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Tyson Fury vs. Oleksandr Usyk undercard: Jai Opetaia, Frank Sanchez and Joe Cordina among fighters to watch

The biggest heavyweight showdown in decades is set to go down Saturday in Saudi Arabia when WBC champion Tyson Fury meets WBA, WBO and IBF champion Oleksandr Usyk in a bout to crown the division’s first undisputed champion of the four-belt era. It’s a massive fight that will dominate the headlines and will have the entire focus of the majority of those who shell out for the pay-per-view.

Despite all the attention Fury vs. Usyk will receive, there is still a solid undercard to support the main event. That’s especially true when compared to other recent pay-per-view undercards that have been spectacularly underwhelming.

The Fury vs. Usyk undercard features two world title bouts, an important heavyweight showdown of two rising contenders and the return of a former world champion.

Let’s take a look at what to watch on the Fury vs. Usyk undercard.

Jai Opetaia vs. Mairis Briedis, vacant IBF cruiserweight title

Odds: Opetaia -600, Briedis +400

Opetaia filled the void as cruiserweight’s top fighter shortly after Usyk left the division, defeating Briedis in a July 2022 clash to capture the IBF title. That first meeting was a fantastic, bloody war that saw Briedis cut and his nose badly damaged while Opetaia’s jaw was broken in two places. Opetaia took a competitive decision win and built on that with dominant performances against Jordan Thompson and Ellis Zorro.

Frustratingly, the IBF stripped Opetaia of the title ahead of the Zorro fight, insisting on a mandatory defense against Briedis despite the fact that Briedis was sidelined due to injury.

In addition to being a former IBF champion, Briedis previously held the WBC title, losing it to Usyk during the World Boxing Super Series in the 2018 semifinals. His lone losses are to Opetaia and Usyk, the best of the best in the division’s recent history.

With Briedis 39 years old and having not fought since the 2022 clash with Opetaia, there’s some risk of ring rust and age affecting his performance, which could be very dangerous against a man with Opetaia’s skills.

Frank Sanchez vs. Agit Kabayel, heavyweights

Odds: Sanchez -225, Kabayel +188

Sanchez has shown promise in the division for years but his level of opposition has left a question mark as to where he fits into the larger heavyweight picture. While he has a few wins over some familiar names, Sanchez’s best win is probably still his October 2021 defeat of Efe Ajagba. Since then, Sanchez has fought five more times without really being tested.

Kabayel represents a much stiffer test for Sanchez than his recent opponents. On the same card where Sanchez defeated Junior Fa in December, Kabayel thrashed heavy favorite Arslanbek Makhmudov. That was a major breakout win for Kabayel after a career previously spent almost entirely fighting in Germany.

The real story here is that one of these two 31-year-olds will finally pick up a win that could put them into title contention. That could mean a future fight with the winner of Fury vs. Usyk, or it could be for the IBF title, which could soon be vacant if Fury and Usyk agree to go ahead with their planned rematch. The IBF has said that the rematch moving ahead would force them to strip the winner as they would not be fulfilling their obligation to grant a shot at the mandatory challenger. Sanchez and Kabayel currently sit at No. 6 and 7, respectively, in the IBF rankings.

Joe Cordina (c) vs. Anthony Cacace, IBF super featherweight title

Odds: Cordina -450, Cacace +350

Cordina captured the IBF title in June 2022 with an absolutely blistering second-round knockout of Kenichi Ogawa. His time as champion hasn’t been easy but Cordina has gutted through two tough wins, beating Shavkat Rakhimov by split decision before taking a majority decision over Edward Vazquez.

Cacace is a slight step down in opponent level for Cordina, not quite on the level of Ogawa or Rakhimov. Still, after suffering a loss to Martin Ward in 2017, Cacace has rattled off six consecutive wins to climb the rankings and earn a shot at becoming a world champion. He hasn’t been the most active fighter, entering the ring just once each year since 2021 and sitting out the entirety of 2020, and with only seven stoppage wins in his career Cacace don’t carry much power into his fights. But wins earn title shots and now Cacace has to figure out how to edge out a fighter who is a proven champion with the ability to flatten an opponent with a clean shot, as evidenced in the Ogawa fight.

Sergey Kovalev vs. Robin Sirwan Safar, cruiserweights

Odds: Safar -150, Kovalev +125

This fight is something of a mystery. Kovalev is a multi-time former champion, including a stint as unified champion from the time he defeated Bernard Hopkins in November 2014 until his first fight with Andre Ward in November 2016. Those fights came against men who are long since retired, which gives some evidence of how old Kovalev is coming into the fight.

Kovalev, 41, has only fought once since he was brutally knocked out by Canelo Alvarez in November 2019. In May 2022, Kovalev made his cruiserweight debut, defeating Tervel Pulev and has been on the sidelines since.

Safar has never faced an opponent as dangerous as even a faded version of Kovalev, nor has he fought on a stage anywhere near what he will experience on Saturday. He is the younger man and has shown power in his career, with 12 knockouts in his perfect 16-0 career. Whether he is just an opponent for the bigger name or will emerge having added considerable value to his name will be sorted out in a matter of days.

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