THE GOLDEN ERA OF CRUISERWEIGHTS – Once upon a time in fightland, the cruiserweight division, with it’s first title tilt in 1979, was the most maligned division in boxing.
While the top of the heap included heroes like Evander Holyfield, the ranks below were much thinner talent-wise, to the point that few matches garnished much interest or acclaim. Fine fighters like Bobby Czyz, Vassiliy Jirov or Tomasz Adamek labored under less than optimal exposure.
That time has passed. By now there have been numerous stirring battles at the weight (initially 190, now 200 pounds), and many such fighters are considered world class, if not pound for pound elites. Fighters like Tony Bellew and Oleksandr Usyk are considered legitimate threats to top heavyweights. Bellew’s recent TKO of David Haye, another former cruiserweight king, drove that point home like a clean right to the temple.
Bellew’s upset also raised the stakes for another premier pairing, which takes place this weekend at Westfallenhalle in Dortmund, Germany between Marco Huck (40-3-1, 27 KOs) and Mairis Briedis (21-0, 18 KOs), excellent competitors on anybody’s list. They collide for Bellew’s vacant WBC belt.
Huck is a proven, conking commodity who’s been at the top of the division for years. He’s a busy, pressure fighter who usually wears even the best opponents down. He tied Johnny Nelson’s record for consecutive title defenses before Krzysztov Glowacki tripped Huck up in 2015.
Huck has rebounded since the loss, but the accumulated toll that years of punishing, sometimes controversial, victories over men like Ola Afolabi, Firat Arslan and Denis Lebedev remains a crucial question. It looked like Huck may have lost a step during his last bout, a bruising unanimous decision over rugged Dmytro Kucher (24-1 at the time) in which Huck broke a finger.
“My hand is fine now according to the doctor,” says Huck. “I ran much more during this training camp and my motivation and conditioning are at my strongest point. I have a special diet and feel better than ever. I understand the challenge Briedis presents. I feel a mix of anticipation and pressure, with anticipation prevailing.”
Huck sounds like he means it, but many fighters have said the same thing prior to going down in flames.
Another question mark involves the effectiveness of new trainer Oktay Urkal, a 1996 Olympic silver medalist and polished pro. Considering that former long-time coach Uli Wegner, who previously worked with both boxers, has also been seen around camp that might be a non-issue.
Meanwhile, Briedis may possess some of the most destructive one punch power in the game, a prime example being his brutal bashing of much larger Manuel Charr in a heavyweight tilt during August 2015.
A short, near perfect right uppercut to the chin left Charr splattered senseless across the strands in one of those obvious cases where no count was necessary. Making the KO even more impressive was Charr’s earlier bout versus Vitali Klitschko. Charr was dropped early but wasn’t hurt and did a fair job of fielding Klitschko’s bombs until the contest was stopped on a cut.
Besides Charr, the most recognizable name on Briedis’s rumbling resume was old warhorse Danny Williams (TKO 2).
Briedis’s last fight came on the undercard of Bellew – BJ Flores against Simon Vallily, 9-0 at the time. Vallily was an awkward dancer who scored with a few jabs and managed to show some flaws in Briedis’s defense before being overpowered (TKO 3).
“It’s a fifty-fifty fight, the most important of my career,” said Briedis, maybe humble, maybe deceptive. “I am well prepared and ready. I’m not going to make any prediction or promise. We’ll see what happens Saturday night.”
Huck’s best chance may be to charge out with the raw abandon he displayed against Alexander Povetkin in a highly-disputed, reputation enhancing majority decision loss back in 2012.
If Huck can return to similar form, he’s got a very strong chance to win. If he fights as well as he did the last time against Afolabi in February 2016, it’s indeed a toss-up affair. Anything less and there will be some happy fans in Latvia. Briedis – Usyk could be the fight of 2018.
Recent online odds showed Huck around a +150 underdog. Sentiment aside, I think Briedis should be a 3-1 favorite at the very least.
“This is not going to be a chess match,” predicted Huck. That much is certain.
A realistic over/under proposition is 7.5 rounds.
Take the under.
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