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Gruesome toll of Aussie’s epic world title victory

Jai Opetaia spent two days in hospital following his title fight win over Mairis Briedis in July.

Multiple operations later and the 27-year-old had four metal plates holding his jaw together, which was broken clean in two places by the ferocious Latvian champion.

For four months, the Gold Coast local could eat only what would fit through a straw. He lost weight, then put it back on.

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The injuries and consequent rehabilitation should be enough to put anyone off returning to the scene of the trauma.

Instead, Opetaia has barely stopped celebrating. And now he’s ready to go again.

“I’m at the table with the world champs now, I’m not playing in the backyard anymore,” Opetaia told Wide World of Sports.

“I’m on the world stage, I’m a world champion. There’s like seven billion people in the world, I’m the No.1 cruiserweight in the f—ing world, bro.

“How many people get to say that? And that was just the start, that was my first world title fight.

“I’ve fought the best and I’ve beat the best, and now I want more, I’m not done.

“There were a few make-or-break situations where I feel like a lot of people would have given up, but it’s not in me, I want more.

“People aren’t willing to go to the ends that I am to get what I want. If I commit to something I’m f—ing going all out, I’m giving 100 per cent.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR WORLD CHAMP?

Opetaia’s instantly-famous unanimous points victory over Briedis earned him the IBF cruiserweight belt and the Ring Magazine title to boot.

His mission now is to unify the division.

That won’t be so easy to do, given the belts are split between four different fighters.Arsen Goulamirian holds the WBA belt, Ilunga Makabu the WBC, and Lawrence Okolie the WBO.

Opetaia returned to the gym on Tuesday and is hoping to step back into the ring in March, but isn’t sure whether that will be in Australia or overseas.

“They’ve thrown a few names around – mandatories, and going over to England – but I don’t give a f— who I fight next,” he said.

“All I want is to get paid what I deserve, and I’ll fight anyone.

“Everyone wants to fight for a world title, everyone is calling me out, (but) they mean nothing. World champions are born in the gym, they’re born out of years of dedication.

“They are not just that, ‘Oh I’m going to call him out’ – that’s that showbiz shit, they’re getting mixed up with the fight game and show business because you’ve got YouTubers and shit fighting.

“Your mouth doesn’t get you fights, hard work does.”

Opetaia has had one metal plate removed from the right side of his face, but three remain and are likely to be in there for the rest of his life.

His doctors and trainers now need to make sure he can cop the same punishment Briedis dished out to him, without potentially causing more significant damage.

For Opetaia, he says he would be back in the ring already if not for the advice of those around him.

But a little facial surgery isn’t going to stand in the way of his career goal.

“We’re in a position to conquer this whole f—ing thing, like we can turn Australian boxing into something huge.”

INSPIRING GENERATION NEXT

Opetaia realizes he is no longer just another boxer from the Gold Coast.

He has an international profile, and he’s taken some getting used to.

“There’s definitely a lot more eyes on me. A lot more cameras, a lot more people when I go out somewhere, they’re really taking notice,” he said.

“I’ve sort of adapted to it, it was a bit weird at the start, but I’m a world champion, and no one said it was going to be easy.”

He used the break from training following the Briedis fight to give back to the community – both in Australia, and in Samoa.

Opetaia walks to the ring giving both flags, and is proud of his dual heritage.

When he returned to Samoa carrying the world championship belt he received a royal welcome.

“It’s crazy, after my fight going over, they really, really embrace it,” he said.

“It’s huge. It’s a very small nation, and just seeing them on the world stage, it’s good to see.

“In Samoa we’re looking at putting programs together for kids, young boxers, little gateways for them to prove themselves and develop, then come to Australia and fight.

“There’s a lot of potential there, and they don’t have the backing and funding there that Australia has.

“It opens a lot of doors for the younger generations, and I feel like that’s the purpose of life, trying to help the youth and help the younger kids, help them learn from our mistakes.

“We’re setting bars, we are setting standards. In the boxing world, in the rugby league world, we’re setting standards for the younger generation to try to beat, and that’s what drives people.”

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