By Marco Bratusch at ringside
In a WBC/WBO cruiserweight unification clash and World Boxing Super Series semi-final, WBO champion Aleksandr Usyk (14-0, 11 KOs) scored a spirited and razor-thin twelve round majority decision over WBC champion Mairis Briedis (23-1, 18 KOs) on Saturday night at the Riga Arena in Riga, Latvia. Very close and competitive fight. Usyk wins 115-113, 115-113, 114-114.
WBC/WBO champ Usyk will face the winner of next week’s IBF/WBA unification clash between Murat Gassiev and Yunier Dorticos in the WBSS final on May 11 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Usyk established his jab and used his quick footwork from round one to dictate the tempo, while Briedis remained in the game with some good counter-actions and a couple of clean body shots.
Briedis came forward in round two, landing some accurate shots at the top of Usyk’s head to make the fully-packed Arena Riga blowing up for hope. The action was pretty even at this stage and Briedis was able to find a smart tactical key soon when he started countering Usyk’s left punch with a sudden straight right from his part, landing flush often.
An accidental clash of heads marked Usyk’s forehead in round three, but the Ukrainian continued to box his way using combinations although Briedis seemed to perceive he could cope with his power and kept coming forward at times with single blows. An impressive pace and workrate was displayed by Usyk in the fifth round, forcing Briedis on the defense as he seemed to fatigue before the bell, bleeding from his nose.
Briedis managed to weather the storm and tried to bully Usyk in round six with vicious short uppercuts and body punching, eventually shoving Usyk to the deck but referee Kenny Bayless promptly warned him to keep the fight clean. Usyk began to bleed from his mouth too.
However, the seventh was another impressively fought round for the Ukrainian southpaw and the WBC champion struggled again at the end of it. A very well conditioned Briedis managed to stabilize his breath again in round eight but it was Usyk the man taking control of the action, with Briedis taking his time more than before to counter punch.
The busier Usyk threw more and lands more, but the powerful Briedis used sneaky counter-attack tactics that left him a dangerous foe, apparently having the edge in single-blow power.
Comparing to his standard, Usyk circled around less tonight maybe believing that forcing Briedis to fight on his back foot would have paid back strong. Doing so, he actually underestimated Briedis’ ability to counterpunch him using his right hand.
Nevertheless, the WBO titleholder and 2012 Olympic gold medallist kept chasing Briedis through the ring throwing punches but the local boxer showed tremendous chin and heart in round ten, absorbing many blows. Bayless took a careful eye at Briedis, who got a swollen left eye in round eleven.
Usyk’s handspeed was still there in last round and forced the pace again. Briedis moved along the ropes with his guard high and locked, but then found the remaining strength to fight back landing some powerful hooks and proudly finishing strong in front of his people.