The World Boxing Super Series quarter-final between Mairis Briedis and Mike Perez did not live up to expectations on Saturday.
WBC cruiserweight title holder Briedis was defending his title for the first time – indeed it was the first world title fight ever to take place in Latvia – but it is not a contest that will be remembered with much affection by those of us who witnessed it. A huge amount of clinching and a terrible refereeing performance from the third man in the ring, Massimo Barrovecchio, marred the bout from first bell to last.
Another adverse aspect concerns the broadcasting arrangement of the tournament for viewers in the United States. A TV deal was done earlier in the week for fans there to watch the remainder of the two WBSS competitions to their conclusions in May next year. I'm informed that the deal has been done with an obscure or not widely available network. As there is now a TV deal in place, the USA is one of the territories that can no longer stream the action on the WBSS website. This would appear to be a bit of an own goal by the organisers as they have effectively blacked out the largest boxing market in the world. Not the best way to help their concept grow.
In the case of Briedis vs. Perez those fans in America who were denied viewership may have been done a favour by the decision makers. The story-line of Perez returning to the elite level in the cruiserweight division had created plenty of interest in this fight and going by Twitter earlier on Saturday there were plenty of fans hoping that Perez could pull off the upset victory. Sadly once the action started interest levels were eroded as the rounds progressed.
The opening session saw Perez looking sharp and swift as he tried to establish his jab. On the front foot, the Cuban challenger made a positive start although Briedis demonstrated his power by landing a hard right. There were a number of clinches in the round which were fussily dealt with by the referee – this was an indication as to how the remainder of the bout would play out. Round two had slightly less clinching but much more feinting. Briedis got the round on my card as a few of his counter rights landed on the advancing Perez.
The third frame started with an accidental clash of heads which caused a cut above Briedis' left eye. Under WBC rules (unless taking place in America) the fighter who is not cut has to be deducted a point. Perez had a point taken off and it seemed to affect him as he didn't do much in the round. It really is a crazy rule which is correctly ignored when a WBC title fight occurs in the United States.
The cut was dealt with between rounds and the fight continued. Round four was when the clinching started to dominate proceedings. It looked like Briedis was happy to initiate the clinches but Perez also had his moments especially after taking one of his opponents punches. The referee, instead of just quickly breaking the boxers and letting them get quickly back to work, insisted on gesturing wildly with various hand signals before breaking the boxers. Then he would lecture a fighter, usually Perez, and throw some more hand signals out before finally letting the fight continue. These longer than necessary interruptions from the official compounded the fact that the styles of the combatants weren't mixing.
By the time we reached the halfway point Briedis had a lead but Perez was still very much in the fight. Round seven saw the best punch of the night landed. Briedis, giving his hometown fans something to cheer, landed a huge right uppercut which had Perez rocked and he followed up with some good work behind the punch before we reverted back to more clinching and dramatic arm waving from the referee. It was an easy round to score and the champion was now beginning to pull away on my card.
The next three rounds were messy and saw Perez becoming frustrated with Mr Barrovecchio as he felt that despite Briedis being the main offender it was he who was being penalised more frequently by the man in charge. Perez's concentration seemed to waver at times as there were moments where instead of focusing on his opponent he was engaged in dialogue with the referee. Perhaps his protests were worthwhile though as in the tenth stanza Briedis was deducted a point for persistent holding. Despite this the Latvian boxer had a handy lead and Perez needed a huge finish to turn the tables.
The challenger gave it a good shot in the closing six minutes but although I saw him winning the eleventh he was countered effectively and had to take some punishment in the final round which made it absolutely safe for Briedis on my card. My score of 115-111 for Briedis tallied fairly closely to how the judges saw it. The cards that mattered read 116-110, 115-111 and 114-112 all in favour of the champion. Mairis Briedis defended his WBC title and advances in the tournament.
Both boxers were interviewed after the decision had been announced. Briedis, via translator: “It wasn't easy but we did it. It was a little overwhelming but we did it and this victory is actually because of these great fans in the stands. There are still a lot of things to work on but motivation has only grown up to 100 per cent.” Perez unsurprisingly commented on the referee: “I am very disappointed. I only asked for a fair fight. The referee was far from fair. He asked me to let him do his job but he didn't do his job, that's what I feel. This is my life. The emotion got me a little bit. I froze a little bit. I was trying to throw some punches but I couldn't. I think it was my last chance. I'm 31 years old. I've been through a lot. That's it.”
Perez (22-3-1, 14KOs) while emotional may have been telling us he is finished with boxing. It is a decision only he can make but if he is struggling to let his shots go then perhaps that might be the best course of action for him.
Briedis (23-0-0, 18KOs) moves on and will face WBO title holder Oleksandr Usyk in the WBSS semi-final. That contest will take place early next year and will be a unification fight with Briedis' WBC crown also on the line. If he wants to retain his belt and advance to the final Briedis is going to have to show more than he did against Perez.
The history making night in Riga did not deliver an entertaining main event. Although the home fans will have gone home happy with the outcome those of us with a neutral hat on can only be disgruntled at what was served up. An unfriendly clash of styles and a really weak refereeing performance from the Italian official combined to make this a forgettable fight. After the recent judging controversies in boxing it is somewhat ironic that on a night with plenty of negatives the one thing no-one can have any issue with is the scores returned by the ringside officials in Riga.