Tyson Fury’s freak training injury could mean blockbuster world title rematch between Aussie Jai Opetaia and Mairis Briedis could be fought in Australia
- IBF title fight was scheduled to be in Saudi Arabia
- Was set to be part of Fury v Usyk card
- Wode injury could put the game under pressure again
The ripple effect of Tyson Fury’s sparring accident has left Jai Opetaia’s camp scrambling to secure his highly anticipated world title rematch with Mairis Briedis, possibly back on Australian soil.
Fury’s historic February 17 undisputed heavyweight championship fight with Ukraine’s Oleksandr Usyk has been postponed after the British star suffered a cut during sparring.
The pair were set to fight in Saudi Arabia to unify Fury’s WBC heavyweight championship with Usyk’s WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO belts, crowning the first unified heavyweight boxing champion since 1999.
Opetaia and Briedis’ fight for the vacant IBF belt – almost two years since the Australian broke his jaw twice in an incredible upset defeat of the Latvian – was to be the co-main event.
Opetaia was set to fight for the vacant IBF belt on the undercard of the epic Tyson Fury vs Oleksandr Usyk showdown in Saudi Arabia
Fury suffered this freak cut in a sparring accident that affected the entire card, including the Opetaia fight
IBF mandatory challenger Filip Hrgovic is said to be in the mix to replace Fury and save the main event, an option that seems counterintuitive given the fight is just three weeks away.
Adding to the logistical nightmare is the fact that Saudi Arabia will not host boxing events during Ramadan, which begins on March 10 and continues until April 8.
Gatton-based New Zealand Olympic bronze medalist David Nyika, another cruiserweight with world title ambitions, was also due to fight on the Fury-Usyk card.
“We heard at 3.30 last night,” Opetaia’s manager Mick Francis told AAP on Saturday.
‘The first reaction was shock. Tyson had such a good camp, in the week we were there (last month) he looked good, the best I’ve ever seen him.
“That’s boxing though, the ripple effect of one second in the ring … I spoke to Jai and he said it’s a setback, one of those things, but is willing to fight where and when he’s asked.”
Gold Coast-based Opetaia earned a reported $680,000 for a brutal first-round knockout of Ellis Zorro in Riyadh late last year and the Fury slot would be the final fight of a lucrative Saudi deal with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing .
Opetaia was named the new IBF Cruiserweight Champion of the World after an epic unanimous decision victory over Briedis in their first title fight
Opetaia was later stripped of his IBF belt for choosing to fight Ellis Zoro in Saudi Arabia
Opetaia was stripped of his IBF belt when the body refused to sanction the Zorro fight, insisting Briedis would be his next opponent despite the Latvian being injured.
The undefeated 28-year-old now has an opportunity to win it back, part of the plan to unify the division before moving up to heavyweight.
Francis marked a switch from February 17 to the Anthony Joshua-Francis Ngannou card in Riyadh on March 8, while also fighting for the fight to return to Australia after the pair’s war on the Gold Coast.
Opetaia’s Tasman Fighters stablemate Justis Huni is already fighting on the March 8 card.
“If it (March 8) works for them, great,” Francis said.
‘We have a deal in place with Matchroom and Jai is still passionate about fighting on a Fury card; the biggest name in boxing.
‘But that Fury fight might not happen for months and time is running out.
“This rematch has so much interest and we can bring the fight back to Australia with the right government support.”