Oleksandr Usyk vs Mairis Briedis was a WBC/WBO world cruiserweight championship unification bout that took place on the 27th of January 2018 at Arena Riga, Riga, Latvia.
The fight served as one of the semi-final bouts of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series in the cruiserweight division.
Usyk came into the tournament as the WBO world cruiserweight champion and Briedis came into the tournament as the WBC world cruiserweight champion.
They both won their respective quarter final matchups to qualify for the semi-finals – Usyk with a technical knockout win over long reigning former WBO world cruiserweight champion Marco Huck and Briedis with a unanimous decision win over former heavyweight and cruiserweight contender Mike Perez.
The contest between Usyk and Briedis ultimately ended up being a highly competitive affair with both men winning rounds throughout.
Usyk up until this point as a professional had cruised to victory throughout all of his wins but Briedis did not allow him to have the same level of success as his previous opponents.
To this date this fight remains Usyk’s toughest test and most competitive contest.
Briedis did not allow Usyk to get into a rhythm and dictate the pace from the offset and Usyk did not seem to have an issue holding his feet and firing back at points – which was not usually his preference.
Not to say Usyk couldn’t stand with and hurt his opponents but rather he has always been known to be a boxer who works his way in with his dazzling footwork and angles which lead to openings for him to fire off his combinations.
Briedis showed he was no slouch himself as he threw his punches from different angles and cut the distance on Usyk at points in quick fashion. He was able to get Usyk against the ropes and tee off with power punches, hooks to the body and uppercuts to the head, at points even smothering his own work in the process.
Usyk is not known for his inside fighting but rather his mid to long range mastery, but he managed to see his way through these barrages from Briedis and manoeuvre himself off the ropes and back to his preferred fighting distance.
He successfully picked up rounds by landing the cleaner punches and using his superior boxing IQ to pick his moments.
This ended up being a high-volume action-packed contest, according to CompuBox stats – Usyk threw a total of 848 punches and landed 212 (25%) and Briedis proved more accurate having thrown a total of 579 punches and landed 195 (33.7%).
The fact that Usyk threw almost 300 punches more than Briedis, shows that his activity in the ring could have been a factor in him picking up the decision to win this bout.
Briedis was out landed by merely 17 total punches over the 12 rounds according to CompuBox which again illustrates the close and highly competitive nature of the fight.
The result of the contest was a majority decision victory for Usyk with scorecards of 115-113 x 2 and 114-114.
Usyk successfully unified the WBO and WBC titles and moved on to the World Boxing Super Series final.
This continued the trend of Usyk fighting in his opponent’s backyard and also kept his undefeated professional record intact.
The fight was met with positive reactions from all boxing fans and is considered to be one of the greatest contests in the history of the cruiserweight division.
It had high level skill, action and genuine uncertainty on who would get the decision and book their place in the final.
Usyk would end up winning the World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight tournament and becoming the undisputed WBA/WBC/WBO/IBF and RING magazine world cruiserweight champion with an absolute masterclass over Murat Gassiev who entered the final as the unified WBA/IBF world cruiserweight champion.
Usyk completely dominated from round 1 through 12 and won the bout via unanimous decision with scorecards of 119-109 x 2 and 120-108 x 1.
In the years following his victory Usyk would go on to move up to heavyweight and become the unified WBA/WBO/IBF and RING magazine world heavyweight champion.
Briedis would return to the World Boxing Super Series for their second cruiserweight tournament and pick up the IBF and RING magazine world cruiserweight championships and win the tournament with a majority decision victory over former WBA and IBF world cruiserweight champion Yorniel Dorticos.
Both of these multi time world champions have reached the top of the mountain on more than one occasion and have cemented their legacies as modern-day cruiserweight greats.
They will forever be linked by their fight of the year candidate in 2018 and now in 2024 find their paths crossing one last time – though under very different circumstances from their first meeting.
On February 17th, 2024, at Kingdom Arena, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, they will both be fighting for their legacies yet again.
Briedis finds himself facing off against current RING magazine world cruiserweight champion, Jai Opetaia in a rematch of their action-packed bout from 2022.
Opetaia would relieve Briedis of both the IBF and RING magazine world cruiserweight championships and their upcoming rematch will see the now vacant IBF world title, due to the IBF stripping Opetaia – back on the line.
Briedis will have an opportunity to become a three-time world cruiserweight champion and a two-time RING magazine champion and the chance to cement his name as a true all time great of the cruiserweight division.
Usyk finds himself standing at the door of true greatness, he is already considered a modern day great for what he has accomplished in professional boxing as well as his Olympic gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics.
He has the opportunity to become the first undisputed world heavyweight champion of the four-belt era as well as the first man to become undisputed world heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis in November 1999.
A quarter of a century has passed since we last had an undisputed champion and this will finally come to an end when Usyk takes on Tyson Fury, current Lineal and WBC world heavyweight champion.
February 17th, 2024, both men find themselves at arm’s length from stamping their legacies and pushing themselves further up the list when discussing the greatest cruiserweights and heavyweights in boxing history.
‘Ring of Fire’ will answer all the questions that these fighters still have about themselves, and the boxing world will be waiting.