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Mairis Briedis still wants Lawrence Okolie fight at cruiserweight, feels his chances at heavyweight are being overlooked

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Briedis returns Saturday to face Artur Mann, and still has some business at cruiserweight before his move to heavyweight.

Mairis Briedis has business still at cruiserweight, but is eyeing the big move to heavyweight
Mairis Briedis has business still at cruiserweight, but is eyeing the big move to heavyweight
Photo by Edijs Palens/Xinhua via Getty Images

“The more fights, the better for me,” Mairis Briedis told Bad Left Hook this week ahead of his latest IBF cruiserweight title defence. “I am in the best shape of my career right now.”

The 36-year-old is bullish in conversation. It’s three and a half years since he suffered the solitary blemish on his resume via majority decision to Oleksandr Usyk — a fight that saw him push Usyk further than any other fighter has managed in the pros — and the Latvian doesn’t see why this good run of form will come to an end this weekend.

Artur Mann is the man tasked with ripping Briedis’ IBF title away from him at the 200 lb limit. The champion is returning to a Riga ring for the first time since the pandemic and is keen to emphasize how important it is to fight on home soil.

“It’s a special moment every time I fight in Latvia,” he said. “I feel blessed to have another boxing night at Arena Riga to get that energetic momentum from the home crowd again. For those who haven’t been to my fights in Arena Riga, it really is something special and I’m happy and excited to bring that energy from Riga once again.”

But what of Artur Mann? The Kazakh-born German is yet to eat at the top table of cruiserweights, having fought just twice out of Germany before this weekend. A TKO loss to Kevin Lerena muddies his 18-fight record, but Briedis isn’t taking the “Thunderman” lightly.

“He’s a very unpredictable boxer and that style is the thing that makes him dangerous,” Briedis explained. “He has a different boxing style for every fight so we’ve done a lot of film watching and will be ready for 100% to whatever comes out from him. Whether he has the power to hurt me or not I am not sure. We are training to nullify whatever power he holds.

“I never say hop before the jump,” he tells me, reluctant to speculate too far past the test of Mann this weekend, but it’s clear that Briedis is targeting a big 2022.

WBO champion Lawrence Okolie has been firmly linked with Briedis over the past 18 months and it’s a fight that still interests him. “Everyone can call himself the best but in boxing, you also have to prove it in the ring. So if he claims that he is the best, he has a good option to try to prove it, but hopefully rather sooner than later if he’s serious about it.”

I push Briedis on why this fight needs to be made soon. Of course, the Latvian is eyeing up a move to heavyweight, following in the footsteps of a former rival — and now unified heavyweight world champion — Oleksandr Usyk.

“I was ready to move up to heavyweight this year, but unfortunately, currently, there are no options for big fights at heavyweight. Everyone we spoke to for fights that would matter seemed to be dodging me and that’s just the reality of it. We had numerous conversations when seeking good fight options. I’m still having that division in my future plans.”

With Oleksandr Usyk, Anthony Joshua, Dillian Whyte and Tyson Fury all seemingly tied up in the heavyweight division, Briedis has been left frustrated with a lack of sizeable options – “Tier 2” heavyweights also appear reluctant to take a risk in fighting Briedis and potentially lose their place in the queue.

But when it is time to make the jump up, he’s adamant that he’s there to make a splash. “Usyk is not as easy a target as he was perceived when entering the heavyweight division,” he explained. “And I feel I’m being overlooked at times, as well, together with other cruiserweights,”

As successful as Briedis has been at cruiserweight, the 36-year-old is still looking to leave bigger marks in the sport. “You can become a champion once but to be an all-time great you have to leave your footprint in the sport,” he concluded.

“I’ve been trying to do my best to raise boxing as a sport in Latvia as when I started it literary had no traditions or success whatsoever. Becoming a number one in the division and keeping that title for a while also helps. But I still feel like there’s so much more I want to achieve – not just in a boxing ring but also outside of it – to be considered as an all-time great fighter… but there’s still more I can, and will, do.”

Lewis Watson is a sports writer from London, UK, and a member of the BWAA. Follow or contact him on Twitter @lewroyscribbles