WE knew that Jai Opetaia was good. He might be better than we thought.
To be undefeated after just three years as a professional is fairly common in Australia. However, to be both unbeaten and simultaneously considered as the consensus second best fighter in your division is seldom seen. Such is the talent Opetaia boasts, while appearing to be on the fast track to future stardom.
A former Olympian, Opetaia (now 13-0, 10 KOs) featured in the same amateur team as reigning WBO welterweight champion Jeff Horn at the 2012 Olympics, who went on to achieve great success in London. Although Opetaia didn’t reach the lofty heights of Horn in the tournament-style format, he was a winner before even throwing a punch.
At the tender age of just 16, Opetaia made history by becoming Australia’s youngest ever Olympic representative in boxing, after winning the heavyweight bracket at the Oceania qualification leg in Canberra. Even more remarkably, Opetaia was only 17 when he competed in London, where he was eliminated in the first stage by eventual bronze medalist Teymur Mammadov of Azerbaijan.
Despite his tremendous success and potential for future amateur accolades, it is the punch-for-pay format of the sport which Opetaia has taken a liking to.
Since ditching his amateur vest in 2015, the now 22-year-old is considered a blue-chip prospect that is destined for a considerably bigger spotlight than he is currently afforded in the not too distant future. The last calendar year proved to be one of substantial growth for Opetaia, who swiftly transitioned from prospect to titleholder in a matter of months, culminating in back-to-back wins over divisional gatekeeper Daniel Ammann and undefeated American Frankie Lopez.
“It’s been a good three years as a professional,” said Opetaia in an interview with Aus-Boxing. “I’ve adapted my style a bit since making the exchange from the amateurs, I’m feeling a lot stronger now then before as well. Last year was a good year. I had five fights, and won them all by knockout.”
“I feel like I’m improving every time and my best is yet to come. The preparation I had before the two last fights was great and it showed in the ring.”
The coming-of-age Opetaia undertook in 2017 became apparent in his Australian cruiserweight title challenge against the aforementioned Daniel Ammann, who had long ruled as the cruiserweight kingpin, in several runs as the national champion. Irrespective of his tenure, Opetaia made light work of the veteran, mercifully halting Ammann after nine one-sided heats.
It was that performance that served as the real learning experience, as Opetaia freely admits.
“The fight I had against Daniel Ammann was a great learning fight for me. It was my first big fight – I let the situation get to me a bit – and I feel it affected my performance. But it made me more prepared for my next fight in a massive way, and it showed against Frankie Lopez.”
“This year we are planning for another big year, picking up more titles while moving my way up,” he concluded. “I’m not sure how many fights I’ll have, but every fight I do have will be important and hard fights. I’m definitely staying busy and ready all year round.”
Opetaia will feature in the second televised prelim on the anticipated ‘Star of the Ring 2’ card, headlined by Anthony Mundine’s regional title challenge against former world title challenger Tommy Browne on Wednesday night. The uber-talented southpaw will be met by undefeated Brisbane resident Benjamin Kelleher, who is making a habit of upsetting local favourites.
The pair will collide for a vacant IBF affiliated regional bauble, which if won by Opetaia, should grant the humble giant a world rating with the American-based sanctioning body, given his current link to the organization with the IBF Youth championship he secured in October.