TEAM SAUERLAND’S World Boxing Super Series cruiserweight final finally goes ahead on Saturday (September 26). There must have been times when Yuniel Dorticos and Mairis Briedis thought they would never meet. The fight had problems even before COVID-19. Krzysztof Glowacki (31-1) appealed to the WBO – with good reason – after his stoppage defeat against Briedis in the semi-finals last June. The Polish southpaw was felled by a blatant elbow in the second round and, still groggy, he shipped punches for an extra 10 seconds at the end of the session before being stopped in the third. That appeal hearing caused a delay to the final and, after the WBO ordered a title rematch between Briedis and Glowacki, Briedis withdrew because he was signed up to fighting in the WBSS final against Dorticos.

Briedis was subsequently stripped of the WBO crown and therefore only Dorticos’ IBF belt will be on the line when they meet behind closed doors at the Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany. They have a lot to live up to.

Fight-of-the-Year polls were just about unanimous in putting the WBSS bantamweight final between Naoya Inoue and Nonito Donaire at the top in 2019. And in Britain, Josh Taylor-Regis Prograis in the WBSS 140lb final was named the best bout seen here in 2019 by ourselves. The good news is, Dorticos-Briedis could also be a cracker.

They are quality operators – boxers who can punch. Both have lost once, in the semi-finals of the first WBSS cruiserweight tournament, in 2018. Briedis fell just short against Oleksandr Usyk (13-0), dropping a majority verdict, while Dorticos endured a humbling 12th-round KO at the hands of Murat Gassiev (25-0). The Miami-domiciled Cuban was down three times in the last frame, the referee finally pulling Gassiev off him after he was punched almost out of the ring.

Of the two, Dorticos, 34, has looked better since having his unbeaten record snapped. In the quarter-finals of this season’s WBSS, he got past Mateusz Masternak (41-4) with a strong finish, answering questions about his stamina that were asked after his late collapse against Gassiev. That was followed by a spectacular one-punch knockout of Andrew Tabiti (17-0) that brought him the vacant IBF belt. Dorticos stayed on Tabiti until he got on top of him and then turned the American’s lights out in the 10th with a right hand.

World Boxing Super Series

Briedis (26-1) has been less impressive. Possibly undermotivated when outpointing the unheralded Brandon Deslaurier (11-1-1) in his first fight back after Usyk, he has to be considered fortunate to be in the final after that farcical win over Glowacki. Referee Robert Byrd lost control during that crazy second round.

Briedis responded to a rabbit punch with an elbow and Glowacki dropped.

Mr Byrd sensed an overreaction and ordered Glowacki to his feet. Only Glowacki knows how hurt he was by the elbow, but it’s fair to assume it didn’t do him any good and seconds after the resumption, Briedis had him on the floor with punches. Worse was to follow. Mr Byrd didn’t hear the bell when it came shortly after Glowacki got to his feet, and Briedis sent him down again with rights – 10 seconds after the three minutes had elapsed. The damage had been done and 27 seconds into the third it was over after Glowacki dragged himself up on rubbery legs from another knockdown.

Briedis rode his luck in the quarter-finals as well. He received a disputed verdict over Noel Gevor (23-1) after a chess match, and possibly benefited from what was deemed an accidental head clash in the ninth round. At that point, the fight looked to be in the balance, but with Gevor gashed under his right eyebrow, Briedis pulled away in the final three rounds.

The temptation is to think that at 35, we may have seen the best of Briedis. His standout night was more than three years ago, when he outpointed Marco Huck (40-3-1) for the vacant WBC title. Huck was possibly on the way down, but with his jab, movement and punch, Briedis would have always given him a tough night. The unanimous points victory made Briedis the first Latvian to win a world title and, according to sparring partner Jack Massey, Mairis is “a king” in his home country.

Of course, that brings pressure and ahead of this fight – which will be televised on Sky Sports Arena/Main Event and DAZN – Briedis has talked of having “a weight on his shoulders.” Perhaps he’s tired of being Mairis Briedis? He will have to be fit and switched on if he’s to carry out the game plan he has spelled out. “The focus is on his big punches and avoiding them as much as possible by moving around as much as I can,” he said.

We saw what happened to Tabiti when he held his feet and engaged with Dorticos, who has 22 stoppages on his 24-1 record. The taller fighter by a couple of inches, Dorticos, who came through the Cuban amateur system and had wins over Eleider Alvarez and Mike Perez in the unpaid ranks, looks to walk opponents into the corners and let his hands go. Mostly he throws long, straight punches and Briedis will either want to be too far away or too close to get hit by them.

Briedis has shown he’s good at boxing around bigger opponents and finding the gaps with his punches and, as we saw in the early rounds against Tabiti, Dorticos sometimes forgets about what’s coming back at him.

The punch that Gassiev had success with against Dorticos was the uppercut and that was the shot that worked for Briedis against Glowacki – and also brought him his breakthrough win. Manuel Charr went into his fight with Briedis in August 2015 with a 30-pound-plus weight advantage and was wiped out by a sweetly timed right uppercut.

Briedis has gone on to beat fighters of the calibre of Huck and Perez, and we think he can turn the clock back to box his way to a points win over Dorticos.

The Verdict A fascinating fight to decide who is the cruiser king.