Jai Opetaia willing to go to end of the world in title defense

Jai Opetaia has traveled to the opposite end of the world to make his first title defense on Saturday, hoping victory sets up bigger fights back home.

Rather than Saturday's fight against Jordan Thompson at OVO Arena Wembley in London, England, being the start of a new stage of his career overseas, the IBF cruiserweight world champion is ambitious to continue fighting on home soil.

Opetaia (22-0, 17 KOs), 28, a 6-foot-2 southpaw from Sydney, believes Australian boxing is enjoying a boom time and wants to be a part of big boxing events Down Under. As well as Opetaia, other Australians are also at an elite level including ESPN's No. 1 junior middleweight Tim Tszyu, former unified lightweight champion George KambososJr., WBO bantamweight champion Jason Moloney, Jason's twin Andrew who is a junior bantamweight contender, junior welterweight contender Liam Paro and Ebanie Bridges, the women's IBF bantamweight champion.

"I would love to get some fights in my hometown and home country," Opetaia told ESPN. "This is the first time I have fought in England as a professional so I will see what happens. I've only had one fight outside of Australia as a professional [he fought in Samoa in 2017], so it's a relatively new experience for me, but I boxed here [in England] as an amateur at the 2012 Olympics.

Opetaia added that with Australian boxing having such a success at the moment he's excited to continue that success with a victory.

"We're going through our own peak at the moment and that's why I want to take big fights back home and give other boxers the chance to be on a bigger platform, especially that international platform," Opetaia said. "I want to show the world that we mean business down there and it's an exciting time for boxing in Australia."

Opetaia is one of four champions at cruiserweight and is hoping to fight the the other titleholders, Badou Jack, Chris Billiam-Smith and Arsen Goulamirian, to unify the belts.

"There's so much politics involved with boxing, it's ridiculous, people outside the ring who are aren't doing the hard work and it's pretty stupid that they are dictating who we fight, but I'm really hoping to get the unification title fights," Opetaia told ESPN.

"I would love to step up to heavyweight further down the track. At the moment I make cruiserweight easy."

Opetaia, who is No. 2 in ESPN's latest cruiserweight rankings, outboxed and unanimously outpointed Mairis Briedis, of Latvia, to win the IBF belt in July last year, despite suffering a broken jaw early in the bout.

Opetaia has not fought since and ends a frustrating and painful 15-month absence due to injuries and changes of opponent against Thompson (15-0, 12 KOs), 30.

"There were a few hiccups, I needed surgery on my jaw because I broke it in two places against Briedis and recovery time for that, and then a I had little shoulder injury," Opetaia said. "This is our third opponent now as well which has delayed the fight. We were in negotiations with Mateusz Masternak and Richard Riakporhe. Both of them fell through so now I'm fighting Jordan Thompson. Jordan is a good fighter and I'm just going to come aggressive.

Thompson is stepping up a level for his first world title opportunity but brings with him an impressive knockout record and will have a four-inch reach advantage.

Also on the bill, Ellie Scotney (7-0, 0 KOs), from London, makes a first defense of her IBF junior featherweight title against Argentinian Laura Griffa (20-8, 1 KO).