Cruiserweight world champion Jai Opetaia is back and he can’t wait to continue his quest for all the gold in the division.
The IBF belt holder is Australia’s only current male world champion but has been kept out of the gym since the fight which won him the title.
Opetaia suffered a badly broken jaw in his incredible win over Latvia’s Mairis Briedis in July, fighting through the injury for much of the bout.
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Recovery from the surgery, and some subsequent infections, was slow going but Opetaia is finally back in training and is set to begin sparring again in around a month, with a view to a competitive return in March.
“It has been a huge rollercoaster to get back to where we are today,” Opetaia told Sporting News.
“It’s more just the mental challenges you have going through a recovery.
“Being limited in what you can do, not being able to live a normal life. It took me four months before I could even chew.
“It has been a rollercoaster, people don’t understand the dark holes you’ve got to bring yourself out of to get back to competitive level.
“These injuries take a toll on you and I’m back and I’m hungry, I want more, I want more world titles, I want to conquer this whole cruiserweight division.”
Opetaia is now 22-0 and, in addition to the IBF strap, holds The Ring cruiserweight title as well.
Lawrence Okolie has the WBO title, Ilunga Makabu is WBC champ, while Arsen Gulamirian holds the WBA strap.
In the coming months, the IBF could order Opetaia to face his mandatory challenger, meaning Polish veteran Mateusz Masternak, who recently defeated Australia’s Jason Whateley to earn number one contender status, will get first shot at the champ.
Alternatively, Englishman Chris Billam-Smith’s name has popped up as a potential challenger, although he would need to get through unscathed against Armend Xhoxhaj next month.
Opetaia’s management are working through the options now but the southpaw says he’s not picky.
“Winning a world title, everyone wants to fight me now,” he said.
“[Promoter Dean Lonergan] and Tasman Fighters have thrown a few names out, they’ve said a few things about England and stuff like that but if I’m being completely honest, I do not give a f*** who I fight next.
“Whoever pays me the most money and whoever earns it, let’s get it on.
“Pay me what I deserve and I will fight any of you.”
While he hasn’t been in the ring since becoming champion, Opetaia said there was a silver lining to the nature of his victory over Briedis.
“Even though I won that world title and the way I won it, I still feel I can do better,” he said.
“I feel like a better fighter from that fight. That was my first world championship and I’m 27 years old.
“I’ve still got so much f***in’ fire in me. These guys don’t even know. They’re not even willing to go how deep I will go to win these fights.
“They’re not willing to put in the effort I will put in. I’ve sacrificed my life for this stuff.
“I don’t care about anything else. Winning these world titles is all that matters.”
Opetaia, who famously went to a place few athletes would or could, said he’s as motivated as ever to keep collecting belts and unify the cruiserweight division.
“I already picture it. I’ve manifested it,” he said.
“It’s just like my last fight. I can already see me raising every belt in this division.”