Jai Opetaia sets sights on world title shot within three or four fights


Opetaia was ranked 12th in the world in the WBA rankings leading into his bout with Flanagan, behind super champion Frenchman Arsen Goulamirian, regular champion Kazakh Beibut Shumanov, and interim title-holder Belgian Ryad Merhy.

He was 10th in the IBF (led by cruiserweight Cuban Yunier Dorticos) and 13th in the WBO (where Latvia’s Mairis Briedis reigns supreme).

Rising star: Jai Opetaia celebrates winning the National Boxing Series cruiserweight bout against Mark Flanagan at the Hordern Pavilion.Credit:Getty

Now a decisive victory has him convinced a title shot is on the horizon which could see him mirror the rise of Jeff Horn.

“Definitely. I’m a lot closer, it’s good. I came out and I made a statement,” Opetaia said.

“I went out there and I put on a good show, I dominated the fight. I showed I am a class above and I am on that world title level. I’m ready for these bigger fights.

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“I’m over the moon. I’ve waited for this opportunity for a long time. He’s been at the top of the tree for a long time, so it’s good to beat him in my hometown.”

To make such a statement on live television makes this perhaps Opetaia’s finest victory. So it was fitting that it happened in his own backyard.

Because this young gun is not one to forget his roots – a glance at the Samoan and Australian flags adorning his trunks is more than enough proof.

The sight of Opetaia’s dressing room following the bout was something to behold. One must walk upstairs and muscle their way through the masses to even get a glimpse of the man of the hour.

A slew of regional championship belts turned an ordinary table into one fit for a king, such was the amount of gold sitting on it.

But the most important thing to Opetaia was those closest to him. His family and friends surrounded him and broke into song to celebrate the biggest night of his career.

Caught: Opetaia lands a left flush on Flanagan.

Caught: Opetaia lands a left flush on Flanagan.Credit:Getty

A Samoan flag was waving in the air, one so big the weight of the material alone was enough to knock someone off balance, much like Opetaia’s hands did to Flanagan.

Moments like these are ones to savour for a rising star in world boxing special enough to earn the praise of Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi.

“Culture is everything. Culture and family,” Opetaia said.

“It’s something I am very proud of and I represent the people. We can’t forget where we come from, you know what I mean? I’ll remember that and try to lead the way for some of the younger boys.

“It’s awesome, bro. To have everyone behind me, it means a lot. I’m honoured, I’m truly honoured to have the Samoan people and Australia behind me. It’s an honour.”

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