Buoyed by his recent world title defence against Jordan Thompson, IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia is finding himself increasingly in demand.
The impressive Australian has taken a call from world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury who wants him for sparring ahead of his big unification bout against Oleksandr Usyk.
First, Fury must come through debutant Francis Ngannou in Saudi Arabia later this month, but then all systems will be go for Fury-Usyk after both sides agreed terms and signed contracts.
Opetaia is relishing the opportunity to get in with the heavyweight champion and he rates Fury highly.
“I do,” Opetaia said. “I feel like he uses his strengths very well and that’s why he’s heavyweight champion of the world. They’ve reached out [for sparring]. They want me in there for sparring with them for Usyk, which I’m excited to be a part of. I’m excited to mix it up with the big boys and I’m also excited to show them who I am. That’s what I do. I go and I earn respect. And I’m excited for them to leave that camp and be like, ‘Fuck, he is good’.”
Opetaia’s long term plans are to unify at cruiserweight and then move up to heavyweight, as Usyk has done. Usyk has been on Opetaia’s radar since before they both boxed at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I’ve always respected Usyk,” Opetaia continued. “When I was 17 and I fought at the London Olympics, he won them. I’ve always been there. I’ve always been in the shadows, just waiting for my time to get up on that platform. Even as a kid, I was mixing it up with the best in the world as men. Me and him [Usyk] could be a potential fight, you never know. That’s a fight I would love to have because he’s a fighter I respect. He doesn’t talk much, he lets the fighting do that, and at the start of my cruiserweight career I used to watch him all the time. It was motivation. That’s where I want to be. I want to be the best cruiserweight in the world, so I used to watch his fights just running on a treadmill thinking, ‘I’m going to get there’. And I’m here now.”
Of course, Ngannou reckons he will put a spanner in the works, but the former UFC star is not seriously expected to trouble Fury. Certainly Opetaia does not believe it will prevent the unification fight boxing wants.
“Fury’s a businessman but he can sell a fight and when you’re at his level and you’ve got it all, what is there to do?” Opetaia continued. “I feel that Usyk fight is very important for his [Fury’s] legacy, he’s retired a few times, he’s come back, he’s done that. Who knows what he wants to do. No one’s lived in his shoes. We’re not billionaire boxers. Who am I to judge whatever move he makes? When I become a billionaire I’ll let you know, but until then I’m just grinding my way to the top.”
When Opetaia gets into Camp Fury, he will likely be alongside Kiwi Joseph Parker, who is someone who has always inspired Opetaia. Jai said they’ve crossed paths many times.
He’s a really good dude,” Opetaia said of Parker. “He’s led the way for kids like me in a way. “He’s always willing to help out, he’s a top bloke.”
Then Fury and Usyk should be left to fight. A man Opetaia might be working with against one he respects and hopes he could face in time. Who wins?
“I don’t know,” Opetaia concluded. “I like Usyk’s style, he throws a lot of punches, but Tyson Fury knows how to use his strengths, that big 6ft 9 giant, he knows how to use it. He’s got a good ring IQ but it’s a fight I’d definitely be tuning in to.”
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