by Cliff Rold
The World Boxing Super Series semi-finals arrive and now we get to the good stuff.
It’s boiled down now to a pair of unification matches over the next two weeks. When the smoke clears, we’ll have the first lineal champion in the division since Tomasz Adamek and the first with three or more belts since David Haye.
On paper, it’s the best fight of the weekend and it is easily the biggest fight in the history of Latvia. A country of somewhere in the neighborhood of just two million will lend home court to the betting underdog.
Since the beginning of the tournament, many have treated the WBSS like an exercise in making Oleksandr Usyk a star. He is a 2012 Olympic Gold medalist and former World amateur champion with the size to move up to heavyweight eventually.
That doesn’t make Briedis an easy out.
Could we see an upset?
Let’s get into it.
Stats and Stakes
Title: WBO cruiserweight (2016-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 199 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Kiev, Ukraine
Record: 13-0, 11 KO
Rankings: #1 (TBRB, ESPN, Ring, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec)
Record in Title Fights: 4-0, 2 KO
Last Five Opponents: 117-7-1 (.940)
WBSS Seed: 1
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Krzystof Glowacki UD12, Marco Huck TKO10
Title: WBC cruiserweight (2017-Present, 1 Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 199 lbs.
Hails from: Riga, Latvia
Record: 23-0, 18 KO
Rankings: #2 (BoxRec), #3 (ESPN, Ring), #4 (Boxing Monthly), #6 (TBRB)
Record in Title Fights: 2-0
Last Five Opponents: 113-14-1 (.886)
WBSS Seed: 3
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: Marco Huck UD12
The Case for Usyk: Usyk is the taller, longer man and has a deeper reservoir of amateur experience to draw on. His southpaw jab is a solid weapon and he can fight more than one way, able to press but also with enough spring in his step to work the perimeter of the ring. Usyk can sometimes get caught head hunting but when he had Huck in trouble in the opening rounds of the WBSS, he went hard to the body to push the finish. If Usyk avoid prolonged exchanges, he can land, reset, and stay away from the closer quarters Briedis probably needs.
The Case for Briedis: Briedis is a crafty fighter whose hand speed can be underrated. He goes to the body pretty well and can be a sneaky counter puncher. He will have to be defensively responsible; Briedis sometimes leaves himself wide open, with hands lows, especially if he misses. Usyk’s right hook could make him pay. If he can bring Usyk’s hands down be getting to the body, he may find some real luck with right hands against an Usyk who sometimes goes straight back. Briedis is willing to make a fight rough too. He clinched often in his opening round bout against Mike Perez, smothering any hopes the Cuban had to sustain offense. With the home crowd on his side, if Briedis can land some eye catching stuff, holding on before Usyk can respond could play in his favor.
This could be a fight that gets ugly in spots but it won’t be ugly enough for Briedis to win seven rounds even at home. Usyk is more polished, rounded, and plain talented. Briedis will compete but the superior jab, speed, and improving professionalism of Usyk will be too much in the end. The choice is Usyk on points.
Rold Picks 2018: 1-0
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]