Cruiser king Briedis talks Okolie, Usyk and bridgerweight

Cruiserweight king Mairis Briedis gives Boxing Social his take on a range of issues – including Lawrence Okolie’s fight against Nikodem Jezewski, Oleksandr Usyk’s recent performance against Dereck Chisora and the WBC’s new bridgerweight division…

As Christmas draws closer, Mairis Briedis continues to survey his options. Engaging and good humoured as ever when Boxing Social comes calling, the IBF and Ring Magazine cruiserweight champion is also performing his fatherly duties while he chats via Zoom from his hometown of Riga.

His son – as you’d expect from the offspring of a highly-disciplined police officer/boxer – is impeccably behaved and strays into shot just once, to charmingly correct his father’s only occasionally faltering English. Cracking a smile to camera, Briedis quips: “I have an English teacher here!”

Humour placed temporarily to one side, the 35-year-old admits that 2020 has been a great year for him – it’s a year after all that has seen him crowned the world’s number one cruiserweight as a result of his World Boxing Super Series tournament final victory against Yuniel Dorticos.

However it is clear that Briedis’ desire for success is far from sated.
“This was a good year but next year we look to move on and move up,” he insists. “That’s what we always try to do. The aim is always to do better and to be the best.”

Riga may be in a state of lockdown – like seemingly everywhere else around the world – but for Briedis life – and his commitment to boxing – move on inexorably and inevitably.

“The gym is open,” he explains. “We have a private gym for our boxing. We can run outside. We can cycle. So lockdown isn’t a problem for me. We never stop working. Only floods would stop me from training!”

Briedis and his manager Raimonds Zeps are still undecided whether the cruiserweight king will stay at 200lbs or move to the unlimited heavyweight class. Briedis even has some positive words concerning the WBC’s controversial new bridgerweight class.

“I think it’s a correct decision for the fighters,” is his assessment. “There is a big difference in weight between light-heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight. So it’s very interesting. You can’t say if something is good or not until you try it out. So let’s see if it works or not, this new weight category.”

Should Briedis move further north to heavyweight a rematch with Oleksandr Usyk – against whom he dropped a razor-thin points decision in 2018 – could be on the cards.

However the Latvian was not overly impressed with the Ukrainian’s recent victory against Dereck Chisora. “Usyk wasn’t Usyk in that fight,” he says. “I don’t know what happend although since the fight he has done an interview and said he has a problem with his elbows in the fight.

“The same thing happened to me when I fought him. After the fourth round, I sustained an injury and in my next fight I only had half my power. Perhaps this is the same. But he’s had time to recover now and I’m confident in his next fight he’ll be much better and fight at a higher level.”

Briedis has also spoken in the past of his willingness to face the winner of the planned WBO title showdown between Britain’s Lawrence Okolie and the Latvian’s old rival Krzysztof Glowacki, who he bested in three controversial and explosive rounds in June 2019.

However, with Glowacki testing positive for Covid-19, the fight with Okolie has been scrapped, and the Londoner will now face Nikodem Jezewski instead in a non-title fight on Saturday’s undercard for the Anthony Joshua-Kubrat Pulev heavyweight title bout.

“It’s a different fight and an interesting decision [by Okolie],” Briedis muses. “Of course, he was meant to fight Glowacki. When I heard [that Glowacki had to withdraw] I thought it was a little bit of karma in action. Not so much against Glowacki himself but his team who put a lot of obstacles ahead of me for my fight [against Yuniel Dorticos].

“Having said that I hope that Glowacki comes back, it’s a tough time for him now in boxing terms.”

Briedis is well-placed to assess Jezewski’s chances of springing an upset. The 19-0-1 Polish fighter has stepped in at just a few days’ notice and bookmakers rate him around a 14-1 outsider.

“I know Nikodem very well,” Briedis explains. “He’s come to several of our camps for my other fights. I spoke with Nikodem to see how he’s feeling. I asked how prepared he is and he said: ‘No one can prepare in five days!’ But he’s a good fighter.

“As for the outcome of the fight – well, Okolie is boxing in his hometown in England. Nikodem will do his best but he hasn’t had time to prepare. We’ll have to see, although I would have to say I think Okolie should win.

“But I support Nikodem. A few months ago he became a father and so this is a very big thing for him, for his family, for his son. A big opportunity.”

Quizzed on the prospect of fighting Okolie himself, Briedis expresses willing. He also gave his take on ‘The Sauce’s’ oft-criticised pugilistic style, including his seemingly compulsive propensity to hold.

“Maybe I’ll hold him back!” Briedis laughs. “Dirty fighters don’t like it if you fight dirty! Every fight and opponent is different of course. Against some fighters maybe he can hold but not against others. Two fights are never the same. I hope that he does better work in the ring, of course, as the fans want.”

Indeed, how Okolie performs on Saturday night may go a long way to determining Briedis’ immediate future.

“Let’s see if something happens in the fight this weekend,” he concludes with a smile. “Maybe Okolie will call me out and say: ‘Come on let’s go!’ Then if the promoters work together, maybe we can make a very big cruiserweight fight.”

And if not? The impressively relaxed Briedis shrugs, as unfazed and calm as ever.

“If not … then we’ll make another fight!”