Jai Opetaia’s rematch with Mairis Briedis comes in as the chief support for Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 18.

A second fight between the cruiserweight division’s arguable top two fighters has been teased ever since their fight-of-the-year candidate nearly two years ago in Gold Coast, Australia.

Opetaia (24-0, 19 KOs) came out of relative obscurity to wrestle the IBF title from Latvia’s Briedis with a unanimous decision win. However, his hand was raised as he suffered career-threatening injuries in his first world title fight – a jaw broken on both sides.

“I felt the exact punch,” Australia’s Opetaia told BoxingScene. “It was the third round, and I felt the crack in my jaw. When he broke the first side, it was the left side, I remember. I know why I done it, as well. I was sparring some southpaws [in the past], and when I’m sparring southpaws, I dip away from that rear hand. I was dipping to my left.

“It’s just muscle memory. I think when I’m fighting to dip, and dip. So when I’m fighting an orthodox, he dipped the other way, obviously. I dipped right into his uppercut. I felt the crack straight away. It wasn’t excruciating pain, but I knew it was broken. It wasn’t sitting right into my mouthguard and stuff. I don’t remember the punch that broke the other side. It was a variety of punches; it got worse and worse and worse, and by the end of it, it was fully broken. It just is what it is. We pushed through and got the win.”

The Australian’s jawline had drastically lost its shape by the time he and Briedis had produced one of the finest cruiserweight fights in recent memory. A period of rehabilitation followed, with Opetaia attempting to recover from injuries that would have forced many others to retire.

“No, at the time I was on a high,” Opetaia said when asked whether the injuries could have ended his own career. “But the four months after the fight, that was a deep hole I fell into. I was trying to come back … and nothing was working in our favor for that recovery. My throat got swollen, I was just living off tablets because I couldn’t even drink a whole glass of water. Every time I swallowed, it was like razor blades. I had a real bad throat infection. It was a journey, do you know what I mean?

“We were waiting for it to get better, and then one of the screws below my left side – I originally had two [plates] on both sides, but on one side I had a bad infection. It was excruciating pain. For four months I could not chew anything! I was living off soups … and honestly, I was living over f****** 200 packs of one-minute noodles a day! Would just crush them up [in the bag] and chew them up. It was a long journey. It felt like forever.”

Opetaia’s fortunes turned when he signed with Matchroom. He made his U.K. debut with an impressive fourth-round stoppage of England’s Jordan Thompson last September. 

“Once we started to get that jaw right, we had so many pullouts and postponements and we just … f****** fight, fight for those belts,” he said. “But it is just part of life, and it has made me who I am, and it has made me stronger. People say they want to be world champs, but are they willing to do the stuff that needs to be done? I’ve been there, trying to get back on the horse. The injuries – it has been ongoing – but we are here now. We are on the biggest stages in boxing history.”

Ahead of supporting the long-awaited undisputed heavyweight title fight, Opetaia was stripped of the IBF title after accepting a fight with the unranked Ellis Zorro. But the very same vacant title will be on the line next month.

“To be honest it has all worked in my favor,” he said. “Only because I don’t talk s*** about anyone, I just stay in my own lane. Me and my team, we just train hard and we win our fights. We perform well when it is time to perform, and the rest falls into place. They took the belt off me in my last fight, and I’m fighting for it in my next fight. 

“It didn’t make me look bad; if anything, it just made the belt look a bit bad. I don’t want to badmouth the IBF. They stuck to the rules and took it off me, but now I’m fighting for it again. So, two-time world champion, coming up.”

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