By Keith Idec
Oleksandr Usyk sent Mairis Briedis’ frenzied fans home very disappointed Saturday night.
Usyk used his jab consistently, landed occasional power shots with his straight left hand and withstood Briedis’ body attack to win a 12-round majority decision in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament in Riga, Latvia. The fight took place at Riga Arena, in the previously unbeaten Briedis’ hometown.
Two judges – Canada’s Robert Tapper and American Robin Taylor – scored the back-and-forth fight 115-113 for Usyk. The other judge, Canada’s Craig Metcalfe, had it even (114-114).
Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) retained his WBO cruiserweight title, won the WBC championship from Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) and advanced to the final of the WBSS cruiserweight tournament. Usyk will meet the winner of the second semifinal between Cuba’s Yunier Dorticos (22-0, 21 KOs) and Russia’s Murat Gassiev (25-0, 18 KOs, 1 NC).
Dorticos and Gassiev are scheduled to fight for Dorticos’ WBA title and Gassiev’s IBF championship February 3 in Sochi, Russia. The cruiserweight final will take place on an undetermined day in May in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Usyk was especially effective in the 12th round by using his jab and landing several straight left hands to Briedis’ head. Briedis kept trying, right up until the final bell, but he didn’t land enough clean punches to pull off an upset.
Usyk kept pressing forward in the 10th round. His jab worked well and he mostly made Briedis move backward in those three minutes.
Briedis and Usyk both were effective to the head and body during a ninth round that was very competitive.
Usyk landed a straight left that affected Briedis with around 1:05 left in the eighth round. Both boxers also remained committed to body punching throughout the eighth round.
Briedis continued attacking Usyk’s body in the seventh round, but he couldn’t stop Uysk from moving forward and pumping his jab. Usyk backed Briedis into the ropes with a jab and a left hook when there were about 30 seconds to go in the seventh.
Usyk snapped back Briedis’ head with around 1:15 to go in the sixth round. Briedis tossed Usyk to the canvas a few seconds later and drew a warning from referee Kenny Bayless.
Briedis backed up Usyk with body shots at the start of the fifth round.
Briedis and Usyk hit each other repeatedly during an exciting exchange that began just before the midway mark of the fourth round and lasted for about 30 seconds. Usyk motioned that Briedis hit him low later in the fourth.
A clash of heads caused a brief break in the action with 1:12 to go in the third round, when Bayless inspected a cut that opened over Usyk’s right eye. Briedis came forward with this head to cause that laceration along Usyk’s right eyebrow.
Usyk landed a straight left hand that backed up Briedis in the second round. Briedis came firing back quickly, though, with a right hand that made Usyk retreat.
Briedis began the bout strong by going to Usyk’s body well in the first round. He went after Usyk’s body throughout their fight, but couldn’t land enough effective head shots to beat his bigger, stronger opponent.
Usyk scored a 10th-round technical knockout against Germany’s Marco Huck on September 9 in Berlin to reach the semifinals. Briedis beat Cuba’s Mike Perez by unanimous decision in a 12-rounder September 30 at Riga Arena to earn his spot in the semifinals.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.