By Alexey Sukachev
Westfalenhalle, Dortmund, Nordrhein-Westfalen - For the vacant WBC and IBO cruiserweight titles, Mairis Briedis (22-0, 18 KOs) boxed his way to a twelve round unanimous decision over division veteran Marco Huck (40-4-1, 27 KOs). The scores were 116-111, 117-110 and 118-109.
The fighters were originally scheduled to battle for the WBC's interim-title, but that changed earlier this week when the sanctioning body made reigning champion Tony Bellew the 'emeritus' champion - which in turn vacated the full title.
Bellew sustained a hand injury during last month's stoppage win over David Haye, at heavyweight. The 'emeritus' status allows Bellew to have a direct shot at the WBC title at any time.
Huck, a young veteran at 32, was involved into a memorable war versus Krzysztof Glowacki -one he had lost his title in. Half a year after that - Briedis, a couple of months younger than Huck - forged his own achievement by stopping powerful Nigerian Olanrewaju Durodola in one of the best fights of 2016.
In total, the fight was a Huck classic. The difference was this time he didn't play out his well-known strategy, but he was instead played into it. WBC #1 Briedis prompted for a quick start, keeping Huck honest with his poppy jab. Huck, who is know to be a slow-starter, could never fully engage with hard exchanges but he used his vast arsenal of semi-legal tricks, which included numerous rabbit punches in clinches, an active use of his elbow and other dirty tactics. It wasn't on display in the first though as Briedis looked comfortable from the distance.
Huck needed to get inside for more rough tactics, and he was partially successful in the second round but it was Briedis who landed crisper punches. Rounds three and four were mostly going the Latvian's way, as he continued to neglect his opponent's offensive outbursts and used his jab to make Huck uncomfortable. In the fifth, Briedis has landed even more than his usual share of power punches, slightly rocking Huck for a moment.
Sensing the fight was slipping away from him, Huck tried to engage more in rounds six and seven. He was able to force Briedis into roughhouse ramblings in close quarters, and those rounds were mostly his until Briedis landed a hard right hand that shook Huck to his core at the end of the seventh. The eighth was even, but at the end Briedis provided more action and forced Huck to the corner. In the ninth, Huck made his last attempt to turn back the tide. He landed several hard shots, got physical in clinches and outworked Briedis.
However, that was just a passing moment. Unlike some of Huck's other opponents, the Latvian policeman was very calm and effectively retained his composure. He started to land more body shots in the tenth, and Huck's desire to take risks was nullified. The eleventh stanza was very dirty, neither fighter prevailing. Finally, in the twelfth and final round, Huck started with more fire but it was Briedis who almost knocked Huck down in later exchanges, putting the last round in his bank as well.
Briedis' win was historical in many ways. More important is the fact that it effectively completed the changing of guard in cruiserweight division. Over the same two years, mentioned before, Huck was dethroned by Glowacki, who saved his title for 2012 Olympic champion Olexander Usyk (WBO). WBA/IBF champion Denis Lebedev lost to young up-and-comer Murat Gassiev, losing his IBF belt and retaining the WBA strap only due to some stipulating tricks. It didn't change the outcome as Lebedev was effectively replaced by Gassiev.
The WBC version of the crown wasn't part of this mix until recently. But while ghosts of the past are still around, there's little doubt to who is the actual holder of a primary belt. It's Briedis, a new face unlike Huck or Lebedev. Still, there are two more fighters, who are bound to the green belt in this weight class. One is Grigory Drozd, the champion in recess. The other is Tony Bellew, an emeritus champion, who is injured right now in the aftermath of his historical win over David Haye. Plans for those two fighters are unclear at the moment, but chances are high that neither Drozd nor Bellew will return to face Briedis - which means that new faces of the division are officially here - in Gassiev, Usyk and Briedis.
Global picture aside, Briedis made history by becoming the first ever Latvian to win a major belt in professional boxing. With other titles belonging to Lebedev, Gassiev and Usyk, this means a clean sweep performed by fighters from former Soviet Republics, almost ten years after the same sweep had been completed in heavyweight division (by Valuev, Maskaev, Klitschko and Lyakhovich).
Finally, while this particular fight failed to live up to its expectations, the immediate future looks very bright for the fans. Coming next is an electric rematch between arguably the two biggest cruiserweight punchers in business: Durodola and Dmitry Kudryashov. The winner of this bout will be Briedis' next mandatory challenger. Can we ask for anything more from the sport's hottest weight class?