London’s Richard Riakporhe is well placed to challenge new champion Jai Opetaia after the Australian beat Mairis Briedis to win the IBF cruiserweight title on Saturday.
Opetaia scored a major upset when he outpointed Briedis on a unanimous decision at the Gold Coast Convention Centre in Australia.
Latvia’s Briedis had only lost once before in his long career and that was in a competitive clash with Oleksandr Usyk, the brilliant Ukrainian who became an undisputed champion at cruiserweight and is currently a unified heavyweight titlist after beating Anthony Joshua.
Briedis had lost the WBC 200lb belt to Usyk but came back to become a two-time champion himself. He won the World Boxing Super Series in 2020 and was widely recognised as the top cruiserweight in the sport.
Opetaia could not boast such a resume. Although an unbeaten professional and a London 2012 Olympian, he had never boxed at this level as a pro, but he delivered a champion-making performance in by far the biggest fight he has ever been involved in.
The tall southpaw beat Briedis on all three judges’ cards, winning 116-112 for both John Basile and Steve Weisfeld and 115-113 for Katsuhiko Nakamura.
Opetaia’s efforts were all the more impressive as it was later revealed he had suffered a broken jaw. The Australian withstood a tremendous last-ditch assault by Briedis in the final round to come away with a memorable victory.
Now Opetaia has taken over Briedis’ position in the division he will be a man in demand. Richard Riakporhe is one of the leading contenders to challenge for the IBF belt that the Australian holds.
The Londoner won an IBF eliminator when he beat Fabio Turchi at Wembley Arena last month and is the most highly-ranked contender in the IBF’s ratings. He will be able to push to become the mandatory challenger for Opetaia. It does not mean Riakporhe will necessarily fight Opetaia next but the Briton, if he retains his position, should eventually enforce a shot at the new champion.
Riakporhe’s promoter Ben Shalom is pushing for him to box for a world title in his next bout. He previously told Sky Sports, “We’re very close [to a world title fight]. Richard, that was his dream 12 months ago. He’s now on the brink of it. He doesn’t care which one it is.
“He looks the part, he looks as though he can take anyone on and he looks as though he can knock anyone out. I hope he will fight for a world title this year.”