Frontline diary: Wild thing
Photos: KGZ / WBSS
Chris Williamson reports from ringside in Riga on a wild night of WBSS action, which saw controversy, spectacular KOs, strong beer and much more...
In a sport in which stakes are so high and potential consequences as serious as boxing, it goes without saying that officials – and in particular the referee – must be capable of carrying out key elements of the role, especially those which help safeguard fighters.
All of which makes the reaction of referee Robert Byrd following a near-lawless second round of a swashbuckling main event in Riga, sound like a bad punchline.
“Look after your fighter!” Byrd shouted sternly at Krzysztof Glowacki’s corner, seconds after Byrd himself watched as their fighter was elbowed in the jaw and then dropped long after the bell had gone.
Look after your fighter! Cynics may suggest that Byrd appears engaged in a battle with wife Adalaide – who posted perhaps the most notorious scorecard of recent times with 118-110 in favour of Canelo vs Golovkin in the duo's first fight – to outdo each other in proving themselves the most absurdly incompetent boxing official on the planet.
Controversy to one side, during the summer, Riga makes for a fine destination for a city break. Where many European cities are crowded and overheating, the Latvian capital retains a gentle pace and manageable level of tourists. Since joining the EU in 2004, Latvia is believed to have lost about a fifth of its population. On this visit, it seemed that much of the capital city was in celebration mode with a striking proportion of its people carrying flowers of some description. One local explained that this was a celebration of various graduations.
A mile to the north of the old town at the Arena Riga, locals congregated in anticipation of a celebration of a different kind. The local hero Mairis Briedis returned to the scene of his only defeat – perhaps also his greatest moment as a professional – when pushing eventual WBSS winner Oleksandr Usyk to a majority decision last January.
Although there were various spats between the self-serving so-called governing bodies, those present seemed happy to ignore their nonsense as a self-serving and unimportant distraction. As Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS said later in the night, “We’re [the WBSS] here to make boxing simpler, not more complicated.”
I hate to gloat, but my BM preview for the first semi-final correctly tipped Yuniel Dorticos by tenth-round stoppage and it's a prediction I'll milk for all it's worth. Iain Dolan, a colleague from British Boxing Blog, suggested that gambling is heavily regulated in Latvia so I choose to believe I’d have been unable to back my hunch.
As that first semi-final approached, Mayweather protege Andrew Tabiti strolled confidently to the ring to recently murdered rap star Nipsey Hussle's song ‘Grinding All My Life’, as though suggesting the hard work was done and that tonight his reward would be collected.
However, it was striking from ringside just how much nervous energy Tabiti seemed to be burning. Dorticos, a product of course of the Cuban amateur system, was typically composed and relaxed. As the rounds wore on I was surprised to read on social media that the Sky TV commentary saw Tabiti as ahead.
Dorticos was winning almost every session for me, controlling the pace and landing by far the harder punches, primarily his efficient, super-fast right hand. It was this punch which Dorticos landed perfectly as Tabiti looked to rally in the tenth, with the result being a certain KO of the year contender.
When Briedis vs Glowacki began well after midnight local time, the noise in the arena was once again deafening. If the opener was a feeling out session then the follow up was as chaotic a round – or more precisely round and a bit – as I can recall watching live.
Byrd didn’t allow Glowacki any time to recover from the blatant retaliation elbow which followed Glowacki’s punch to the back of the head and even then only took one point away – from Briedis - for this series of infractions by both fighters.
With Glowacki slung back into the fray, Briedis floored the Pole almost immediately with a short right hook and then continued punching for several seconds after the bell rang, dropping the WBO champ heavily once again with yet another hook. In my one concession to Byrd, watching later on television the position of microphones near the bell made the sound appear much clearer than it was in the arena on the night.
With the crowd in a frenzy, Briedis didn’t require much time in the third as a groggy Glowacki walked onto another peach of a right hand and was pitched onto the canvas, senses scrambled before Byrd officially ended a wild, anarchic fight less than 30 seconds into the session.
After a number of loud and understandable Polish protests deep into the night, Sauerland confirmed that Riga’s name is very much in the hat with regard to potential venues for the final.
A word of warning in case the WBSS final does land in Riga: Latvians seem unable or unwilling to brew beer that is anything less than extremely strong, so those whose celebrations take the form of a night of drinking rather than those gentle graduation flowers might find themselves with a hangover which even Robert Byrd would notice.