist Marco Huck in March 2017. One successful defense followed before conceding the crown to Oleksandr Usyk in their January 2018 WBC/WBO unification fight which also served as the semifinal round of the WBSS Season One cruiserweight tournament.
Usyk won the tournament outright, becoming undisputed champ and making one more title defense before moving up to heavyweight where he currently serves as the unified WBA/IBF/WBO/IBO champ.
Briedis was the favorite to serve as his successor, though met with a delay due to the controversial nature of his WBO title win over Krzysztof Glowacki in the June 2019 WBSS Season Two semifinal in Riga. Briedis scored a third-round knockout, though the feat marred by referee Robert Byrd letting the action extend well beyond the bell to end the second round. Briedis floored Glowacki both before and after the bell, finishing the job early in round three.
The WBO reviewed the fight and ordered an immediate rematch, though Briedis vacated the title to instead move forward with his WBSS finale with Dorticos—which in turn was delayed due to the pandemic.
Since the win over Mann, Briedis has embarked on a bizarre campaign to challenge content creator and cruiserweight novice Jake Paul (5-0, 4KOs). The pursuit has included Briedis getting a leg tattoo of Paul along with dropping a diss track in response to Paul’s own callout of UFC president Dana White.
Paul responded to the callout by claiming to be unaware of ‘Mario Briedis,’ prompting the reigning cruiserweight king to don a Super Mario Bros. costume while working as part of the February 27 DAZN broadcast in London featuring WBO cruiserweight titlist Lawrence Okolie. Briedis was asked to serving on the hosting panel to discuss the possibility of a unification bout with Okolie but will first honor his mandatory title defense obligation.
Opetaia (21-0, 17KOs) is a highly credentialed former amateur standout, representing Australia in the 2012 London Olympics. He did so as the reigning Junior World Champion and—at age 16—the youngest ever boxer to represent Australia in the Olympics.
The pro credentials for Opetaia aren’t quite as appealing, though also a motivating factor in his pursuit of Briedis and a cruiserweight title. His popularity at home was solid enough to bring this fight to Australia, where it will likely remain though while sorting out a new date.
“The great news is that the World Title Fight will be going ahead and will be here on the Gold Coast,” insists Opetaia. “Once all of the details are finalized we will make the new announcement.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox