Mairis Briedis happy Down Under, all set for Jai Opetaia challenge
Highly decorated boxer-puncher Mairis Briedis will finally put his Ring and IBF cruiserweight titles on the line against mandatory challenger Jai Opetaia at the Gold Coast Convention Centre in Broadbeach, Australia on Saturday.
Briedis, who claimed The Ring championship by outpointing Yuniel Dorticos in September 2020, had been due to face Opetaia on April 6, but had to postpone after contracting Covid. The contest was rescheduled for May 11, only for the challenger to suffer a rib injury.
“I’m not really getting stressed out about things that I can’t control or change,” Briedis (28-1, 20 knockouts) told The Ring through Raimonds Zeps on Sunday. “I had this experience when we were fighting Dorticos, when the fight was moved. I was stressing a lot about it back then, but I took it as a lesson and a good learning curve. It is what it is. You get prepared for three fights but only have one. It’s more expensive but we can’t control it. We are here now and we are ready for July 2.”
Late last year, the 37-year-old Latvian decided to accept the offer to venture further afield and broaden his horizons.
“We’re not looking for the easiest path, this is a very good challenge that I am looking forward to,” he explained. “I’m happily surprised with everything I see here in Australia; about the reception, about the country itself. They have good boxers over here. I sparred with a couple of them and they are tough nuts to crack. I’m pleasantly surprised of the boxing level here.
“It was not about money or anything else, it was more about the challenge. To grow you have to exit your comfort zone. This was a great challenge for me to overcome and we will see how the fight goes. Having been in North America and Europe, now I’ve got a chance to show myself to the Australian public which is good for the legacy.”
Briedis believes that the arduous journey is all part of the experience.
“The first part of training was in Riga, then we moved here to adjust [to the seven-hour time difference] in the Gold Coast,” said Briedis, who traveled over 30 hours from his home in Riga, via Copenhagen and Doha before arriving in Brisbane on June 18.
“The week we’ve been here felt like a month because we had jetlag to overcome. Now I understand why we barely see any Australians in Europe, it’s a very long and expensive trip. We still had to move on with training – we had no choice – it didn’t matter what time it was at home.”
Over the past few months, the normally reserved titleholder has shown more of a playful side. Bizarrely, he got a tattoo of Jake Paul on his thigh and, more recently, attended a Lawrence Okolie fight in London dressed as computer game character Super Mario.
“It started as a joke, but then people started reacting and they wanted the fight [with Jake Paul], so there was more publicity,” explained Briedis. “Since [wearing the Super Mario costume], my kids are calling me Super Mario. It’s a learning curve for me. Spiderman had his first costume which wasn’t anything fancy, then he grew up to have a really cool costume. I have outgrown Super Mario and I have to think of other things moving forward.
“We are shifting things up a bit. People get used to seeing boxers and they want to have something new. We’re going to give them something new for the entrance and whatever happens this week.”
However, while Briedis doesn’t mind a bit of fun, he is also the consummate pro and is focused on the task at hand.
“When you put together a puzzle; adding piece to piece, for me I want to do the same with belts,” said the defending champion. “I know people in England really want me to fight [WBO titlist] Okolie. If they want it, it would be another challenge for me, but first we have to overcome what is in front of us.”
Opetaia was a top amateur in Australia and represented his country at the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 Commonwealth Games before turning pro in 2015. The 26-year-old southpaw claimed the national and OPBF cruiserweight titles and holds wins over middle-level opposition including Mark Flanagan (TKO 8) and Benjamin Kelleher (TKO 6). His record is 21-0 (17 KOs).