When news broke a while back that IBF cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia would face the massively overmatched Ellis Zorro on Riyadsh’s December 23rd supercard, I remember finding it odd that the IBF would allow a second voluntary defense when Mairis Briedis is waiting on a mandatory rematch.
Turns out, they were of the same mind, and Opetaia has elected to vacate his title in order to proceed with Saturday’s bout.
Opetaia (23-0, 18 KO) claimed the move was “bulls**t,” but the fact is that he’s well overdue for the Briedis fight and already took a voluntary defense against Jordan Thompson in September.
Zorro (17-0, 7 KO) isn’t even ranked by the IBF, which might be the only sanctioning body to actually care about that when it comes to who their champion fights.
“We’ve made it clear to Jai’s team that he cannot fight Ellis Zorro for the title,” an IBF spokesperson said last week. We had already given Jai an exemption to fight Jordan Thompson in his last fight, so he can’t get another exemption to fight Zorro, who does not have a world ranking.
“In our rules, it can’t be done. He can’t have back-to-back exemptions. If we break the rules for Jai, it opens the floodgates for everyone else. The IBF have notified Jai’s team that he cannot fight Zorro — we’ve said his next fight has to be a mandatory against Briedis. If Jai Opetaia goes ahead and fights Zorro, he will be stripped of his IBF world title.”
Opetaia will reportedly earn nearly $700,000 against Zorro and is looking at a $2 million “three-fight deal that’s in the works with the Saudis.” He chose to go that route and I don’t blame him for it, but he can’t have his cake and eat it too. Being a champion means accepting a certain set of responsibilities; if you can’t or won’t fulfill them, you shouldn’t keep your belt.
Frankly, boxing would be in a much better place right now if this was SOP for sanctioning bodies.
On paper, Briedis would face “Zurdo” Ramirez for the vacant belt, which could be a cracker. We’ll see how it plays out.