Surgery for champ Opetaia before defense

Jai Opetaia will have shoulder surgery before locking in the details of his first world title defense against Polish contender Mateusz Masternak.

The Australian shocked Latvian veteran Mairis Briedis to claim the IBF and The Ring cruiserweight belts last July, with Opetaia prevailing despite breaking his jaw twice in a brutal Gold Coast exchange.

Opetaia, Australia’s only current male boxing world champion, had also overcome a serious rib injury and endured a second fight postponement when Briedis caught COVID-19.

The 27-year-old’s face has recovered but, after complaining of shoulder soreness, the Gold Coast boxer will have day surgery this week in Melbourne to repair a small ligament tear.

Negotiations will then begin for a June clash with Masternak (47 wins, five losses), who beat Australian Jason Whately via unanimous points decision last October to secure mandatory challenger status.

Manager Mick Francis hopes to land a defense on home soil, but is prepared for the fight to be held in the UK or even Poland if necessary.

A 2012 Olympian, Opetaia (22-0) was a relatively low-profile figure in Australian boxing despite his dominance.

But the extraordinary manner of his win over Briedis thrust him into the bright lights, with The Ring magazine crediting Opetaia with their Upset Of The Year gong and the IBF nominating the Sydney product for fight of the year.

The IBF award will be announced at a Chicago function in May, with Opetaia set to attend unless he’s in camp for his next fight.

“He deserved it after what he went through and all the setbacks leading up to it for years,” Francis told AAP of his dual accolades.

“It might have been an upset to them, but it wasn’t to us. We knew Jai was winning that fight.”

Francis said were it not for injuries and other setbacks, Opetaia “should have won a world title two years earlier”.

“Think about how many IBF fights are fought around the globe … thousands. So that’s (a nomination for fight of the year) mind-boggling and massive for his profile,” he said.

Francis said Opetaia’s surgery was minor but necessary ahead of another stern test.

“He’s had issues in that left shoulder, had no strength there so after that he should be fine and fighting in June,” he said.

“These eastern Europeans, they’re animals, they’re tough, well rounded and experienced.”


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