Saturday’s match in Riga between undefeated cruiserweight titlists Oleksandr Usyk and Mairis Briedis was hyped as the biggest sporting event ever in Latvia, a country in the Baltic region inhabited by about 2 million souls. When the smoke cleared, Usyk prevailed by a majority decision, grabbing a second title belt and advancing to the championship round of the WBSS cruiserweight tournament. A robust, crowd-pleasing affair between highly skilled pugilists, Usyk vs. Briedis was closer than many experts anticipated. One of the judges had it a draw (114-114). The others gave it to Usyk by margins of 115-113.
Briedis started strong but as the fight veered into the second half he appeared to be tiring and Usyk — known for his outstanding conditioning – seemed to be taking control of the fight. But with the home crowd in his corner, Briedis never stopped trying and he had a strong 12th round, forcing Usyk at times during the final three minutes to fight with his back against the ropes. It was a clean fight with few clinches, making it an easy fight for Las Vegas referee Kenny Bayless.
Usyk improved to 14-0 (11). Up next for the 31-year-old Ukrainian southpaw, a former Olympic gold medalist, is the winner of next week’s match in Sochi, Russia, between knockout artists Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos. The finals will be held in May in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The winner of that fight will own all the meaningful cruiserweight belts and be recognized as the division’s lineal champion. If it’s Usyk, it is assumed that he will immediately relinquish the belts to pursue a match with the top dog in the heavyweight class.
In a match slated for eight rounds, highly-touted 25-year-old Croatian heavyweight Filip Hrgovic stopped England’s Tom Little in the fourth round. Hrgovic (3-0, 3 KOs) was the busier fighter and was unloading on Little (10-5) when the referee intervened. There were, however, holes in Hrgovic’s defense as the Englishman landed some hard punches of his own.
In another undercard bout of note, Switzerland’s Yoann Kongolo was just too good for Rigo journeyman Andrejs Pokumeiko, winning a lopsided decision in a 10-round light heavyweight match. Kongolo, who is also a professional kickboxer, advanced to 11-0. Pokumeiko declined to 16-13-1. Also, well-coddled Danish cruiserweight Micki Nielsen improved to 25-1 with an unpopular 8-round split decision over Ricards Bolotniks and Swedish heavyweight Otto Wallin improved to 19-0 with a third round stoppage of overmatched Syrdan Govedarica.
Photo credit: WBSS
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