Belt brings Huck, Briedis added motivation for fight

Former cruiserweight champion Marco Huck, right, can win another belt with a victory over Mairis Briedis on Saturday. Guido Kirchner/AP

Marco Huck long ago established himself as one of the best fighters in cruiserweight division history.

From 2009 to 2015, the German brawler was the dominant fighter in the weight class. Even when he made a one-fight foray into the heavyweight division and challenged Alexander Povetkin for his secondary world title in 2012, he fought very well, though he came out on the losing end of a highly controversial majority decision and was denied a rematch.

In all, Huck, 32, made a division-record-tying 13 title defenses. He matched the record set by England’s Johnny Nelson before losing his belt by 11th-round knockout in a big upset to Poland’s Krzysztof Glowacki in August 2015.

Since that defeat, Huck has won two fights in a row, both against quality opponents -- a 10th-round knockout of rival Ola Afolabi in their fourth fight 13 months ago followed by a unanimous decision against Dmytro Kucher in November despite fighting with a broken hand for much of the fight.

“The pain was hard during the fight in November,” Huck said. “But, of course, I never thought to give up.”

Now Huck (40-3-1, 27 KOs) has the chance to win another cruiserweight world title when he faces big-punching contender Mairis Briedis (21-0, 18 KOs) on Saturday at Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany.

Initially, the bout was slated to be for the WBC’s interim belt, but when titleholder Tony Bellew moved up to heavyweight and knocked out David Haye in March it left Bellew uncertain about his future? Would he remain at heavyweight or return to cruiserweight? He also suffered a broken hand that would keep him sidelined. So with Bellew out of action for the time being and also wanting time to consider his next step, the WBC this week reclassified Bellew as a “champion in recess” and Briedis-Huck was sanctioned for the vacant full title. Bellew can have a crack at the winner should he decide to fight at cruiserweight again, but the Breidis-Huck winner will take over the full title.

Huck, 32, was already motivated to fight Briedis, but now having the full title at stake makes it even bigger for him.

“From my childhood it was a dream for me to fight for the green belt of the WBC,” Huck said at Wednesday’s final news conference. “Now this dream comes true. It is a maximum motivation for me.”

Briedis, 32, of Latvia, had been Bellew’s mandatory challenger but accepted a step-aside deal that allowed Bellew an optional defense against B.J. Flores in November while he knocked out Simon Vallily in the third round on the undercard.

While Briedis would have liked to fight England’s Bellew, he is just as pleased to tangle with a fighter as good as Huck and also have the chance to win the belt.

“Of course, it is an honor to fight for the WBC belt, but it will be the same Marco Huck in ring like before,” he said at the news conference. “I prepared very well and take this really seriously, of course. I fight with a warrior and that means everything can happen. I have no plan for a knockout but I want to fight with a lot of tactical discipline.”

Huck, as always, plans to go for the knockout, which is why he has become such a popular fighter over the years.

“My opponent is strong. I know this. But I am stronger,” Huck said. “If I wouldn’t believe in this I would be in the wrong place. And, of course – I always want to win by knockout.”