Although this story is not new, I have been hesitant to shed any light on boxing’s newest division, Bridgerweight. I did not want to give the move any legitimacy but four days ago ESPN put up an article announcing the inaugural title fight to start this division. Former title challenger Bryant Jennings and heavyweight contender Oscar Rivas are set to meet in a rematch to decide the division’s first champion. In their initial meeting Jennings was knocked out in the final round of a close fight. Rivas went on to lose his next fight against Dillian Whyte by unanimous decision and Jennings lost to Joe Joyce. I am not going to crap on the fight because I think it is a good match up and the first fight was good enough. My issue is the bullshit division being created and even then, are these two even the best in this category? The division is 200-224 and Jennings is 0-2 since 2019 and has not had a top level win since 2014 when he defeated Mike Perez. Rivas lost to Whyte and sat out the entire 2020. This doesn’t scream title fight but I guess when it is such a niche weight and the best small heavyweights want to stay at heavyweight I guess its slim pickings.
I have several gripes with this move and will dive into them down below:
Watered Down Titles: One of the biggest problems in boxing today is the diluting of what it means to be a champion. There are already seventeen weight divisions and four major title organizations with the WBC, WBA, WBO, and IBF. This has lead to second tier guys winning championships and the best in each division often not meeting because they can get a title fight without fighting other top contenders who go for other belts and then they are not obligated to meet once they have titles. With four belts it has also become easier to win titles in multiple divisions. Henry Armstrong won titles in the eight division days when he had to climb from 126 to 135 to 147 and he didn’t have a scenario where the champion might have been barely in the top ten. I think of fighters like Adrien Broner who has four titles in four divisions but only one of those titles was really against a fighter who could arguably have been the best in their division. Those weights were also 130, 135, 140 and 147 meaning he only went up seventeen pounds to get four titles while Armstrong had to climb twenty-one pounds to get three titles. Even a legend like Manny Pacquiao who I would not disparage picked off an easy mark at lightweight in David Diaz while the division saw Juan Diaz holding two belts and Joel Casamayor reigning as the Ring Magazine Champion. He again won his eighth championship by fighting Antonio Margarito who never competed in the weight class before and was coming off the loss to Shane Mosely, a lay off and a non-descript tune up win. This paragraph is not to put down Broner or Pacquiao but to highlight the ways in which too many weights and too many belts waters down accomplishments and creates environments where fighters can earn a title without facing the top contenders and in some cases less than worthy “champions”. Though us hardcore boxing aficionados know who the real champions are the regular sports fan who occasionally watches boxing does not and trying to follow the sport for a newcomer is confusing to say the least.
Sanctioning Bodies Go Along: What I mean by this is the sanctioning bodies tend to jump in on a trend that another one starts. The WBC was the first to legitimize the cruiserweights and now they all do. The IBF was the first to legitimize super middleweight, now they all do. Interim champions have all been adopted in all four organizations and applied in scenarios far removed from their original intention. The WBA made a mockery of their own title by making classifications of “regular” and “super” champion and sometimes have thrown in interim and had three guys calling themselves world champion in addition to the other three sanctioning bodies. With that precedent in mind the WBC created their “franchise title” and now there are scenarios where they have two champions at a division, notably lightweight, where Devin Haney and Teofimo Lopez argue their own legitimacy. I bring this up because the IBF, WBO, and WBA all have not decided to go along with the bullshit but if history shows us anything it won’t be long before they do.
There is a strong possibility this division will be a wasteland: Though cruiserweight was established in the 1970’s it never really was taken seriously up until recently. It took nine years for Evander Holyfield to become the division’s first undisputed champion and it took two decades for the division to crown a second. Historically cruiserweight has been a pass through division and in many ways still is. In the 1980’s and 1990’s most fighters who won a title at cruiserweight soon moved up like Orlin Norris or Al Cole. Michael Moorer skipped the division entirely as did Michael Spinks in their quest for the heavyweight title. The longest reigning champions in the division’s history were mostly from recent years and most of them still climbed up to the heavyweight division even if it was just to try it out. Will Bridgerweight attract real talent and form memorable champions and great fights or will it be a barren wasteland where guys go to get notoriety and go on to heavyweight where the money is. Likewise, will cruiserweights bypass the division all together and compete at heavyweight directly like light heavyweights used to do to the cruiserweight division?
I don’t fully agree with the premise: Admittedly, I like the cruiserweight division as it combines the power and strength of heavyweights but maintains the conditioning and athleticism closer to the middleweights. Also, it reminds me of the classic heavyweights like Joe Louis and Joe Frazier whom their statures remind me of. That said there are plenty of big athletic heavyweights like Tyson Fury who is incredibly gifted while being massive. And despite this idea that heavyweights are getting too big the little heavyweights have not been so completely phased out. Holyfield went from cruiserweight to four time heavyweight champion, David Haye went from cruiserweight to defeat seven foot tall 300 pound Nikolai Valuev to win the WBA Heavyweight Title, and Oleksandr Usyk went from the first four belt cruiserweight champion to current leading contender for Anthony Joshua’s WBO belt. Cruiserweight sized heavyweights can still compete in the division as many await Murat Gassiev’s heavyweight run following a cruiserweight career with plenty of success and current Cruiserweight kingpin Marias Briedis KO’d recent WBA “regular” titlist Manuel Charr. Deontay Wilder though standing tall at 6’7″ is not that big for a heavyweight and weighed 219 when he won the title and weighed 214, 212, and 219 in his title defenses. He was outweighed by 44 pounds by Tyson Fury the first time around and knocked him cold for a brief moment in the final round. Even Anthony Joshua dropped ten pounds to avenge his Andy Ruiz loss and has remained lean with a 240 lb. weigh in in the Kubrat Pulev fight. My point is heavyweights are not getting dramatically bigger and even if they have gotten bigger since the 1990’s early 2000’s the guys this division claims to be protecting don’t necessarily need the protection.