Two years ago, as in long before the whole world looked to be going to hell thanks to a pandemic and riots in the streets and raging wildfires, the World Boxing Super Series gave us an excellent cruiserweight tournament that saw Oleksandr Usyk establish himself as one of the best boxers in the world, bar none. But in terms of action and drama, the tournament’s high points were Usyk’s highly competitive points win over Mairis Briedis, and Murat Gassiev’s dramatic final round stoppage of Yuniel Dorticos. Flash forward two years and both Usyk and Gassiev have made the jump to heavyweight. So what do those crazy cats at the WBSS do? They give us another cruiserweight tournament! And how fitting that its final showdown would be a match-up between Briedis, aka “The Latvian Punisher,” and Dorticos, “The KO Doctor.”
With the match originally slated for last March, then for April, all thanks must be given to the WBSS for coming through with what, on paper, looked to be a candidate for one of the best fights of this virus ravaged year. Despite the postponements and all the difficulties associated with the pandemic, the match between the two best cruiserweights in the world finally happened in Munich, Germany.
Alas, it did not prove to be worth the wait, at least not when compared to the dramatic action and high-level performances we saw a few years back when Briedis came closer than anyone else to defeating “The Cat” in a thriller, and when Dorticos and Gassiev took turns blasting each other with huge punches. The early rounds showed promise of something special as Dorticos applied heavy pressure on the Latvian, stalking relentlessly and looking to land his powerful right hand. Both fighters showed no fear and both were intent on landing telling blows. But soon Briedis found the pace and rhythm he wanted to get his shots off effectively while avoiding the Cuban’s more predictable attempts. By the mid-point of the bout the pattern had been firmly set: Dorticos trying and failing to get home his big right, as Briedis consistently got off first and last to land quick, clean blows.
To his credit, Dorticos never wavered from his intent as he stalked and loaded up the right hand, but it was clear he had no ‘Plan B’ as Briedis just kept pocketing rounds by being busier and more effective. By round nine an increasingly confident Briedis started putting some extra snap on his punches and forcing his opponent to retreat, reversing the dominant theme, the hunted becoming the hunter. It was more of the same in rounds ten and eleven with Briedis now visibly hurting Dorticos with hard left hooks, uppercuts and follow up rights. As the bell rang for round twelve, it was obvious that the Cuban needed a knockout to win, but it was Briedis, not Dorticos, pressing the action and finishing strong.
All in all, a very impressive performance from the Latvian who takes home the Muhammad Ali Trophy though not without a bit of controversy. While two of the judges saw him the winner by six point margins, one official actually scored the match a draw, which is absurd. To be clear, we’re not talking about a contest with a significant number of “swing” rounds. This fight was not close, nor difficult to judge. In my view not one of the nine rounds I scored for Briedis could be questioned; indeed, most of them weren’t even close.
I wish I could say that we can now hope for a Briedis vs Usyk rematch or a Briedis vs Gassiev showdown, but alas, neither is a possibility and it’s unclear at this point what the Latvian might do for an encore. But that shouldn’t be our preoccupation right now. What matters at this moment is that the World Boxing Super Series gave us another outstanding tournament and we have clarity — a very rare and precious thing — in the cruiserweight division where the one, undisputed world champion is now Mairis Briedis. — Neil Crane