By Robert Aaron Contreras
It will be an earlier Saturday than usual for fight fans. The semifinals of the second cruiserweight World Boxing Super Series kicks off on DAZN at 2 p.m. ET.
Two matchups will decide the tournament finale as Mairis Briedis hosts the rest of the field from his backyard in Riga, Latvia on June 15. The hometown man battles former world champion Krzysztof Glowacki. And another of the division’s sharpshooters, Yuniel Dorticos meets the undefeated Andrew Tabiti.
All four men are rated among the best in the world, carrying on the tradition of intense matchmaking that has in recent memory defined these most courageous competitors.
Mairis Briedis (25-1, 18 KO) vs. Krzysztof Glowacki (31-1, 19 KO)
This matchup may only technically be the semifinals, but this particular clash could decide who for the time being is the premier fighter in the class. Last season’s WBSS finalists, Oleksandr Usyk and Murat Gassiev, are both set for the land of heavyweights, leaving the WBC and WBO belts up for grabs between Briedis and Glowacki.
Briedis, 35, once held that WBC title. In 2017, he went over to Germany to beat out Marco Huck for the green strap. The Latvian bruiser proved he was more than just a puncher, hardly dropping a round over the championship distance. He became just the second cruiser to defeat Huck at the weight in a decade.
Briedis also undoubtedly gave Usyk the tightest fight of the Ukrainian’s career. And his collection of knockouts is incredible: blowing away a sizable, rough-and-rumble cruiser like Simon Vallily; the physical specimen Olanrewaju Durodola, and lighting up heavyweight Manuel Charr with a single shot—walking backwards and giving up 30 pounds, no less.
Rated No. 1 in the world by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, his last two contests have not been so impressive. In fact, save for a competitive outing against Usyk, Briedis has not looked all that elite since outboxing Huck.
Last time out, Briedis was dealt with an apparent arm injury on his righthand side opposite Noel Gevor. The underdog took advantage and was all over Briedis for 12 rounds. The slippery German transplant touched his man up and down at the end of a rangy, pawing jab and awkward lateral movement. The unanimous decision Briedis received did not go over well on social media.
Gevor though is one of the most underrated boxers around, having been on the wrong end of another set of bad scores against Krzysztof “Diablo” Wlodarczyk. But that does not explain why just before that, Briedis could not get out of first gear in his fight against an unheralded bit player like Brandon Deslaurier.
Over 10 rounds with Deslaurier, Briedis shut out the Frenchman but was lackadaisical throughout. Following his first ever loss, it wasn’t held against him. He did not have that excuse when he met Mike Perez just before that. The pride and joy of Latvia may have a terrible habit of fighting down (or up) to his opponents.
Glowacki, 32, shares a couple common opponents. After all, in the 200-pound division, the créme de la créme are bound to meet each other.
For one, Glowacki also lost to Usyk, giving up his WBO strap in the process. He picked up the alphabet trinket from Huck the year prior in a barnburning affair. The Polish warrior defended the title once, turning away former champion Steve Cunningham. The exhilarating American would touch the canvas four times en route to a clear-cut decision loss to the visiting Glowacki.
Glowacki rattled off five straights victories since that loss to Usyk. Most recently, in the quarterfinals he overpowered Maxim Vlasov, who is equally a terrifying puncher, wining another decision.
Now as the division undergoes transition, Briedis and Glowacki have a chance to separate themselves from the pack. All it could take is one punch.
Yuniel Dorticos (23-1, 21 KO) vs. Andrew Tabiti (17-0, 13 KO)
From the opposite side of the bracket, Cuba’s own “KO Doctor” Dorticos meets Tabiti, from Las Vegas.
Dorticos, 33, has a real reputation for turning in violent slugfests. Though last outing against Mateusz Masternak did not fit the bill, Masternak has a way of sucking the life out of a fight. Dorticos still out-dueled the perennial contender, who is always a difficult out.
As part of the first WBSS tournament, Dorticos was pushed as far as a man can be, hammering away at Gassiev, and receiving it back just as harshly for almost a complete 12 rounds until a volley of right hands sent him through the ropes.
Never one to back down from a massive puncher, Dorticos slaughtered Dmitry Kudryashov in just two rounds. And before that, ditched the warmongering Youri Kalenga in a brutal 10 rounds. It is a division that allows for few easy touches.
Tabiti, though, unlike most of the blue-collar field, does have ritzy promotional backing behind him. Partnered with Mayweather Promotions, the 29-year-old American trains regularly with Floyd Mayweather Sr. And it shows, utilizing that calculated, “Money” Mayweather approach in the ring. But the reserved style has come close to backfiring.
In Tabiti’s previous bout, he was lucky to escape with a points win over the little known Ruslan Fayfer. The Russian journeyman matched Tabiti in output and was on his heels until the final bell.
All told, the work at the Mayweather Gym has helped Tabiti remain undefeated, served a gradual rise in competition from fellow upstarts (Keith Tapia) and gatekeepers (Lateef Kayode) to former champions (Steve Cunningham) and now the biggest test of his career in Dorticos.
The IBF championship is on the line, and bigger yet is the tourney finale for the Muhammad Ali trophy, which represents something more rare than the cash prize of millions and millions of dollars: the helm of the entire division.