LATVIAN HOMECOMING – The charcoal canvas and white ring posts signifying the World Boxing Super Series held another significant result as Mairis Briedis advanced in the cruiserweight bracket with a unanimous decision over Mike Perez.
“It wasn’t easy but we did it together,” the bruised hometown hero Briedis, 23-0 (18), told a frenzied crowd at crowded Arena Riga afterward. It was probably the most dramatic setting in the WBSS so far, but not exactly a display of pure finesse.
Scoring was 116-110, 115-111 and 114-112. The hard-fought bout had plenty of action, but much of it was sloppy in a war of attrition that seemed better suited for a 15 round verdict.
Two well- conditioned rumblers trying to trade punches do not always produce an artistic spectacle. Referee Massimo Barrovecchio spent much of the evening prying the fighters apart or issuing cautions, and eventually deducted a point from each man for various infractions.
There were a lot of huge punches thrown, but not many of them landed clean, and there was many a clash of heads. Still, it looked like everybody in the packed house needed to capture the historic evening on their phone.
The biggest bout in Latvian history may have been relatively remote on the global fistic stage, but the crowd made it special as an appreciative swarm turned out for Briedis’ initial defense of the then vacant WBC belt he earned with a wide nod over Marco Huck last April.
“I was almost overwhelmed by the pressure,” 32-year-old Briedis admitted. “It is an honor to represent my country, but it was also a weight on my shoulders. I wanted to show that Latvia has world class boxing.”
There was a cordial air of professionalism throughout the prefight stages, without so much as a bold prediction from either side. Each boxer presented himself as a thoughtful family man who was there to complete a demanding task without bombast or animosity.
Perez, 197 ½, ridiculed those who questioned his weight and preparation by publicly munching some dessert prior to making the limit easily.
“Latvia has great cake,” declared the visitor.
The challenger may have gotten his cake at the scales, but it was Briedis who got to eat it in the ring, as he stayed busier in close quarters as they mauled away.
Perez kept marching forward, but Briedis landed most of the leather and started taking command from the sixth session on. Many of Briedis’ punches simply grazed their target, but they scored important points.
Perez proved his toughness when he absorbed a wicked uppercut to the throat in round seven. He took some more big shots down the stretch but landed some of his own and never looked truly troubled.
Speculation remained about Perez’s motivation since his fight against Magomed Abdusalamov in 2013, when Abdusalamov sustained permanent disability. Perez was 2-2-1 after that, beating Viktor Biscak and Darnell Wilson, losing to Alexander Povetkin and Bryant Jennings and fighting to a draw with Carlos Takam.
Muscular Perez looked ready, willing and able tonight but he couldn’t put that together in sustained fashion.
“I don’t know what’s next,” said 31 year old Perez, 22-3-1 (14). “This may have been my last chance.”
For Briedis, the win sets up a cruiserweight semi-final against top-seeded Oleksandr Usyk early next year. That is not an easy assignment, and based on most recent form, Briedis is a substantial underdog.
“I know I still have a lot of things to work on,” said Briedis regarding that future. “But I’m looking forward to what’s coming ahead.”
Photo credit: Peter Banke / WBSS
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