by Tamas Pradarics
The second round of the World Boxing Super Series is about to kick-off the last weekend of January in Riga, Latvia. The first semi-final in the cruiserweight tournament will see a classic battle between two undefeated reigning world titleholders in WBO champ Oleksandr Usyk and WBC titlist Mairis Briedis.
Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs), who won the WBO belt in September 2016 with a clean 12-round decision over then-unbeaten Krzysztof Glowacki, is targeting his fourth defense against fellow hard-puncher Briedis (23-0, 18 KOs), who will have the hometown advantage next Saturday.
The 2012 London Olympic gold medalist Ukrainian pugilist had been on his way to building his profile in America with two straight title defenses before he signed to take part of the illustrious eight-men tournament that will elevate an undisputed champion in the 200-pound division in a scheduled May show in Saudi Arabia.
The opportunity to unify titles before even entering the finals of the series must be a big event for either boxer.
”Yes, this is the biggest challenge in my career at this moment because of the significance of the fight. It is a unification of two world titles and of course, [a win could lead me] one step closer to the Main Trophy,” said Usyk to BoxingScene.com through translator Yulia Diachenko in a recent interview.
The trophy Usyk is talking about is named after Muhammad Ali. To earn it and put it into his trophy case next to his amateur European, World, and Olympic gold medals is a big goal of Oleksandr, who thinks he has a special omen to grab the prestigious prize.
”I was born the same day [January 17] as ”The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali. I have no reason to pass such a chance to show who I am,” said the WBO belt holder with a smile on his face.
Oleksandr has been finishing a ten-week training camp for the January 27 matchup that takes place at Arena Riga in the capital of Latvia.
”As always, we had a very good camp. There were no special [elements in preparation], everything was according to our standard training plan. We started two months ago in Bukovel (a ski resort in the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine) with a functional training program, then moved to Kiev (Koncha-Zaspa National Olympic base of Ukraine) for the month of sparrings,” said Sergey Vatamanyuk, trainer of Usyk to BoxingScene.com.
To get fully prepared for the task at hand, the Ukrainian WBO champion has had intensive sparring sessions against a list of solid pro boxers.
”Our K2 matchmaker Vlad Eliseev did a great job to find nine good guys to spar with. Among them were well-known names and good prospects. Mateusz Masternak, Dmitriy Kucher, Isaac Chamberlain, Mikael Lawal, Alexey Papin [among others] helped us to prepare for this fight.”
The winner of Usyk-Briedis will square off against the victor of a Murat Gassiev-Yunier Dorticos showdown that takes place February 3 in Russia.