GET SE­RI­OUS

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

Boxing News - - Previews -

‘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.

Photo: AC­TION IMAGES/JA­SON CAIRNDUFF

FIGHT­ING SHAPE: Perez shows off his ripped and ready physique

COM­ING TO GET YOU: Perez [right] eye­balls the Lat­vian su­per­star

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