The sport’s reigning lineal cruiserweight champion has spent the past several months trolling a YouTube star for his next payday.

Mairis Briedis has finally ditched the act—to a degree—for the actual challenge that awaits him in a division where he is already the king.

The 37-year-old Latvian star arrived to fight week with a new trick up his sleeve for his lineal/IBF cruiserweight championship title defense versus Sydney’s Jai Opetaia. Briedis was decked out in an outfit reminiscent of Australian actor Paul Hogan’s fictional ‘Crocodile’ Mick Dundee character from the 1980s Crocodile Dundee movie franchise. The get-up, on full display for the Aussie media on Monday, was a tribute to the late Arvids Blumentals, a Latvian-born soldier who was known as ‘Crocodile Harry’ during his time in Australia spent hunting crocodiles and opals.

Briedis has worn the Crocodile Dundee hat throughout fight week, one of several gimmicks rolled out by the three-time cruiserweight champ. His antics are normally well-intended, though not always resonating with his target audience or his peers. His attempt at pre-fight humor was met with resistance by Sydney’s Jai Opetaia, who was neither amused by the cruiserweight champion’s antics nor intimidated by the threat he poses in the ring this weekend.

“All this shit, I don’t care about,” Opetaia alleged to local reporters. “It’s all stupid. All these fuckin’ crocodile hats, it don’t mean nothing to me. All that matters is that fuckin’ title.”

Both champion and challenger can find common ground at least with the last part, as Briedis’ lineal/IBF cruiserweight championship is at stake this Saturday at Gold Coast Convention Center in the Gold Coast suburb of Broadbeach, Australia.

No harm is ever meant by Briedis (28-1, 20KOs), at least not until he enters the ring. The normally jovial cruiserweight

is all business heading into the second defense of his third title reign. The final press conference took place Thursday afternoon, on Opetaia’s 27th birthday. The defending champion—normally known for his goofy personality outside the ring—was professional towards the challenger ten years his junior.

“Happy birthday and congratulations to your mother and father for having a [son] who now has a fight for the IBF cruiserweight title.” Briedis stated in offering birthday wishes to the first-time title challenger. “I think the fight will be high level. I hope we show all the world and that all the world will speak about this fight.”

Briedis (28-1, 20KOs) was the talk of the town during his first run as a cruiserweight titlist, though the bulk of the headlines were generated from a one-time stop at heavyweight. A fifth-round knockout of Mahmoud Charr in August 2015 quickly made the rounds, with Briedis returning to cruiserweight where he’d become Latvia’s first-ever world champion just 20 months later.

A 12-round win over former—and record-tying—cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck came with the WBC title at stake, which Briedis brought into the first season of the World Boxing Super Series tournament. He defended the belt in a September 2017 win over Mike Perez before dropping a heartbreaking majority decision to Oleksandr Usyk in the January 2018 tournament semifinal in his Riga, Latvia hometown.

Five straight wins have followed for Briedis, including a brief stay as WBO cruiserweight champ following a wild and controversial 3rd round knockout of Krzysztof Glowacki in their June 2019 WBSS Season Two tournament semifinal in Riga. Horrendous officiating by referee Robert Byrd saw the second round extend well beyond the bell—and allowing Briedis additional time to score a second knockdown, before putting away Glowacki for good early in the third round.

The verdict was upheld, although the WBO ordered an immediate rematch. Briedis ditched the belt, instead remaining committed to the tournament whose finale was delayed several times due to the legal matter and the pandemic. He eventually moved forward with a challenge of IBF titlist Yuniel Dorticos, outpointing the Miami-based Cuban in their September 2020 final to win the belt and the tournament.

Just one defense has come of his third reign, a fifth-round stoppage of Artur Mann last October in Riga. Briedis has spent most of the rest of his time instead chasing after content creator and cruiserweight novice Jake Paul (5-0, 4KOs). The odd obsession with the social media influencer included a rap song and leg tattoo both dedicated in Paul’s honor.

“It all started out as a joke,” Briedis confessed. “But the people started getting into it more and more. There was something about it [that was] attractive.

“A lot of fans—my fans and his—really want him to be knocked out by somebody and hopefully it will be me that puts an end to it.

The stint didn’t work, outside of gaining a new nickname.

Paul admitted to being unfamiliar with the Latvian Punisher, to the point of bungling his name. 

“People begging me for fights. Tommy Fury, this guy Mario begging me for fights,” Paul told reporters earlier this year, laughing it off as he was corrected. “I’ve seen the tattoo but I don’t know who this guy is. Someone just told me, ‘A world champion got your tattoo.’ I was like, OK. I don’t know what he wants from me but a lot of people are calling me out constantly and I think it’s funny.”

Boxing fans weren’t quite as amused, although Briedis drew some laughs when arriving to a February 27 DAZN show dressed in a Super Mario Brothers costume in his best effort to lean into Paul’s slight.

Fortunately, the act died on the vine, with Briedis instead moving forward with his career. The next step was honoring his IBF mandatory title defense, although it has taken three tries to get to this point.

The bout was due to take place April 6, only for Briedis to withdraw from the date after testing positive for Covid. A rescheduled May 11 date was then scrapped when Opetaia suffered an injury—ironically discovered on April 6, when they were first due to fight—which required minor surgery.

Both fighters are finally one sleep from meeting in the ring, with Opetaia fixated on shocking the world and reminding anyone who would listen of his intentions.

Briedis took a far different approach at a time when given the opportunity to make a bold prediction for the fight.

“When I sit here and listen to the teams, I laugh. We’re two big men speaking like two small boys. ‘My car is best. No, my car is best.’ It’s funny,” Briedis theorized. “The most important thing for me is to enjoy my fight. The most interesting thing for me is when the people watch and enjoy my fight.”

Through all the gimmicks and the odd pursuit of a five-fight novice—ironically who is now in need of an opponent for an August 6 fight date in limbo—will come the actions that has defined Briedis’ true legacy.

In the ring is where Briedis always does his best talking. Still, he couldn’t pass on the chance to honor a deceased countryman in what—at age 37—will likely mark his first and only ever fight Down Under.

“I’m preparing from all of my heart,” insists Briedis, who is 5-1 in major title fights. “I’m ready for the fight. I’ve put in a lot of work. This is also a new challenge for me being in Australia, it’s so far from my home. I recently found out the whole story about Crocodile Harry. He was a Latvian, Arvids Blumentals was his name. He made it big from Latvia, and he made Australia big.

“I want to honor him and keep doing the same thing. Honoring Latvia and making Australia big.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for Twitter: @JakeNDaBox