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Results from Riyadh Undercard: Cacace Scores Upset, Kabayal and Itauma Shine

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Results from Riyadh Undercard: Cacace Scores Upset, Kabayal and Itauma Shine

A surprising upset and two powerful heavyweight prospects provided the Ring of Fire Riyadh undercard Saturday highlights.

Opetaia Survives Late Drama to Win Over Briedis

Jai Opetaia had a surprisingly easy road to victory in his rematch with Mairis Briedis. Photo: DAZN Boxing

Jai Opetaia was surprised by a last-minute scare to get the victory in his rematch with Mairis Briedis. Photo: DAZN Boxing

Former IBF World Cruiserweight champion Jai Opetaia of New Zealand (25-0, 19 KOs) survived a last-minute scare but overall had a surprisingly easy road to victory in his rematch with Mairis Briedis of Latvia (28-3, 20 KOs). Scores were 117-111 and 116-112 twice for Opetaia in the decision win. Opetaia wins back his former belt, relinquished when he chose to fight on the December 2023 Saudi Arabia card.

“Mairis Briedis, I wanted to share the ring with a champion like that. To be here and share the ring with him, he's a true warrior, and I have nothing but respect. Thank you, Mairis,” said Opetaia.

Their first bout was a barnburner, with Opetaia surviving a broken jaw and Briedis a broken nose.

Fans hoped to see the same kind of all-action fight. For ten rounds, things were on cruise control for Opetaia. Briedis again suffered damage to his nose early in the fight, which bled throughout. Opetaia controlled the ring and kept Briedis from landing anything threatening.

But in the tenth round, Briedis unloaded and landed a good shot, but it was followed by a headbutt that appeared to break Opetaia's nose, threatening to flip the script. Briedis drew on his reserves and tried to capitalize on the moment, but Opetaia got to the finish line. “I knew he was going to come on strong, he rocked me a bit. I broke his nose, he broke mind, we kept on,” said Opetaia.

Both ring rush and age were against Briedis. He had not been in the ring since the first fight with Opetaia two years ago. At 39, he was past his best, and the younger, fresher Opetaia took advantage of it. Opetaia said he wasn't entirely happy with the performance but would learn from it.

Anthony Cacace Stuns Joe Cordina in Upset

Anthony Cacace of Ireland put on a powerhouse performance to score the upset win over Joe Cordina. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing Riyadh undercard

Anthony Cacace of Ireland put on a powerhouse performance to score the upset win over Joe Cordina. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Anthony Cacace of Ireland (22-1, 8 KOs) didn’t have a track record as a power puncher.  But you couldn’t tell after his tremendous upset performance, stopping IBF super featherweight champion Joe Cordina of Wales (17-1, 9 KOs) in eight rounds to become the new world champion. It was his first knockout win since 2015.

Cacace was a 14-to-1 underdog on the betting line to win by knockout.

Cacace capitalized on an incident in the third round when he rattled Cordina with a left hook after a referee break. Cordina’s legs buckled, putting him at a disadvantage for the rest of the fight as Cacace never let up, knowing it might be his best and only opportunity. He landed 151 of 428 punches thrown (35%) against just 74 of 242 punches for Cordina (31%). Cordina denied it was dirty fighting.

Cacace hurt Cordina in multiple rounds, scoring a knockdown with a right hook in round 7. As round eight began, Cacace swarmed Cordina, and referee Bob Williams stepped in to call it a day 39 seconds into the round. Hearing “And the new” from announcer Thomas Trieber, Cacace sank to his knees with a roar of victory, overcoming injuries to win a world title at age 35.

“I’m in shock. Nobody gave me a chance to do this here,” said Cacace. “Joe is a hell of a competitor, I give him his due, but today I was hurting him with every single shot.” Cacace said he’d give Cordina a rematch and wants all his future bouts to take place in Saudi Arabia.

Agit Kabayal Is The Real Deal At Heavyweight

Agit Kabayal scored an impressive TKO win over previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing Riyadh undercard

Agit Kabayal scored an impressive TKO win over previously undefeated Frank Sanchez. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Heavyweight Agit Kabayal of Germany (25-0, 17 KOs) notched the biggest win of his career, dropping and stopping Frank Sanchez of Cuba (25-1, 17 KOs) at 2:33 of the seventh round. Kabayal graduated from prospect to contender. Over two fights on cards in Saudi Arabia, he proved he’s the real deal.

Kabayel backed up Sanchez the entire fight. Wearing a brace on his right knee, Sanchez wasn’t on steady footing. He got knocked down with a minute left in round seven, and when Kabayel moved in and dropped him with body shots, he did not get up.

Kobayel refused to call out any of his rivals, including Joseph Parker, who was working for DAZN and said he’d be willing to face Kobayel.

Mark Chamberlain Rocks Riyadh Undercard

Mark Chamberlain wasted no time, getting the TKO win in the first round. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Mark Chamberlain wasted no time, getting the TKO win in the first round. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Lightweight prospect Mark Chamberlain of Portsmouth, England (16-0, 12 KOs) didn’t give Turki Alasheik much time to watch his favorite fighter. Chamberlain dropped Joshua Oluwaseun Wahab of Nigeria (23-2, 16 KOs) twice, the final time coming from a barrage of body shots that finished the Nigerian off at 2:42 of the first round. Chamberland is riding a five-fight knockout streak and has stopped eight of his last nine opponents.

“I actually thought I was in for a real hard night,” said Chamberlain. “Twenty-three fights, only one defeat on his record, never been stopped, and I got to him in the first round.

It was a bit of a shock to me, I think it was the first left hand I threw. He was out on his feet. The second caught him and blew him out of the way.”

Moses Itauma Scores Second Round KO

Moses Itauma sent Ilja Mezencev flying across the ring. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Moses Itauma sent Ilja Mezencev flying across the ring. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Heavyweight prospect Moses Itauma of Kent, England (9-0, 7 KOs) stopped Ilja Mezencev of Germany (25-4, 21 KOs) at 50 seconds of round two. It was an impressive if brief appearance by the talented 19-year-old, whose goal is to become the youngest all-time heavyweight champion

“I thought I dropped him the first time,” said Itauma of a punch ruled a slip by the referee in the first round. “That’s what gave me the confidence to go after him the second time.” It was a solid debut for trainer Ben Davison, now working with Itauma

“I'm excited for the future,” said Davidson.  “I think it’s extremely rare to come across a heavyweight whose skillset comes across at all levels.  You have to take it step by step. Nothing can beat experience and getting some rounds under the lights.”

Kovalev Crushed in Decision Loss to Safar

Former light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev of Russia (35-5-1, 29 KOs) attempted to make one last run in the cruiserweight division toward a world title fight. It was not to be as prospect Robin Safar of Sweden (17-0, 12 KOs) showed no fear of The Krusher, falling just short of stopping Kovalev in their ten-round bout. Scorecards read 99-90, 97-92, and a far too generous 95-94 for Safar.

Kovalev showed every bit of his 41 years, unable to fire the jab or follow with the hard power shots that served him so well during his prime years. During the fight, Safar rocked Kovalev several times and scored a knockdown with a one-two set of hooks. Kovalev is fortunate it happened at the final bell. Even if he’d won, there is no way he would survive a fight with Zurdo Ramirez. Kovalev needs to call it a career.

Gayle Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist and the only woman journalist who is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). She is West Coast Bureau Chief based in San Diego, California.