In the combat sports world, there is rarely a press conference or weigh in where a fighter won’t say they’re the toughest in the sport.
Aussie cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia lives what he preaches.
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The 27-year-old Opetaia cleaned out the Australian market with 21 straight professional wins going into his July fight against then cruiserweight king Mairis Briedis.
He had fought for most of his career with a broken left hand which was fixed just before his title shot against Briedis, before it was postponed again after Opetaia fractured his rib leading into the fight.
The youngster knew all about pain heading into the biggest moment of his life.
But while it was clear he was tough, no one believed he could withstand the pain he copped in the ring against Briedis.
Opetaia’s jaw was broken in the early rounds, an injury which would floor most fighters.
It only got worse in the 10th or 11th round when he broke the other side, leaving his mouth hanging agape, disconnected from his skull.
On the night, ringside doctor Ben Mannion put the physical feat of toughness in perspective after the fight.
“One of the guys asked does it normally break on both sides after it’s broken on one side and I said, ‘People don’t normally compete after that time’,” he said.
So when Opetaia says he’s tough, they’re not just words.
And when he says he wants to take out the entire cruiserweight division, he’s not kidding.
“These guys aren’t willing to go how deep I’ll f**king go for this,” Opetaia told news.com.au.
“They’re not willing to go to the level I will go. I’m willing to die for this s**t, I put my life on the line every day for this s**t.
“The physical pain I went through, you know, it doesn’t even compare to the emotional pain that feeds up to a fight. That gruelling loneliness that you go through to get to a world title. People don’t understand their sacrifice.
“I’ve done it, you know, myself out of some deep dark f**king holes and giving up was never even an option, it wasn’t even a thing that crossed my mind. What’s a broken jaw to a f**king lifetime of sacrifice?
“Any one of these guys that would have broke their jaw in the third round would have stopped there ‘no, no, I can’t fight’. F**k that. I’ll risk it all for what I believe.”
It’s been a gruelling recovery for Opetaia, who has three plates and 12 screws in his jaw after the horrific aftermath of his injury.
After a laborious few months out of the ring doing what he could do to stay fighting fit, Opetaia is back at work, looking to a March return date and title defence.
Who that fight will be remains to be seen as Poland’s Mateusz Masternak defeated Aussie Jason Whateley in the IBF title eliminator in October to earn a mandatory shot at the belt.
But Opetaia is looking at the entire division, including WBO champion Lawrence Okolie, who called out the Aussie straight after his win over Briedis.
He added: “He’s gotta enjoy tht belts but OMG, what a fight had just been set up. Imma show Briedis how it’s f**king done.”
It’d be a great fight and unify two of the four belts in the division but Opetaia had a message for the Londoner.
“He fights when I say we fight,” Opetaia said.
“He’s been at the top for ages, he’s been up there doing what he does but I’m telling you right now, I beat Okolie. Quote that, I will beat Okolie when I fight him.
“He’s a great fighter, he’s a very awkward sort of long fighter, he’s got some decent power – but he’s not Jai Opetaia.”
There are plenty of options out there as well for Opetaia.
Since undisputed champion Oleksandr Usyk moved up to heavyweight, where he added three of the belts after defeating Anthony Joshua twice, the four cruiserweight titles are separated.
Opetaia has the IBF title, Okolie the WBO, 29-2 Congolese champion Ilunga Makabu has the WBC and 27-0 Armenian Arsen Goulamirian has the WBA belt.
There are also very highly rated Brits littering the rankings including Chris Billam-Smith, who is in the top seven of all four rankings, that could be a path for the Aussie.
“The next fight will be a world title fight, whether I’m defending it or fighting for another one,” Opetaia said.
“There’s been a few names thrown at me and to be honest, I don’t give a f**k who I fight in my next fight, I do not care.
“Whoever pays me the most, let’s get it on.
“But when you come do not disappoint me, because I’m coming in hard. I’ve been training hard, I do everything 100 per cent and every fight I have, I want to make history, to be a part of the legacy.
“I’d love to be a part of the biggest fight nights here in Australia. But I’m ready to get it on.”
Opetaia added he had “done my apprenticeship” but that he would fight anywhere to ensure the world’s respect and attention.
“If I have to go to England to prove it, then so be it,” Opetaia said.
“If they say the right price, I’m there.
“I’ve already seen it, I know, I believe it in my heart I can beat these guys, all of them. I can conquer this whole division, I can win every belt in this cruiserweight category, I know I can.”