Bridgerweight Explained: All You Need To Know About Boxing’s Newest Division

May 22, 2024
4 weeks
Lawrence Okolie fights for the WBC Bridgerweight title in Poland

Lawrence Okolie is aiming to become a two-weight world champion in Poland on Friday when the British fighter takes on Lukasz Rozanski for the Pole’s WBC Bridgerweight title.

It shines a light on the newest division in professional boxing – a division that has endured some early issues and struggles for legitimacy.

So, ahead of Okolie’s fight with Rozanski, here is everything you need to know about the Bridgerweight class.

Brief History of Bridgerweight

The Bridgerweight division was created at the end of 2020 by the WBC and its president Mauricio Sulaiman. The purpose of the weight class is to serve fighters between cruiserweight and heavyweight, which means it has a weight range of 200lbs to 224lbs.

Sulaiman’s logic was based on two major factors: the changing of the cruiserweight limit to 200lbs (up from 190lbs until 2010) and the increasing size of heavyweight contenders in the modern day.

“Ten years ago the WBC decided to move the limit of the cruiserweight division from 190 to 200 pounds, considering the weight of the athletes, since they have undoubtedly grown in an extremely impressive way,” Sulaiman said in 2020.

“We have decided to create a new division called Bridger, as it is the bridge necessary to serve the large number of boxers who are between 200 and 224-pounds.”

The WBA followed suit by announcing its own Bridgerweight division in December 2023, although the other two major governing bodies – the IBF and WBO – have not formed their own yet.

Why Is It Called Bridgerweight?

While its name seems clear as a bridge between the cruiserweight and heavyweight divisions, there is another meaning to it.

In July 2020, the WBC awarded ‘Honorary’ Champion status to six-year-old Bridger Walker after he saved his sister from a vicious dog attack and sustained serious injuries. To honor his act of courage, the WBC named its new division after the young boy.

“This name is inspired by that hero of humanity, that six-year-old boy who heroically saved his four-year-old sister from an attack by a wild dog during the pandemic,” Sulaiman said. “Yes, this new division is inspired by Bridger Walker.”

Who Are The Bridgerweight Champions?

The first WBC Bridgerweight champion was Colombian fighter Oscar Rivas, who won the title in October 2021 with a unanimous decision victory over Canada’s Ryan Rozicki. Rivas held the belt until January 2023 when it was stripped due to inactivity.

Rozanski became the reigning champion in April last year when the Pole dominated the previously unbeaten Alen Babic inside the first round. He makes his first title defense against Okolie on Friday.

The WBA crowned its first Bridgerweight champion in December after Russian Evgeny Tishchenko stopped Germany’s Leon Harth in the sixth round. However, Tishchenko was soon stripped of the belt and the result changed to a no-contest after he failed a drug test.

Who Else Fights At Bridgerweight?

No household names is the short answer but a few fighters the purists would recognise. Aside from Rozanski, Okolie, and Babic, Tom Schwartz – who fought Tyson Fury after the Briton’s first bout with Deontay Wilder – is ranked in the top 10.

Meanwhile Belgium’s Ryad Merhy, who made his heavyweight debut in a shutout defeat to the highly-rated Jared Anderson in April, is in the top five.

There are several heavyweight fighters whose natural fighting weights would qualify them to compete at Bridgerweight, but former world champion Deontay Wilder and reigning undisputed king Oleksandr Usyk both turned down approaches from the WBC to represent the new division.

What Is The Future Of The Bridgerweight Division?

It looks like the Bridgerweight division is here to stay but plenty more needs to be done to increase its credibility. The only way to effectively achieve legitimacy is to have high-caliber fighters competing for the division’s titles.

No amount of promotion or marketing can sell a sub-standard product, and at present Bridgerweight lags well behind the other heavier divisions; heavyweight is thriving – mainly due to the investment of Saudi Arabia – and just enjoyed its biggest night in 25 years; and cruiserweight has seen the emergence of a world star in Jai Opetaia.

The presence of Okolie – a solid name in the UK – in the next world title fight and its broadcasting on Sky Sports will provide a good platform for the division. Even still, the 6ft 5in British fighter has already targeted a swift step up to heavyweight, so isn’t likely to be in the division for long.

Until it establishes itself as a credible division on its own, and not merely a stepping stone to heavyweight for the more talented big men – and a wasteland for the less talented – then the Bridgerweight division will struggle to cement itself among the longer established weight classes.