Usyk had had plenty of tests in his illustrious career, but he has conquered them all. From the Olympic heavyweight final over the Muhammad Ali Trophy to become unified heavyweight champion of the world after outclassing no other than Anthony Joshua in his backyard in London.
But on the road to glory one opponent sticks out as tougher than the rest; Latvia’s Mairis Brieidis who fought Usyk in an epic battle in a WBSS Cruiserweight Semi-Final on 27 January 2018.
“The most serious opponent in the ring for Usyk was Briedis, says Alexander Krassyuk, Usyk’s manager to Ukrainian media.
“Usyk could pass Briedis much easier and less energy-intensive, but what happened happened.”
What happened was that Usyk came through an extremely tough and hard-fought battle to claim a 12-round majority decision over Briedis to unify the 200-pound title and book a ticket to the final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy. Not before, or since, has anyone come closer to beating Usyk in his professional career.
The official scores were 114-114 and 115-113 twice for Usyk.
“These are the most difficult 12 rounds I’ve ever had in my career,” said Usyk in his post-fight interview.
“Usyk-Briedis, that was decided on the last round,” said Kalle Sauerland, WBSS Chief Boxing Officer. “Not only on the normal scorecards, but had that round gone different, the fourth judge would have scored it for Briedis. Usyk would have gone out, and would Usyk be where he is today? No one knows.”
Mairis Briedis went on to win the Season II cruiserweight edition of the World Boxing Super Series and currently holds the Ring Magazine title along with the IBF belt.
After winning the Season II final over Yuniel Dorticos in Munich last year, Briedis reflected on his only career loss against Usyk: “I was down after the Usyk fight. Usyk was better that night, and it is what it is.
“But looking back I can see that a lot of things around me and in my team have changed. And everything has gone better since that fight. I really don’t know if I would have won that night if my career would have advanced the way it has.”
The World Boxing Super Series has certainly played a significant role in the evolution of both fighters through the tough match-ups in the tournament.
There is no question that Usyk vs Briedis II would be an explosive fight between two former Ali Trophy champions, but another question is if Usyk’s and Briedis’ roads will ever cross again.
Briedis has a dream to avenge the defeat and has indicated a wish to move north to heavyweight where Usyk is the ruler along with Tyson Fury. But for now, he is focused on unifying the cruiserweight division in a potential clash next year with Lawrence Okolie.
Next up for Usyk is a re-match against Joshua possibly in March or April next year.