Perez is giving off all the signs of at last getting his act together but Briedis will test that theory to the max, writes Matt Christie
‘ALL THESE FIGHTS THAT I LOST OR DREW, I WAS DRUNK IN THE RING’
CUBAN heavyweight in weight loss sensation! Read all about it!
After a middling career defined more by potential than achievement – sounds familiar, huh? – Mike Perez decided he was carrying too much weight and would be more effective if he lost some of it. That thought must have crossed the minds of several Cuban fighters of recent years, Jorge Luis Gonzalez and Odlanier Solis immediately spring to mind, yet almost all resisted the discipline required to make the change. So when photos of a svelte but ripped Perez were published on social media earlier this year eyebrows were raised.
In May, two years after weighing 240lbs and being bombed in a round by the soon-to-be disgraced fists of Alexander Povetkin, Perez and his refurbished 198lb frame scored a quick win of his own, when an injury lead to Viktor Biscak’s capitulation in just 29 seconds on the Belfast undercard of Ryan Burnett-lee Haskins. On Saturday night, inside the Riga Arena in Latvia, Perez’s masterplan will meet far sterner resistance when he challenges WBC cruiserweight boss Maris Briedis, in a bout that also doubles up as a quarter-final in the World Boxing Super Series.
It’s easy to see why so many are tipping Perez to score what would be a upset – at least according to the bookies. Seriously gifted, the southpaw appeared to be heading towards a title shot at heavyweight until a gruelling victory over Magomed Abdusalamov left the Russian with horrific injuries and Perez with doubts and a dependency on alcohol. A draw with Carlos Takam, and a loss to Bryant Jennings followed before the defeat to Povetkin appeared to spell the end of his ambitions. But here we are, the newly dedicated Cork-based talent enters the most important fight of his career after kicking the booze.
“That was a big problem that nobody saw,” Perez told Robbie’s Fitness earlier this year. “All these fights that I Iost or that I drew, even the Povetkin fight, I was getting into the ring drunk. It was something that I could not control.”
Briedis represents an incredible test, though. A national hero in Latvia, he
became the nation’s first ever world champion when he dominated a fading Marco Huck over 12 rounds to win the vacant green belt. A former kickboxer, and an exceptionally successful one at that, Briedis – unbeaten in 22 contests - is a top drawer boxer who carries a serious whack as his 18 early finishes will attest. His flirtations with the heavyweight division saw him knock out fringe contender Manual Charr in 2015, and British audiences likely remember him outclassing Middlesbrough’s Simon Vallily in three rounds on the Liverpool undercard of Tony Bellew-bj Flores last year. Certainly, Vallily was thrown in over his head but the manner of Briedis’ victory, which came via a savage blow to the body in round three, highlights the problems Perez is going to have to deal with. To win, Perez will need more than his silky skillset, he’ll need the strength to keep Briedis – exceptionally good on the inside – off him. And buoyed by a massive crowd at the national stadium, Briedis is going to be eager to impress.
“This is my first fight of the tournament, the first defence of my WBC world cruiserweight title, and I’m really happy that I will be able to do it in front of my home crowd,” he said. “There are no easy fights in this tournament.
“Mike Perez has already made his name in the heavyweight division and seems to be in the shape of his life coming down to cruiserweight.”
While it’s rare for a Cuban to lose weight in an effort to turn their career around, there are several cases of established heavyweights dropping mass while making promises that they’ll be better than ever before.
The most recent example is the affable and talented Eddie Chambers, who dropped down a division after struggling to put a dent in naturally bigger men. However, he looked flat while losing almost of every round of 10 to South African Thabiso Mchunu in 2013 before returning to the heavyweight division. Five years before that, Chris Byrd – not completely different to Perez in style and stature – looked dreadful when he dropped to light-heavy and was thrashed by Shaun George. While it’s true that Perez doesn’t have as many miles on the clock that Byrd had racked up, the feeling here is that the Cuban may find the drop in weight not exactly to his liking. Particularly while being put under pressure by the relentless Briedis. It should also be remembered that Perez has done nothing to merit this shot, bar being a heavyweight underachiever. The pick is for the Latvian to establish control by halfway, and halt an exhausted Perez late in the contest, which will be brodcast in the UK on ITV Box Office, free to air on Sky channel 493.
The undercard is poor though there is an appearance for Poland’s former WBO boss, Krzysztof Glowacki.
THE VERDICT Perez could be a revelation, but Breidis is favourite for good reason.
FIGHTING SHAPE: Perez shows off his ripped and ready physique
COMING TO GET YOU: Perez [right] eyeballs the Latvian superstar