Cruiserweight king Mairis Briedis spoke with Boxing Social’s Luke G. Williams about the long road to his final WBSS win against Yuniel Dorticos, and why a rematch against Oleksandr Usyk could be the “fight of the century”…
“Human nature is to forget everything that was bad or wrong and remember the good things,” Mairis Briedis mused, as she looked back on the most fulfilling fight of her professional boxing career.
The Latvian folk hero admits that the euphoria generated by his win against Yuniel Dorticos last month has erased memories of 15 months of unrelenting frustration.
After his controversial win against Krzysztof Głowacki in the cruiserweight semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series in June 2019, Briedis’ fight with the Cuban boxer was tentatively scheduled for December 2019.
After being rescheduled for March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit. The brief switch to May proved unworkable and some began to wonder if the tournament would ever end at all.
Finally, however, September 26 behind closed doors in Munich ended the monotonous training and remained sharp without Briedis knowing when he would be fighting next.
“It was really tough,” the 35-year-old told Boxing Socia l, his words translated by manager Raimonds Zeps. “It wasn’t just once the fight was moved either. There is always preparation going on and changing over the months. It was very difficult for me both physically and mentally.
“For March, we have completed our training and preparations. I’ve had some really tough debates with the likes of England’s Chris Billam-Smith, who are very good prospects. We don’t have easy days.
“It was dark and cold outside when we were training so it was also difficult. But we continue to restructure things so that we can face whatever is in front of us. The situation required us to show character, which we did.”
The humble Briedis showed more than character in the ring last Saturday night. Indeed, his performance was a masterclass of aggressive counter-punching, movement and footwork, as he deservedly won the Ali trophy and the IBF and Ring magazine 200lbs belts.
How much a win means to Briedis – now 27-1 (19 KOs) and certainly worth considering for the pound-for-pound top ten – is clear.
“The dream of maybe thousands of professional boxers is something I can live with now,” he said with a smile. “It’s fantastic and makes me very happy. It’s great that I’ve accomplished something that will be in the history books. Looking back on all the work I did, it’s an amazing feeling that I accomplished something really special.
“This has taught me that if you have a goal, you have to be persistent. Even if you don’t achieve it the first time, you have to stay focused, remember your goals and then you can achieve them. It might take a long time, maybe 10 years or in my case it’s been 20 years working to get to this point.”
Back in January, when I last spoke to Briedis, he had given me insight into his usual Spartan methods and sacrifices when preparing for a fight.
“The difference between me and a lot of other boxers is that during camp even here in Riga I stay with my coach and my team,” he told me via Facetime, while enjoying a signature meal after a training session consisting of fish, rice, avocado and cheese. mozzarella.
“[I am] away from my family, away from my children. It’s like an army camp. Get up early, exercise, eat, sleep. It’s the same routine over and over again. There was no chance for me to see and play with my kids during camp.
“Sunday I was off and that was the only day I could see my family but now one of my kids is sick so I can’t go and see them. It’s a bit like being in the army. As a team, we go to church on Sundays, my team is with me and around me every day.”
Honestly refreshing and devoid of some of the grueling theatrical excesses of the game and the reverse psychology that many boxers use, Briedis is open from the start about how he will try to combat Dorticos and his right-hand man, the fearsome weapon that is largely responsible for Cuba’s impressive record. from 22 stoppages of his 24 professional wins.
“We know the Dorticos have a really hard hit,” Briedis said in January. “He’s a very experienced fighter and everyone knows his strengths. Obviously we will look for his weaknesses and we will try to avoid his strong sides.
“First of all we focus on the power of his punch. Basically, the focus is on the big punch and avoiding it as much as possible by moving as much as possible to dodge the hit. All of our work is focused on avoiding its power.”
It was a tactical plan that never deviated from Latvia’s months of waiting before the final.
Even more impressively, over the 12 rounds of fighting last Saturday, none of the frustrations of the last 15 months of waiting and training, training and waiting, proved.
Briedis’ performance focused on skill, power and ringcraft was fairly rewarded on two scorecards with an accurate score of 117-111 to his advantage (a third card of 114-114, frankly, makes no sense and should be ignored).
“Yeah, the tactic is to defend against his right hand so he will use it to the minimum and can’t land anything with it,” Briedis confirmed with satisfaction as he contemplated his performance. “Her right hand is her greatest attribute. Our tactic is to move as much as possible – everyone knows that it’s easier to hit a standing target, whether you’re shooting or in a sport like boxing.
