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2021-10-08
Thoughts Regarding the Bridgerweight Division
Pictured: Oscar Rivas, the WBC's #1 ranked bridgerweight contender


While there hadn't been a division between the heavyweights and the cruiserweights recognized by any of the "Big Four" organizations until the WBC announced, in 2020, the creation of the "bridgerweight" division, many of the lesser sanctioning bodies (WBU, IBA, IBC, World Boxing Foundation, NBA) have recognized one. Among the fighters who held super cruiserweight or junior heavyweight titles were: Bobby Czyz (WBU- 1995), John McClain (WBU- twice: 1997 and again in 1998), Ezra Sellers (WBU- 1998), Orlin Norris (IBA- 1998), Vincenzo Cantatore (WBU- 1998-1999), Rob Calloway (IBA- 2000), Tue Bjorn Thomsen (IBC- 2000 until his death in 2002), James Toney (IBA- 2001), Patrick Nwamu (IBA- 2006-2007), and BJ Flores (WBFound, NBA, IBA- 2007). Flores actually unified those three titles by beating Nwamu.

Before we go any further, let me quickly digress. "Junior heavyweight" has been used to mean "super cruiserweight" and it has also been used, and is being used, to mean cruiserweight. "Junior heavyweight" is, and always has been, the official name of the WBO's cruiserweight class. It was also was the official name of the WBA's cruiserweight division in the early years of the division before the WBA decided to change it to cruiserweight.

Okay, back to the subject at hand. The WBC has been sanctioning a number of fights for various bridgerweight "steppingstone" titles- Continental Latino American (formerly just Latino), Silver, International, and Continental Americas.

The results of those title matches were a follows:

4/3/21- Geovany Bruzon Unan. Tech. Dec. 8 German Garcia (Bruzon won the inaugural WBC Continental Latino American bridgerweight title)
5/21/21- Evgeny Romanov UD 12 Dmitry Kudryashov (Romanov won the inaugural WBC Silver bridgerweight title)

5/30/21- Lukasz Rozanski KO-1 Artur Szpilka (Rozanski won the inaugural WBC International bridgerweight title)

8/20/21- Elvis Garcia KO-3 Joel Shojgreen (who weighed in under the cruiserweight limit) (Garcia won the inaugural WBC Continental Americas bridgerweight title)

At some point between the issuing of the WBC's August 2021 and September 2021 ratings, Bruzon was proclaimed the first WBC FECARBOX bridgerweight champion and the, for brevity's sake, Latino title was declared vacant.

Around the same time, the IBA (not to be confused with the AIBA; this is the one founded by the late former major league pitching star Dean Chance) got involved and raised the limit of their super cruiserweight division, which had been dormant since 2007, from 210 pounds to 220 pounds. The September 24 bout between Carlouse Welch and Abigail Soto was sanctioned as being for the vacant IBA World super cruiserweight title. It was also slated to be fought for the vacant WBC Latino bridgerweight championship. Soto withdrew at the last minute and Welch was awarded the IBA title by disqualification. The WBC Latino title remained vacant.

On October 22, the WBC hopes to crown their first World bridgerweight champion when Oscar Rivas takes on Ryan Rozicki. Rivas, a Montreal-based Colombian ranked #1 by the WBC, was originally slated to face #3 ranked American veteran Bryant Jennings in Montreal for the vacant title but Jennings, who hasn't fought since losing by decision to Joe Joyce on July 13, 2019, chose not to adhere to Canada's COVID-19 regulations and withdrew from the bout. Rozicki, a undefeated Canadian who holds the WBC International Silver cruiserweight title, is ranked #18 at 200 by the WBC.

It may be worth repeating. The WBC is sanctioning a bout between their #1 ranked bridgerweight contender and their #18 ranked cruiserweight contender for their vacant World title at 224 pounds.

Add to this, on September 25, Oleksandr Usyk, who turned down the "opportunity" to campaign as a bridgerweight, unanimously outpointed Anthony Joshua to win the WBA Super, IBF, WBO, and IBO versions of the World heavyweight title. Usyk weighed in at 221 1/4; Joshua at 240.

In 2012, the WBC was considering lowering the limit of the cruiserweight division to 190 and establishing a division at 210. Others had tried to that before and, at best, only enjoyed a brief period of success before eventually failing. It's possible that, despite fighters like Czyz, Norris, and Toney being part of the off-and-on 12-year history of the super cruiserweight division, the division's lack of popular appeal convinced the WBC to abandon their plan.

However, eight years later, the WBC came up with another idea, the establishment of a weight class with a 224-pound limit. Initially, my opinion was that the division was totally unnecessary and with Usyk, Deontay Wilder, who will be fighting for the lineal, the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, The Ring, and the WBC World heavyweight titles against the division's true champion Tyson Fury tomorrow night, and bona fide top ten heavyweight contender Michael Hunter all nixing the offer to fight as bridgerweights, my opinion seemed to be validated.

I was never of "the bridgerweights will be the death of boxing" ilk but I was less inclined to see the need for that weight class than I had been when the cruiserweight class was launched in 1979. However, while writing this article, it became clearer to me that one of the arguments in favor of the American League's adoption of the designated hitter rule in baseball in 1973 could be in favor of the establishment of the bridgerweight division. It can extend careers.

Father Time is not on the side of many of the fighters who have opted to fight in the bridgerweight division. Rivas, who is ranked by The Ring as a Top Ten heavyweight contender, is 34, Rozanski is 35, Romanov, who stopped Wilder in an amateur bout, is 36, Jennings is 37, and Welch is 41. Szpilka is 32 but clearly on the downside of his career, Soto is 34, and Kudryashov, who has returned to the cruiserweight division, is 35.

Only Bruzon, at 24, with 6 wins in as many bouts, and the 13-0 Rozicki, at 26, can be regarded as a prospects. Although owning a 12-0 record, Elvis Garcia, at 31, may be a little old to be considered in that category. He's at a stage where he can't afford to take four or five years to develop.

So, if the bridgerweight division gives some fighters, especially aging ones, the opportunity to make some money and be able to tell their grandchildren that they were champions or contenders, so be it. I don't see where the division is going to blemish the history of the heavyweight division. The cruiserweight division certainly didn't and it helped develop fighters like Evander Holyfield, David Haye, and Usyk who went on to capture heavyweight titles.

I liked the WBC's 2012 plan better than this one but I wish all the fighters who compete as bridgerweights the best of luck. I also would have preferred Rivas versus #2 ranked Romanov as the inaugural world title bout because #1 versus #2 is the only legitimate way to fill a vacant title. It's more than a little absurd that the WBC is sanctioning Rivas-Rozicki as their inaugural world title bout but we can only hope that if this division does continue past Rivas-Rozicki, the winner fights Romanov somewhere down the line.



Note: this article was edited on November 16, 2021 to clarify the Welch-Soto IBA World super cruiserweight title/WBC Latino bridgerweight title situation.
 
Article By: Ken Pollitt