Featured image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Australian cruiserweight Jai Opetaia has now officially vacated his IBF title ahead of his bout with London’s Ellis Zorro in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The IBF refused to sanction a voluntary defence against Zorro and insisted Opetaia defend against mandatory challenger Mairis Briedis instead.

Opetaia initially outpointed Briedis in July last year to capture the belt before defending versus Manchester’s Jordan Thompson in September after Latvia’s Briedis was unable to fight through injury.

Briedis, who is ranked third with the IBF, will likely face Mexico’s Gilberto Ramirez who is ranked fourth.

The first and second placed were empty as per the IBF’s latest publishing of their rankings in November.

Opetaia dropped and stopped Thompson inside four rounds in September. Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

Opetaia ‘frustrated’ by the IBF’s decision:

Opetaia (23-0, 18KOs) spoke to Matchroom Boxing‘s YouTube channel after it was confirmed he had vacated the title on Monday morning.

The Zorro fight was set to be his second defence but while he no longer holds a sanctioning body belt, the 28-year-old continues to hold the Ring Magazine title.

“It is what it is. I’m just focused on the fight and looking forward to putting on a good show. It’s all outside noise and is fuelling the fire,” he said.

“I feel like I’m the motivation to my rivals. I’m working hard and doing what I’ve gotta do. Anyone they put me up against, that’s who I’m gonna beat. We’re ready for business.”

YouTube player
Opetaia’s full sit-down with Matchroom Boxing can be viewed on their YouTube channel here.

The Briedis win last year did come at a cost for Opetaia who suffered a fractured jaw in the second round of his successful title challenge.

14 months out of the ring followed as he recovered and sought to tie down an opponent, and the Australian admits his frustration at how his reign as IBF champion has ended.

“It is frustrating, man. It’s not even the fight [with Briedis last year], it was after the fight [and] four months of eating through a straw, which was the hardest part.

“But it is what it is. We’ve gotta focus on our own job, keep fighting and winning, and then it’ll come back. I’ve only had two [world title] fights, one winning the belt and one defending it. We’re heading in the right path.”

Joshua, Wilder, Bivol and Dubois also feature in Saudi

We are now less than a week from the opening bell at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday where Opetaia takes on London’s Zorro (17-0, 7KOs).

The card is topped by a heavyweight double-header featuring former champions Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder who, providing both emerge unscathed this weekend, hope to meet in a long-awaited dust-up in 2024.

Joshua faces a stern task in Sweden’s Otto Wallin who, since going the distance with Tyson Fury four years ago, has racked up impressive wins against the likes of Dominic Breazeale and most recently Murat Gassiev.

Wilder meanwhile faces a fellow former heavyweight champion in New Zealand’s Joseph Parker.

Joshua features against Wallin in what will be his third fight of 2023. Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

The Alabama man has fought just once since his eleventh-round defeat to Fury in October 2021 – knocking out Robert Helenius in less than a round.

Parker has been considerably more active and has claimed three consecutive victories since a brutal eleventh-round defeat to Joe Joyce in September last year.

WBA light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol also defends against Manchester’s Lyndon Arthur, while British heavyweight Daniel Dubois faces the disgraced New Yorker in Jarrell Miller.

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