As the rounds dragged on and Mairis Briedis grew into the fight with every ticking second, so did the swelling on the side of Jai Opetaia’s face.
A broken jaw, sustained in the second lap but worryingly visible in the 11th lap, had the crowd startled and wondering if the Australian could only last one final lap.
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At the end of the 11th round, Opetaia narrowly survived and made it back to his corner.
His head coach, Mark Wilson, noticed the jaw like everyone else for the first time.
“I didn’t realize it was broken until lap 11 when you could obviously see something was really wrong,” Wilson said foxsports.com.au in Opetaia’s dressing room after the fight.
I thought, ‘We’re through this, we’ve only got one more to go. To run. To run.’
“I think we were two or three or four laps ahead, I thought. We started losing maybe a few late.
“I said, ‘Just move, buddy. We have to move. don’t do anything stupid Move.’
“We got through there.”
And get through the late barrage they did.
Opetaia may have snagged a future appearance on “Dancing With The Stars” as he moved in the last lap like he’s never moved before.
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Briedis didn’t need to feel blood that the 27-year-old was there to kill him if he could catch him; The Latvian could see the blood spurting from Opetaia’s mouth as a result of the broken jaw he caused.
But Opetaia miraculously persevered as the crowd at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Center exploded in applause and cheers.
Minutes felt like hours while the judges’ scorecards were being compiled, but when the ring announcer yelled “And neeeeew” the roof blew up and was sent into orbit as Opetaia became the IBF Cruiserweight Champion in a unanimous decision victory was crowned.
For Wilson, it was a moment when the true demonstrated life had finally come full circle.
“In 2011, Jai and I first got together,” Wilson said.
“We went to Kazakhstan for the Junior World Championships and he won the world title there.
“I said, ‘It was your destiny that the two of us would get back together. You’re fighting for a world title, I knew you were going to win tonight.’”
Just as well that Wilson had an unwavering belief in Opetaia.
Fans began watching the fight between their fingers in the back half of the fight as Opetaia’s early dominance and fast pace waned.
A broken and bloodied Briedis slowly fought his way back into the fight and showed exactly why he was the champion from the start, rocking Opetaia with a series of right uppercuts that no doubt helped loosen his jaw.
But Wilson stayed calm amid the storm, repeating to Opetaia between rounds that he needed to “keep moving.”
“I knew we could still outsmart him,” Wilson said.
“I knew Jai had the ability to outsmart him. I was just concerned, sometimes Jai can get a bit flat footed and wait too long. Then he was hit by that right lead or right uppercut. That was the only blow that really did any damage.
“I said, ‘Jai, we have to move on, we have to go first. We have to go first, and when you see him coming, disengage. Walk away, let him fight a little and then you’ll get him.’”
Wilson is in Australian boxing with over 30 years of experience under his belt.
The sport has taken him to almost every corner of the world, cornering many fighters and witnessing countless fights before his very eyes.
But where does Opetaia’s monumental victory rank in his vast array of special boxing moments?
Unsurprisingly at the top.
“This has got to be my best moment in boxing right now,” Wilson said.
“When young Justis Huni won the amateur youth world title, it was one of my proudest ever. Doing the Olympics as a coach was proud.
“But that crowns everything. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the real deal.”
Fans at the venue no doubt partied well into the night.
So would many of Opetaia’s closest supporters, and rightly so.
As for Wilson’s celebration of his student’s crowning moment?
“I’ll have breakfast with the family and then ride 900 km,” said Wilson.
“I have to go west. This fight has been postponed many times but I have committed to taking on a guest speaker role at a junior rugby league carnival of which I am a lifetime member for the federation.
“I’m going all the way back to my hometown of Cunnamulla.”