Opetaia gives up IBF belt for 'life-changing' fight

A frustrated Jai Opetaia has confirmed he will vacate his IBF world title to fight Ellis Zorro on a "life-changing" Saudi Arabia boxing card.

The unbeaten Australian cruiserweight (23-0) had sought an exemption for a voluntary defence against Englishman Zorro on Saturday in a reported $680,000 Riyadh pay day.

Heavyweight clashes between Anthony Joshua and Otto Wallin as well as New Zealand's Joseph Parker and American star Deontay Wilder headline a card dubbed one of the deepest seen in the sport.

But the IBF, demanding Opetaia fight Latvian mandatory challenger Mairis Briedis next, rejected his wishes and ordered the NSW product to abort the fight or give up the belt.

That's despite Briedis, who is currently injured and hasn't fought since he was beaten by Opetaia in July last year, giving Opetaia permission to fight Zorro first.

The pair were set to tussle again in February once Briedis was healthy but that fight has now been scrapped, leaving Opetaia with only the Ring belt and a reputation as the division's No.1 talent.

Jai Opetaia
The IBF wanted Jai Opetaia (r) to fight Mairis Briedis (l) again for his next bout.

Opetaia broke his jaw in two places on his way to an upset win over Briedis and has defended his belts just once since, dominating Jordan Thompson in London in September.

That fight also required an IBF exemption after challengers Mateusz Masternak of Poland and England's Richard Riakporhe both ducked Opetaia in the final stages of negotiations.

“I fought through absolute agony to win that belt and it saddens me to relinquish it,” the 27-year-old said. 

“But the fact is, Briedis isn’t ready to fight on December 23 and I need to stay active. 

"I simply can’t turn down a career-high pay day. 

"Belts should be won and lost in the ring and I’m still the Ring Magazine champion and all roads in the cruiserweight division go through me.”

Jai Opetaia (r) says Mairis Briedis (r) isn't ready to fight again and he needs to stay active.

Gold Coast-based Opetaia's manager Mick Francis has battled for the last fortnight for a compromise with the IBF - one of the sport's four internationally-recognised organisations - before conceding on Monday.

Francis also argued that IBF rules should have seen Briedis removed as mandatory challenger and booted from the organisation's top-15 rankings given he's been inactive for more than 12 months.

"There are rules for some people and there are rules for others," Francis told AAP.

"They (the IBF) won't budge for their current champion. Very disappointing, but it is what it is.

"There’s an old saying that you can’t eat trophies. Jai cannot turn down the life-changing money on offer for the Zorro bout and we need the activity."

Opetaia's path beyond the Zorro fight is clouded given his main rivals' willingness to avoid the Australian.

Masternak aborted negotiations to instead chase England's Chris Billam-Smith for the WBO belt, the Pole throwing in the towel after seven rounds in that duel earlier this month.

Riakporhe has now called out Billam-Smith for an all-England WBO title fight.

Matchroom Boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said the IBF's decision lacked common sense.

"Belts do matter but ... you can't stand in the way of what's fair and opportunities like this," he said.

"Stick with the Ring Magazine championship and try to win another one in the next fight.

"This is an opportunity that will change Jai Opetaia's life forever and let's not get it twisted, that's the ultimate goal in this sport, to make sure fighters leave the sport healthy and financially secure."

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