“We planned to attack and hit back right at the eighth moment when he attacked. I would rate my performance at about 50 percent. My corner and my coach always tell me to stay behind, not to take risks because he is very dangerous. We’re playing it safe.”
Briedis was already a huge hero in his homeland of Latvia, but his fame will now reach greater heights among the proud Baltic nation of nearly two million inhabitants.
Back in 2017, he was awarded one of the country’s highest state awards – the Class III Three-Star Order. In addition to his ring exploits, his many years of work as a police officer in Riga, coupled with his determination to be a suitable role model for young Latvians, has earned him the wide admiration and worship of the young.
Briedis has spoken in the past about the “code of conduct” he hopes to adhere to himself and his supporters and the high expectations he holds for himself and others.
The support he received in Latvia, as a result, gave new meaning to the term ‘spirit’. I know of at least two British boxing writers who insisted that the atmosphere created by Riga fans when Briedis faced Oleksandr Usyk in January 2018 was the best they had ever experienced in a prize fight.
It’s no wonder that Briedis – who is often serious and sometimes hides his warm and witty personality – calls his supporters “legal doping”.
Due to Coronavirus restrictions, Briedis missed the chance to take part in the WBSS final on Latvian soil, or show off his newly won belt and Ali cup through the streets of Riga upon his return from Munich.
However, in a highly symbolic gesture, one of the first places he visited upon his return to his homeland was the Freedom Monument, a magnificent and sturdy 42-meter-tall building honoring the soldiers who died during the Latvian War of Independence (1918). -1920).
“This is probably our most iconic place in Latvia,” said Briedis manager Raimonds Zeps.
As he stands in the shadow of the structure – topped by the Statue of Liberty, arms high, holding three gold-plated stars, the triumphant pose mirrored by the boxer as he lifts the Ali trophy – Briedis admits it is still a work in progress. exactly what victory meant to him and his country.
“I don’t think I or the people around me really understand what I’ve achieved,” he mused. “It took me some time to understand what a trophy is and what it means to be a stripes champion. For Latvians and me, it’s still something we need to understand and understand how great an achievement it is.”
However, it was not the feat that Briedis saw as his swansong.
“I’m fine. I definitely want to move on,” he stressed, “I’ll have a discussion with my promoter Sauerland, we’ll look at the options and see what’s on the table and make the right decision after talking to my family, consulting with my coach and my team and doing the right thing.
“But I feel really good right now and don’t want to end my journey here. You won’t get rid of me too soon. We will still chat more often!
One interesting option is a rematch against his old foe Usyk – whom he narrowly missed in the classic WBSS Season 1. One judge judged the fight to be a draw, the other two gave it to Ukraine by one round. Ringside observers were divided.
Usyk is now campaigning at heavyweight, of course, which won’t be a problem for Briedis, who fought six of his first ten pro fights at unlimited heavyweight. “That rematch could possibly be the fight of the century,” Briedis said. “I have a different team now. I changed it after the Usyk fight. Looking back that change was needed and it was for the better. I am very confident in my new coach [Dmitrijs iholajs]. I think he is the number two boxing coach in the world, only behind [Anatoly] Lomachenko.”
Briedis’s other ambition is to have a big fight in England, where her twin sons from a previous relationship live and “speak Latvian with an English accent”.
“You have to remember that there are a lot of Latvians living in England. This fight [against Dorticos] is on Sky Sports. The British media should see it and show interest in it. I would love to one day have a magical and very big fight in England,” he said.
“That would be great for me. England fans will see how much the Latvian fans brought in and how their bananas went. Maybe it will also help some local British fans to cheer on me too!”
Briedis’ desire to fight in England has been fueled by his previous performances on this beach – when he beat Simon Vallily on the undercard of Tony Bellew’s WBC cruiserweight title defense against BJ Flores at Liverpool’s Echo Arena in October 2016.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere,” Briedis enthuses, as his serious mask falls and he sings a song, not from the Z Cars theme, but from another song played on a heady night on Merseyside – Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes.
“I’ve been studying guitar now for a year and I’ve learned how to play it,” he explains.
Maybe, I suggest, he can play his own guitar while making his own entry ring.
The serious mask returned when Briedis said: “That would be tricky with gloves on…”
But then he laughed again.
There is a time for jokes and a time for business, and Mairis Briedis’ judgment is perfect.