Riga, Latvia is one of the least likely of places you would imagine to host one of the most eagerly anticipated Cruiserweight unification title fights in recent years. However Riga native, Mairis Briedis has caught the imagination of the proud Baltic nation.
As I landed in Riga on Wednesday, there was a real buzz surrounding the biggest sporting event in Latvia’s history. It’s a recurring theme in this city as the previous biggest sporting event in the countries history was only a matter of months ago when Mairis Briedis defended his WBC title against Mike Perez in the quarter final of the World Boxing Super Series in September 2017. Despite the far from TV friendly encounter between the pair, the Latvian people hold Mairis Briedis to the highest regard. The Latvian President awarded Mairis with the Order of the Three Stars, the most prestigious award for any Latvian. It’s fair to say that the WBC Cruiserweight Champion has the weight of a nation on his shoulders. A man of few words, Briedis responded to my question regarding the pressure he may be feeling as he prepares to take on one of the Worlds most exciting and technically gifted fighters; Oleksandr Usyk.
“I have a very good team which helps take all that extra pressure off my shoulders. Yes we have to attend all these events to help promote my fights, but we are not in the city very much as my training camp was in Benidorm. I am not around any other people apart from my team, so the pressure is not really an issue.”
In WBO Champion Oleksandr Usyk, Mairis Brieids has his toughest test to date and is a clear underdog among the bookmakers. Familiar territory for the WBC Champion, In 2015 Mairis Briedis had no hesitation to move up to Heavyweight and knock out the current WBA Heavyweight Champion, Manuel Charr in a fight he was expected to lose comfortably by many and In 2017 Briedis found himself in a similar position as he took on long reigning Cruiserweight Champion Marco Huck for the vacant WBC title. Again Briedis upset the odds taking a unanimous decision over Huck in his adopted home of Germany. But in Usyk, Briedis faces his most demanding task to date in the former Ukrainian Olympic Champion.
“You cannot invent a new bicycle! Boxing is what it is, it consists of three different aspects. We have been working hard over the past three months to improve all these aspects and covering any of our mistakes that have the possibility of happening on fight night. But we have put the work over the past months, so hopefully and possible mistakes that could happen, are now gone.”
A proud Latvian and a man of few words, I was curious on what inspires the former police captain and current WBC Champion.
“It’s all about pure sport and testing myself at the very highest level. This is a great opportunity for me to prove to myself who good I am, to make my family proud and to do this for the people of Riga. Money isn’t the biggest issue for me! This is about competition at the highest level and I am hoping I come up against the very best Usyk on Saturday.”
Mairis Briedis comes across as a very humble character. I got the impression the Latvian World champion was not the biggest fan of taking media requests and sometimes came across as almost grumpy. But when speaking to Krisjanis, the receptionist at my hotel, it opened my eyes to how a Latvian people carry themselves.
“Latvians are a very proud and hard working people. A man in Latvia is judged purely on his actions, not his words! The Latvian people love him because he truly embodies the Latvian spirit and culture. He really is a tremendous representative for my country. My view on Briedis is that he is a honest and decent human being, put it like this; If Mairis for some strange reason committed a crime, even by accident, he would arrest himself. He is not a man that is thinking just for himself. In recent history our country has been through hard times and Mairis truly wants to make this nation a better place for the next Generation. We are very proud of him in Latvia.”
By Adam Noble-Forcey