There are seventeen weight classes in men’s boxing, excluding a bridgerweight division that appears for now to be dead on the launch pad. Only three currently feature fighters who hold all four (WBA/WBC/IBF/WBO) of the major alphabet belts in their division: Devin Haney, Jermell Charlo, and Saul Alvarez.
Naoya Inoue briefly joined them in late 2022 but vacated at bantamweight to pursue titles at Jr. featherweight. Josh Taylor had them all a year ago but has given up or been stripped three since a debated February 2022 victory over Jack Catterall. Throw in several fighters with 2 or 3 of the major belts (Oleksandr Usyk, Artur Beterbiev, Gennadiy Golovkin, Errol Spence, Stephen Fulton, Murodjon Akhmadaliev), and one could argue we are living through one of the least chaotic title scenes since the IBF and WBO further muddied the waters in the 1980s.
It’s still more chaotic than the title scene women’s boxing has right now and we’re set to get more clarity there on Saturday (DAZN, 8 PM EST).
Women’s boxing has fifteen widely recognized weight classes ranging from 102 pounds (atomweight) to 168 pounds (super middleweight). There are occasionally fights contested for titles above that but the talent pools are so thin as to essentially make super middleweight the top of the scale.
Five of those divisions have undisputed queens:
- Franchon Crews-Dezurn (168)
- Claressa Shields (160)
- Jessica McCaskill (147)
- Chantelle Cameron (140)
- Katie Taylor (135)
This weekend, barring a draw, featherweight and Jr. lightweight will swell the number of undisputed champions to seven in fifteen weight classes. There are also partially unified titlists like Natasha Jonas, Jessica Nery Plata, and Yokasta Valle.
Coming off what can easily be argued as the best year in women’s boxing history, in the ring and at the box office, the fights this weekend lean into why the long struggling women’s side of the sport seems to be growing.
The bottom line: they’re fighting the fights.
While women’s boxing isn’t knocking on the sort of big dollar doors men’s boxing has at its highest levels, we’re a far cry from the inconsistent ability to even get TV we’ve seen in the years since Christy Martin hit the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The 34-year old Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KO), Puerto Rican-born and calling Brooklyn home, will headline this weekend at the Madison Square Garden Theatre. The WBC, IBF, IBO and WBO featherweight titlist will face Mexico’s 32-year old WBA titlist Erika Cruz Hernandez (15-1, 3 KO). Serrano has won titles in every weight class from 115 to 140 pounds but never been undisputed. Hernandez is the obstacle in her path.
On the undercard, at Jr. lightweight, 28-year old Alycia Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KO) of Detroit will carry her WBC, IBF, IBO and WBO titles into a defense against France’s 31-year old Elhem Mekhaled (15-1, 3 KO). The vacant WBA strap will also be on the line meaning the winner leaves with all the marbles.
It’s not just the belt collection that’s appealing. Not every ‘undisputed’ fight is particularly interesting (see: Inoue-Paul Butler) before or during the fight. It’s the clash we’re seeing between these top talents as well.
Serrano’s failed challenge of Taylor last year at lightweight made for a genuine superfight. Shields, who also has a lineal claim at Jr. middleweight, holds a win over Crews-Dezurn. Taylor has a win over the unified Jr. middleweight titlist Jonas. Before Baumgardner won a unification clash with Mikaela Mayer last year, she won her first belt with a knockout of Terri Harper. Harper has since won a belt at Jr. middleweight and she and Jonas fought a few years ago to a draw at Jr. lightweight. Cameron defended her Jr. welterweight titles (and added two more vacant titles) in a clash of champions with McCaskill late last year.
This is a model for the sort of competition boxing fans say they want to see and it’s got to be a part of why respect for women’s boxing around the boxing world is up. While the depth in any of the women’s divisions still lags well behind their men’s counterparts, their top talents are putting their best fist forward and there is no sign of it stopping.
This weekend could set the stage for possibilities like Serrano-Taylor II, Serrano-Baumgardner, or new forces emerging in Hernandez and Mekhaled. In boxing, almost as important as getting the right big fights is having the next fight to look forward to and thinking there is at least a better than even chance we’ll see it.
Saturday is a card that fulfills that notion.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.
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