Record: 13-0 (11 KO) ... Streak: W13 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 6’3” / 78” ... Age: 31
Thoughts: Most believe Usyk, a former heavyweight Olympic gold medalist, to be the best cruiserweight in the sport today. He hasn’t necessarily done more than other cruiserweights, it’s a sense from the eye test.
Usyk has the skills, an accurate puncher with withering power that has allowed him to stop 11 of 13 pro opponents. The two that have lasted the distance were either top fighters themselves (Krzysztof Glowacki) or largely avoided engaging (Michael Hunter).
Last time out, Usyk beat Marco Huck in the World Boxing Super Series first round. Huck, a former titleholder, is past his best and had been beaten by Mairis Briedis in his previous outing. Briedis outpointed Huck over 12, and convincingly so. Usyk broke Huck down and stopped him in 10.
There’s not much to take as one being particularly better than the other based on the Huck fights. They both fought an aging, declining fighter who is more game than good at the top level at this point.
Usyk isn’t going to become some big superstar fighter, probably, because he doesn’t have the sort of aggressive seek-and-destroy nature that could turn him into one. He’s a smart, deliberate fighter who doesn’t worry about taking his time. He labored a bit against Thabiso Mchunu back in 2016, but ultimately knocked him out in nine. He doesn’t always get high entertainment marks, but he fights to win, and win is all he’s done thus far.
Record: 23-0 (18 KO) ... Streak: W23 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’1” / N/A ... Age: 33
Thoughts: Maybe the second-best cruiserweight in the world right now, Latvia’s Briedis has three really good wins in his last four fights. Well, two really good and one that might be.
Briedis broke through with a TKO-9 win over Olanrewaju Durodola in 2016, then beat Marco Huck last April in Germany, winning a decision on the road in a country where that can be, you know, problematic. And in the first round of the WBSS, he defeated Cuba’s Mike Perez, who was moving down from heavyweight. Perez went all 12 and was competitive, but Briedis was the better man.
That Perez fight is kind of a key here when projecting Briedis. Perez hadn’t been active, certainly not at a high level, and had dropped about 40 pounds to compete at cruiserweight. Perez fought fairly well and made a fight of it. But is that because Perez was fighting to his potential, or was Briedis just not that great?
Usyk will give us a clearer picture of just how good Briedis is or isn’t, obviously. Usyk recently called Briedis’ style “boring,” which it can be, a little bit, but don’t mistake it — he can fight and he has power. He’s maybe as dangerous an opponent for Usyk as there is.
Matchup Grade: A-. It’s arguably the top two cruiserweights matched against one another in a tournament semifinal title unification match. What’s not to like? I think Usyk is the clear favorite here, but it’s still about as good a matchup as you’re going to get, and Briedis isn’t a pushover on paper. If Usyk dominates this one, he’s definitely the best cruiserweight in the world. This is a fight everyone should try to see live, no question. It matters and we don’t get matchups of this quality, relative to a single division, very often.