Jai Opetaia weathers Mairis Briedis' late rally to reclaim belt

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Jai Opetaia survived a late surge from Mairis Briedis to hang on for a unanimous-decision victory and regain the IBF cruiserweight title early Sunday at Kingdom Arena.

Opetaia, ESPN's No. 1 cruiserweight, was badly hurt in Round 10 and lost the final three rounds on all three scorecards but banked enough of the early frames to win the fight via scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 116-112.

Opetaia (25-0, 19 KOs) was stripped of his title in December when he elected to fight Ellis Zorro in Riyadh for a career-high payday rather than face his mandatory challenger, Briedis, in a rematch of their July 2022 meeting.

Opetaia, a 28-year-old Australian, delivered a spectacular first-round knockout of Zorro and proceeded to sign on for the rematch with Briedis, whom he defeated via unanimous decision the first time. Opetaia suffered a broken jaw in the first meeting, and both fighters suffered a broken nose Saturday.

"We knew we were in for a tough fight, I said it from the whole lead-up," Opetaia said. "We were ready for 12 rounds of war, and that's what we got. ... He got me with a good shot [in Round 10]. He got me with a few good shots. He's a tough dude, keeps coming forward. He wanted it. I could hear the pain in his f---ing punches, so I take my hat off to him."

After Briedis (28-3, 20 KOs), a 39-year-old Latvian, broke though in Round 10, he picked up where he left off in the championship rounds, pouring it on Opetaia, who was bleeding from the nose and mouth.

This was Briedis' first action since the first fight with Opetaia. Briedis' only other defeat came against Oleksandr Usyk in a cruiserweight title unification in 2018 via majority decision. Usyk, of course, meets Tyson Fury in the main event Sunday for the undisputed heavyweight championship.

"Man, I broke his nose; he broke mine," Opetaia said. "We just kept punching on. So, shout out to him. ... I knew he was going to come strong after he [broke] my nose. That sort of rocked me a bit, but we stayed smart. We just kept boxing and we won the fight, so that's all that matters."

Opetaia said he'd like to unify 200-pound titles next. Specially, he called for the winner of the June 15 WBO cruiserweight title fight between Chris Billam-Smith and Richard Riakporhe.

"And then after that," Opetaia said, "we're going to collect the rest of the belts."