Boxing has a new world championship in a brand new weight class, as Oscar Rivas and Bryant Jennings have agreed to meet for the newly-minted WBC bridgerweight championship. The pair, who have fought once before, were initially supposed to clash in June before the event was pushed back initially to September, before settling in October.
Bridgerweight was created by the WBC last November to ‘bridge’ the gap between cruiserweight and heavyweight. In a wholesome double-meaning, the title was named after Bridger Walker, a brave youngster who saved his sister from a dog attack and was honoured by the WBC. A commemoration of a child’s act of bravery is where this idea should have stayed, as it is unclear who the bridgerweight division is really for.
Contested between 200 and 224 pounds, the idea behind it is to give fighters who are too big for cruiserweight, yet undersized at heavyweight, a chance to compete for world honours. Supporters of the plan will point at the current heavyweight kings as a reason why such a division is necessary. WBC boss Tyson Fury is 6-foot-7 and weighed 273Ib in his last outing. WBA, IBF and WBO ruler Anthony Joshua is nearly 6-foot-5 and scaled 240Ib in his previous fight. Coupled with the fact the last decade was dominated by the Klitschko brothers, Vitali and Wladimir both above 6-foot-5 themselves, it is clear the top division has become the land of the giants.
The days of small heavyweights like Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield appear to be over. This is certainly the argument the WBC would make as to why they have forged a new weight class.
However, upon closer examination, this argument begins to resemble an acute form of recency bias, as the age of the giant heavyweight is not as embedded as it appears. Since the year 2000, a number of fighters who would fit into the bridgerweight bracket have reigned as heavyweight champion. Ignoring their spurious ‘regular’ belts, the WBA have crowned six champions who weighed in under the 224Ib limit for at least one fight during their reign. The WBO have had four title reigns by boxers who would fit into this new class. The IBF and WBC have had one potential-bridgerweight champion each. In total there have been twelve separate title reigns by people for whom this new weight class has apparently been created.
Do you think any of those men would sacrifice hearing their name read out after “...and the new heavyweight champion of the world...” to claim a belt in a hinterland division that nobody asked for?
One of those champions mentioned above requires closer scrutiny. While the WBC, the creators of this new entity, only enjoyed one bridgerweight as their heavyweight champion this millennium, he was a remarkable one. Deontay Wilder defended the title on 10 occasions, knocking out a procession of bigger men to retain the crown. Such dominance suggests size is not the barrier to heavyweight supremacy that many claim. ‘The Bronze Bomber’ was apparently the fighter WBC president Mauricio Sulaimán was tapping to be the poster boy for bridgerweight, but he has publicly refused to fight in the division, and instead aims to get his old belt back from Tyson Fury next month.
In fact, most fighters you would traditionally list as ‘world class’ have declined to be involved in the WBC experiment. The current bridgerweight ratings taken from the WBC website list unbeaten but untested prospect Evgeny Romanov at number two, below title challenger Rivas, but above his opponent Jennings. 8-0 Matchroom star Alen Babic is as high as number five while the shopworn Artur Szpilka and Marco Huck find themselves in the top 15. Most bizarrely, 13-3 Gabriel Garcia currently finds himself ranked in every single place from 33 to 39. Top class boxers appear to be taking this new invention as seriously as the WBC webmaster at this early stage.
But what of Bryant Jennings and Oscar Rivas? Does the maiden WBC bridgerweight championship fight have merit? As a world title fight, it certainly does not. As a contest, it does. Rivas stopped Jennings in the 12th round of a competitive fight when they met in 2019, and a rematch is not a bad move for either. Jennings was ahead on one of the three scorecards when he was stopped, and as a former heavyweight title challenger his name carries some credibility.
Rivas took Dillian Whyte all the way in his only loss, and looked decent in doing so. This contest feels more like a heavyweight eliminator than a world title scrap, but as boxing continues to debase itself on the big stage with non-competitors and retired athletes, this at least promises to be a harmless spectacle.
Ultimately though, there is a reason none of the major sanctioning bodies thought of this before. As far back as 1995, minor belt-factories were pumping out pointless prizes for a similar weight limit. The WBU crowned Bobby Cyz as their ‘super-cruiserweight’ champion then, and the alphabet soup was stirred again when the great James ‘Lights Out’ Toney was awarded the IBA version in 2001.
There is a reason the WBC, IBF, WBO and WBA didn’t adopt the division then, and it’s for the same reason that the latter three have declined to do so now. Fighters coming out of the cruiserweight division want to be the heavyweight champion of the world, and ultimately it is more attractive to pursue that dream than receive a consolation prize in a division with no history or pedigree.
The WBC have caved because in the modern era they produce more belts than Calvin Klein, and this is perhaps a half-step less ridiculous than the Mayan, Crypto and Frontline Battle belts we have seen in recent years. Let them get on with it, for now it appears that top fighters and fans alike can see through the bridgerweight facade.