Mairis Briedis vs. Aleksandr Usyk on Jan.27 in Riga, Latvia

Image: Mairis Briedis vs. Aleksandr Usyk on Jan.27 in Riga, Latvia

By Jeff Aranow: Mairis Briedis (23-0, 18 KOs) will have home advantage in a little less than 3 weeks against unbeaten Aleksandr Usyk (13-0, 11 KOs) in their semifinals fight in the World Boxing Super Series tournament at The Riga Arena in Latvia on January 27.

Briedis will have his WBC cruiserweight title with him when he battles WBO champion Usyk in their unification fight. The ultimate goal in the WBSS is the Muhammad Ali Trophy. There are 4 contestants still standing in the tournament.

The other 2 contestants in the tournament are IBF World cruiserweight champion Murat Gassiev (25-0, 18 KOs) facing WBA Super World champion Denis Dorticos (22-0, 21 KOs). They’ll be fighting early next month on February 3 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Adler, Russia. Gassiev has the home country advantage against the Cuban Dorticos.

The 32-year-old Briedis defeated Mike Perez by a 2 round unanimous decision in their quarterfinals fight in the World Boxing Super Series on September 30 in Dortmund, Germany. It was an ugly fight filled with lots of clinching. It was a routine where both guys would throw a punch, and then fall forward into an immediate clinch. The entire fight saw both guys nullifying each other’s offense with the holding. Towards the end of the fight, Perez and Briedis would often just grab immediately without even throwing punches. It was a sloppy affair. Briedis got the victory, but he didn’t distinguish himself.

Briedis will have his work cut out for him against 2012 Olympic gold medalist Usyk, who is not someone that is going to tolerate being held all night long. Usyk, 30, likes to move around a lot, and he’s not someone that can be grabbed in a clinch repeatedly. Briedis will need to be more offensive-minded against Usky for him to win the fight. That means Briedis will need to throw more punches and do less holding. Usyk will carve Briedis to pieces if his Plan-A is to clinch for 12 rounds. That approach won’t work against Usyk. He’s too skilled to be controlled in that manner.

Usyk comes into the fight having beaten former WBO cruiserweight champion Marco Huck by a 10th round knockout in their quarterfinals fight in the WBSS on September 9 o Germany. Usyk beat the 33-year-old Huck in front of his own fans in that fight. The Ukrainian Usyk had it easy though, as Huck is a badly shot fighter at this stage in his career, and he’d been Briedis last year in his previous fight on April 1, 2017. Briedis beat Huck by a 12 round unanimous decision by the scores 118-109, 116-111 and 117-110.

Briedis has the punching power to give Usyk problems on January 27. But it’s not easy to hit Usyk with a solid shot, because he moves around the ring so much. Usyk is really slippery, and he doesn’t let his opponents hit him too often. Usyk is human obviously, and he can be hit, but it’s hard to him enough times to do damage and win rounds.

Usyk comes into the fight with Briedis having recently beaten these fighters:

• Marco Huck

• Michael Hunter

• Thabiso Mchunu

• Krzysztof Glowacki

• Petro Rodriguez

• Johnny Muller

Hunter gave Usyk some problems with his punch volume. Of all the guys that Usyk has fought as a pro, Hunter was easily the toughest. Glowacki was the most dangerous of the fighters that Usyk has fought, as he was able to land a few hard shots on him, but not many. Usyk really limited Glowacki to just a handful of punches in the fight.

Both of the semifinal fights in the WBSS tournament are interesting match-ups. These aren’t guys that were allowed to compete in the tournament despite recent losses. These are solid guys. I’m interested in seeing the Gassiev vs. Dorticos fight. The way that Dorticos destroyed Dmitry Kudryashov in a 2nd round knockout last September, that was a very impressive win. However, that wasn’t the first time the 32-year-old Kudryashov was knocked out early in one of his fights. In November 2015, Kudryashov was stopped in the 2nd round by Olanrewaju Durodola. There’s obviously a chin problem with Kudryashov. The 24-year-old Russian Gassiev is a monster of a puncher. It doesn’t matter how good Dorticos is as a boxer. If Gassiev hits him cleanly with anything, he’s going to go to sleep for a while.

Gassiev destroyed former IBF/WBC cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-5-1, 37 KOs) in a 3rd round knockout on October 21 in a quarterfinals match in the WBSS. Gassiev didn’t land many punches in the first 2 rounds. He fought like he was taking it easy. It was a strange fight. All of a sudden in round 3, Gassiev backed Wlodarczyk up against the ropes and hurt him with a body shot and uppercut. Wlodarczyk went down like a sack of rocks on the canvas, and he was not interested in getting up to continue fighting. It’s a good thing Wlodarczyk didn’t get back up, because was fresh and he could have continued to pummel him all night long.

Usyk could be a tricky fighter for Gassiev to beat due to his movement. Usyk likes to bounce around the ring and throw single shots. He’s not easy to hit. The guys that do hit Usyk, often have to move while throwing their shots. They can’t sit down on their punches because of the movement. Gassiev will have to really work to land his shots. I’m not sure if he’ll be able to land his body shots with any regularity with Usyk moving all the time. If Gassiev can throw a long stabbing shot to Usyk’s midsection, then he might have some luck in landing to his body. We’ll have to see how the fight plays out. Perhaps Gassiev will be able to trap Usyk against the ropes to KO him the way that he did against Wlodarczyk. With Gassiev’s power, it only takes one time for him to trap his opponent for him to knock them out. Gassiev caught Isiah Thomas against the ropes in the 3rd round and knocked him out. Unfortunately for Gassiev, the last punch he threw was after the bell sounded ending the 3rd round. The results of the fight were ruled a no contest. Gassiev also knocked out Jordan Shimmell by a 1s round knockout after catching him against the ropes in the final seconds of the round in their fight in May 2016.