After fighting through a gruesomely broken jaw to take the IBF cruiserweight title from Mairis Briedis last July, Jai Opetaia got the call to face hard-luck veteran Mateusz Masternak in his first mandatory defense. Yesterday, on the eve of a scheduled purse bid, Masternak’s team declared that they’d be moving in a different direction, prompting the IBF to send in no. 2 Richard Riakporhe.
The two have a month to negotiate. Per Fox Sports AU’s Ben Damon, Masternak will instead challenge Chris Billam-Smith for the WBO title, though Lawrence Okolie previously stated his intention to exercise his rematch clause. I’m very, very hopeful that Damon’s correct.
Though the wasted time is frustrating, Opetaia (22-0, 17 KO) vs Riakporhe (16-0, 12 KO) is a damn fine matchup. Opetaia impressed mightily against Briedis, whom I’d tabbed to mulch the previously untested Aussie, and Riakporhe’s increasingly impressive body of work features wins over Tommy McCarthy, Billam-Smith, Jack Massey, Deion Jumah, Fabio Turchi, and Krzysztof Glowacki. Regardless of who emerges victorious, a unification between the winner and Billam-Smith would be the biggest and most interesting fight the division has to offer since the last WBSS.
And all it took to make cruiserweight fun again was deposing Okolie.