Briedis prepares for Perez challenge: WBSS cruiserweight preview
This weekend the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) continues with the third cruiserweight quarter-final between Marius Briedis and Mike Perez. Callum Rudge previews this and the other remaining last-eight showdown...
The WBSS has created huge excitement around the boxing world and is a fantastic addition to an already stellar year for the sport.
The cruiserweight tournament in particular has generated huge buzz with all four sanctioning bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO) represented by their respective champions (bar WBA 'super' champ Denis Lebedev) and four very solid ‘contenders’ also present.
The seeding system, which saw the top four seeds pick their opponents, made for gripping TV and no doubt the two tournaments will provide many moments to remember. While Usyk does start as favourite in the 200lbs competition, the ‘Super Six World Boxing Classic’ super middleweight tournament held between 2009 and 2011 shows us that ventures like this don’t always go to plan - on that occasion pre-tournament favourites Mikkel Kessler and Arthur Abraham both lost to Andre Ward and exited the tournament before the final showdown between the American and Britain's Carl Froch.
On 9 September, Usyk avoided an upset, however, by defeating former longtime title holder Marco Huck in Berlin via an impressive tenth-round stoppage to advance to the semi-finals. Last Saturday unbeaten Cuban dangerman Yunier Dorticos joined the Ukrainian in the final four courtesy of a spectacular second-round KO of Dmitry Kudryashov in San Antonio, Texas.
Callum Rudge previews the two remaining contests which will determine who joins Usyk and Dorticos in the semi-finals...
30 September: Marius Briedis (22-0) vs Mike Perez (22-2-1) - WBC & IBO cruiserweight titles, Riga, Latvia
While the addition of (nearly) every champion at cruiserweight to the tournament was a surprise to a lot of fans, the addition of Mike Perez was perhaps an even bigger shock. The Cuban born 31-year-old has been in the consciousness of British fight fans since winning the Heavyweight Prizefighter Tournament in 2011. Before moving down in weight for this tournament, Perez had mixed fortunes at heavyweight; drawing with Carlos Takam and beating the then undefeated Magomed Abdusalamov in unfortunate circumstances, while losing to Bryant Jennings and Alexander Povetkin.
While Perez’s career fortunes have fluctuated, Briedis has been on steady climb since turning pro in 2009, culminating in his career best victory when winning his maiden world titles by widely outpointing Marco Huck for the vacant WBC crown and Huck’s IBO title in April.
This fight is particularly intriguing and a win for either isn’t beyond the realms of possibility, but my concern for Perez is his lack of activity - he has boxed just once since 2015 and this was a one-round blow out in a contest that would’ve frustrated him as much as it did the paying customer.
This showdown is asking a lot of Perez - he’s moving to a new weight class and facing one of the top two or three fighters in the strongest division in boxing. I think Perez will be aggressive and perhaps give Briedis some trouble early on but I imagine that by half way the Latvian will be firmly in control and will retain his titles by wide decision.
21 October: Murat Gassiev (24-0) vs Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (53-3-1) - IBF cruiserweight title, Newark, New Jersey
Murat Gassiev should be preparing for this fight as a unified world champion after defeating Denis Lebedev last December and it is only, in the words of Lennox Lewis, the ‘politricks’ of boxing that stopped Gassiev leaving that night with two belts instead of just one. In another piece of boxing ‘politricking’ we were spared the drama of IBF titlist Gassiev picking his opponent as he was instead mandated by the IBF to meet Wlodarczyk, thus removing the spectre of the IBF stripping Gassiev for having the gall to unify the division (shout out to Terence Crawford!)
As for the fight itself, I think this will be the closest contest of the four. Wlodarczyk is that rarity - a good mandatory challenger, who was WBC Champion for over four years before losing the title to Grigory Drozd in 2014. He has since bounced back with four wins against solid if not spectacular opposition.
There is a 12-year age gap between the two with Gassiev just 23 years old compared to Wlodarczyk being 35, and this could be where the fight is won and lost. Gassiev is the fresher of the duo and will have learned a lot in his win over Lebedev. I think this fight could be close and I wouldn’t be surprised at some controversy over the scoring, but the pick is for Gassiev to retain via close decision.