Jai Opetaia proved more than enough for his big moment, taking the IBF cruiserweight title from Mairis Briedis in a violent, bloody, courageous battle.
Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO) led the action in the early rounds, landing at will with a straight left hand that Briedis (28-2, 20 KO) took far too long to solve. Opetaia seemed to take full control when he tagged Briedis with an uppercut late in the fourth that broke the nose of Briedis, leaving him swollen and leaking blood for the rest of the night.
Briedis fought the next two rounds with an open mouth, and didn’t seem like he could get a full breath for a while. But, Briedis rallied hard in the 7th and 8th, picking up clear rounds with quality inside work and power shots. Opetaia got back to the straight left in round 9, but Briedis shook him up with a heavy punch in the 10th.
Things took another dramatic turn when Briedis ruined Opetaia’s jaw in the 11th. Opetaia held on, then came back out to fight the 12th with blood dripping from an open mouth. Briedis targeted the jaw, landing on it enough to leave Opetaia a gruesome, misshapen mess. But, Opetaia held on, often literally, to see the final bell.
The judges had it 116-112 x2 and 115-113 for Opetaia. I had it 115-114 for Briedis, but that score included a 10-10 first round and a swing round going to Briedis. No objection to the official decision, a narrow but unanimous victory for Opetaia.
Afterwards, Opetaia couldn’t speak, just screaming with unintelligible joy in his post fight interview before leaving the ring for medical attention.
Briedis visited Opetaia’s locker room to give congratulations, applauding the success of Opetaia and saying he’d be willing to rematch. Opetaia couldn’t answer, but extended a fist bump.
Credit to both men, broken and bleeding faces, for fighting through pain and giving us a phenomenal show. Not quite a fight of the year, but one with a lot of dramatic back and forth action, and well worth catching up with later if you weren’t up early enough to catch it live.
Isaac Hardman KO-1 Beau Hartas
Isaac Hardman finished things quickly, delivering a highlight reel first round knockout from an absolutely devastating right hand late in the first round against Beau Hartas.
No disrespect to Hartas (6-2, 4 KO), who seemed to charm everyone during fight week and certainly came out firing, bringing all he had in the fight. But, he was introduced on the show as working primarily as a plumber, and this was his first fight scheduled for more than 5 or 6 rounds since 2017. It was a violent and scary knockout, and everyone, including Hardman, was happy to see Hartas exit the ring on his own feet.
Hardman (13-1, 11 KO) was gracious in victory, praising Hartas as a quality guy and a family man, and bringing two cans of beer to the ring that they’d joked about sharing after the fight. The ex-MMA fighter improves his boxing record to 13-1 with 11 knockouts. Just 26 years old and already ranked 13th at middleweight by the IBF, he could be a year or two away from a significant fight.
Conor Wallace SD-10 Faris Chevalier
Conor Wallace picked up a nice little upset victory in just his tenth professional fight. Faris Chevalier came in the favorite, a top 15 ranked light heavyweight across all four major sanctioning bodies and as high as #9 according to the IBF.
But, it was Wallace (9-1, 6 KO) controlling with his jab through the first half of the fight. Chevalier (13-2, 7 KO) eventually adjusted to limit Wallace’s jab, but Wallace responded by landing straight lefts instead. Wallace never threatened to finish, but scored consistently and moved well enough to avoid the worst of what Chevalier threw at him.
Fight Night taunt fans got a treat in the 9th round, when Chevalier spent most of the round with his hands at his waist, trying to lure Wallace in and even pointing at his stuck out chin. Wallace didn’t bite, but he did get caught by a heavy Chevalier right midway through the 10th and final round. Looked a bit shaky for a few seconds, but Wallace recovered quickly and landed a few more jabs before the bell.
The official report shows a split decision where one judge found it 96-94 for Chevalier, but the two judges who reported 98-92 scores for Wallace managed to see things more clearly.