Hell yeah, I’m a superhero – Jai Opetaia

It’s not been an easy road for Jai Opetaia, despite the former world cruiserweight champion having his second fight in three months this weekend.

For a start, he has flown from Australia to England twice since September, firstly to defeat Jordan Thompson, then for the press conference to announce Saturday’s fight with Ellis Zorro.

He has also been stripped of his IBF title by the sanctioning body because Zorro is not rated by them.

However, on the plus side the Saudi Arabian riches are now flowing his way, and he is finally active after a frustrating spell of injuries and withdrawals. 

The UK visit for the press conference was a whistlestop trip, in and out in a day, but Opetaia did not mind.

“I was on a big high, you know what I mean?” he said of the Zorro fight being announced. “It was an awesome feeling being up there on that big stage with big names like that, you know, it was a great feeling. I earned my spot there, it was good.”

One network executive said the ensemble – Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Daniel Dubois et al – felt like a cast of Marvel superheroes gathering.

“Hell yeah, and I’m one of them,” Opetaia said. “That’s what made it feel better.”

Was the jetlag worth it? Flying around the world twice for the sake of a few hours was surely draining. 

“Yeah, but it’s all part of the job, man,” Opetaia continued. “Get it done, you know? Jetlag ain’t ever killed anyone, so we fly in, we get the job done, fly back and we get straight into training.” 

Zorro is unbeaten 17, but little is known about him outside the UK.

“You probably know him better than me,” Opetaia said. “I met him at the press conference, I’ve watched a few of his fights on YouTube. He’s a slick little boxer but who cares, man? I’m just focused on what I’ve got to do. I’m focused on my own camp every day, so let’s get it on.”

It is a huge step for underdog Zorro, but Opetaia took a similar one more than a year ago when he won the crown from Mairis Briedis. He showed his level in a war, and Opetaia has trained expecting Zorro to do the same.

“It is what it is, you know?” Opetaia countered. “I took the leap when I fought [Mairis] Briedis and nobody [had] heard of me, nobody knew who I was, I fought Briedis and I won [via unanimous decision]. I don’t take anyone lightly, I look at him like he thinks he’s going to become a world champion on the 23 of December, and I can’t let that happen – but at the same time I don’t think about their mindset, I just keep on my own.”

There was speculation, in fact, that the Briedis rematch was going to take place on the Day of Reckoning Show in Saudi, but it could not get over the line. Their first contest was a thriller. And it’s because of Briedis’s top spot with the IBF that Opetaia has been stripped. 

“I was ready for the rematch,” Opetaia continued. “I was ready to fight Briedis, he’s pulled out for the second time, he’s put out all the social media stuff of him punching a bag, and he goes like this, like he’s looking for me – hey, he ain't looking [for me]. I’m standing right here, I've been ready. This was the second date he’s pulled out of. When he fucking finds his nuts and wants that fight, then we’ll find him.”

Was this fight supposed to be Briedis?

“Mate, they throw names around, they say this and that, all I do is train,” Opetaia snarled. “Whoever they put in front of me, that’s who I’ve got to beat. I don’t get too caught up in who I’m going to fight, they throw dates around and I say I’ll get ready for it, but until I see contracts and stuff signed, I don’t know who I’m fighting – so I just prepare the best I can and whoever they throw in there with me.”

Opetaia’s pal from New Zealand, Joseph Parker, features in one of the main events and is up against it when he challenges Deontay Wilder. That is the fight, other than his own, that Opetaia is most keen to see.

“Ah, I’m really looking into [Joseph] Parker-[Deontay] Wilder, Parker’s one of the Usos… I’m looking for the upset,” Opetaia stated. “I feel like he [Parker] has really flipped the switch lately. He’s taken it to another level, he knows that he’s got to step up after a few losses and stuff. I’ve seen him training hard, I’ve seen him working, so I’m backing Parker for sure.” 

With all of the travel from Australia, one could see Opetaia considering relocating. But he has a family, he likes being home and he wants to take big-time boxing back to Australia. 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Opetaia explained. “Like, the training and the way that we put that program together, with me peaking at the right time, and just the training, the strength, the fitness, we’ve got it down pat, we’re ready. The only reason I would travel is for sparring, and that international sparring – it’s very important to get out there and learn more, and stuff like that. I’m not saying we know everything, we’re always willing to add to our game, and add things into our circle. We’ve never mastered it, we can always get better. But I feel like right here is a good place where I am, I’m surrounded by great people, we’ve all got the same goal, we’ve all got the same dream and we’re all motivated and ready to take on the world. They look down on us over here, and we just love it. We fucking love going overseas and proving that a kid from the Central Coast, now living in the Goldie [Gold Coast], they [look] down on us all the time. We’re not meant to be up there with all of those big boys, you know? Even like the Pacific Islanders, up on that stage, it’s crazy – but we earned it. We work hard.”

That siege mentality comes through in everything the southpaw star does, whether it’s his fights or his interviews. A year of frustration could end on a high with two quick fights, even though his world title has gone for now. The activity is a key component of moving forwards.

“I'm loving it,” Opetaia said. “I haven’t had a smooth run through my career, you know? There’s been so many ups and downs, and so many obstacles we’ve had to overcome. A lot of shit has been trying to hold us back and reaching where we’re trying to get, but we stayed focused, we stayed motivated, we keep pushing, we’ve kept driven – everyone around us, all the outside noise, all [of] those trying to hold us back, we’re still here. Now we’re on the biggest card in history. It speaks for itself.” 

And so Opetaia is in Saudi Arabia, but he’s there on business and if he wants his title back, or to get back into the title frame, he must get through the unheralded Zorro.

“It is what it is,” he said of fighting in Saudi. “I’ll go there, shake some hands, meet some people, it’s all part of the job. We’ll just see how it goes, I’m not really thinking about all that, I’m just thinking about training at the moment, just being prepared for whatever happens in that ring. That’s all I think of, and when I go over there and talk to other people, that’s what I tell them – because that’s the truth. You know what I mean? I’m not trying to be a freaking superstar and talk all this shit, that’s just not me. I leave my talking for the ring.”