ROCKIN' IN RIGA
The World Boxing Super Series Cruiserweight is winding down. One half of the finals bracket is complete after Oleksandr Usyk goes over Mairis Briedis in a closely contested & exciting match. Follow on for the breakdown below.
The raucous crowd at the Arena Riga in Latvia provided the atmosphere for the frenetic contest between Ukrainian sensation Oleksandr Usyk and hometown hero Mairis Briedis. Twelve rounds of non-stop action that lacked any big defining moments or knockdowns but nevertheless it was clear from the early rounds that both men came for a fight and a fight they had!
One of the attractive elements of the tournament is that all the belts in the Cruiserweight division are at stake meaning a new lineage will be established at its conclusion.
Previously, Briedis had claimed the WBC Cruiserweight belt after defeating Marco Houck by unanimous decision in April 2016 while Usyk has remained WBO Cruiserweight champion since September of 2016.
So, Briedis entered the first round of the World Boxing Super Series Tournament (WBSS) last November with his title at stake against former heavyweight Mike Perez. Briedis ultimately won a wide decision over Mike Perez to advance to the semis drawing Usyk.
Photo Credits: Ronny Hartmann
For his part, Oleksandr Usyk, a decorated amateur and wreathed by considerable expectations as the best cruiserweight in the world picked Maro Houck as his opponent in the first round. Interestingly this is the same fighter that Briedis had beaten several months before prior to Usyk/Houck clashing in September. Usyk seemed to plant his flag with this superlative performance beating Houck from pillar to post finally stopping him in the 10th round. Where Briedis had only managed a decision against the ageing veteran, Usyk seemed to deliver on some of the hype.
Therefore, fans were treated to ostensibly ‘opening night’ of the 2018 boxing season with an evenly matched semi-final for the Ali Trophy and two titles on the line.
Round one was a round used by both men to measure the other, not much happened, though the crowd was raucous and ravenous for action and cheering their man Briedis.
For maintaining control of the centre ring Round 1: 10-9 Briedis.
The second round began as the first, fairly controlled. However, the visibly smaller Briedis did close the distance managing to land a couple harder punches. Briedis fought like a man who was not impressed or intimidated by the reputation the Uysk brought to the ring. The balance seemed to tilt early in the Latvian’s favour. Briedis landed the harder of the few punches thrown but Usyk was also quite a busy Round 2: 10-10.
Action picked up in the third round and got chippy as well. Briedis came in to the ring with less than 30 fights total on his resume but landed some elbows and forearms and even attempted to trip Uysk along the ropes, the hardest shot in the round was ahead but Briedis landed whilst coming under a looping punch by Usyk, the head clash resulted in a cut above Usyk’s eye that could become a target later on. Briedis fought like a veteran bully Round 3: 10-9 Briedis.
Now seemingly in control, Briedis continued to assert himself, stalking forward owning the centre of the ring, he would back Usyk up every time he tried wading in. Usyk didn’t seem to have a cohesive plan. However, it would soon become clear that Briedis was not built for sprinting all 12 rounds. Not much action in the fourth but Briedis still seemed in control.
Round 4: 10-9 Briedis.
All at once Usyk seemed to switch on! He was steadily pumping his right jab from the southpaw stance at Briedis and landing to the body as well. Briedis somehow seemed to tire between rounds and Usyk began to finally assert himself. Uysk mounts a successful comeback,
Round 5: 10-9 Usyk.
The tide of the bout completely shifted in the middle rounds in favour of the Ukrainian sensation Oleksandr Usyk. He maintained a feverish pace, now it was he who was walking down and stalking Briedis, Usyk countered on the move constantly and while many punches hit the broad shoulders of Briedis the ones that did were noticeable to the judges and impactful for fans.
Usyk made a complete comeback Rounds 6,7,8: 10-9 Usyk.
The championship rounds became more of a seesaw battle beginning in round nine. Usyk was still having success behind his jab however entered into sloppy slugfests with Briedis who seemed much more comfortable in that environment. Perhaps Briedis was catching a second wind. Round 9: 10-9 Briedis.
Usyk regained his composure and once again walked Briedis down, using pressuring footwork and the jab controlled Briedis’ movement for long stretches trapping him in corners on several occasions. Round 10: 10-9 Usyk.
The Latvian crowd must have known the fight would be in the balance, plus or minus a round their man could be in the lead, the screamed and chanted as loud in the last two rounds as the first two! Briedis once again drew Usyk into a gun show and just nicked the round landing the harder shots. Round 11: Briedis
The twelfth and final round brought the two men to center ring for a quick touch and they were back at it straight away - Usyk managed to keep a pace that must have bothered Briedis, he was made to work when he didn’t want to and did much better when Usyk was a stationary target which was rare. Usyk was fresh as ever, with volume and pace he won this round and the fight!
Round 12: 10-9 Usyk.
In the final analysis, I had Usyk essentially by a round; 115-114. I would not have been shocked had Briedis won especially on home soil and it would have been far from a robbery. In my research several fight sports outlets had it a draw, Bad Left Hook for example scored the fight 114-114.
Officially Usyk wins by majority decision with scores of 115-113 (twice) and one judge also scored a draw, 114-114. I can’t imagine how the WBSS would have reacted to a draw, clearly the margin for error was slim for either Briedis or Usyk and both men are quite young still - I can’t imagine a scenario where they do not meet again.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly so to speak leaves quite a lot to pour over. Usyk is clearly the most athletic Cruiserweight in the world and it’s that ability to apply pressure and punch with volume that aided him in seeking out the razor thin decision in an entertaining fight overall. Usyk is a slow starter, however. I have seen him struggle to get going early in fights before, against Briedis it didn’t really hurt him since Briedis showed himself to be a crafty fighter willing to use headbutts, trips, elbows but is pretty one dimensional. Any illusions that Usyk is the ‘little brother’ of stablemate and phenom Vasyl Lomachenko seem overstated at the moment. However, Briedis took Usyk into deep water, for the first time in his career he was truly pushed, and he responded by showing his mettle and on enemy soil no less. Lomachenko also improved greatly after his first real in-ring test.
Next week is the second semi-final between Cuban Yunier Dorticos and the fella I picked originally to win the Ali Trophy Murat Gassiev of Russia.
I’ll see you all back next week for a thorough breakdown of that fight and preview of the finals of the World Boxing Super Series - Cruiserweight division.