Boxing’s newest weight division now has its first official title fight of sorts on the books.
Fresh off of a recent rust-shaking win earlier this month, Kevin Lerena will now dip his toe into the shallow waters of the World Boxing Council (WBC) Bridgerweight division. The top-rated cruiserweight from Johannesburg, South Africa will next face Belgium’s Bilal Laggoune for WBC "Silver" Bridgerweight title, to take place March 13 at the famed Emperors Palace in Kempton Park, South Africa.
“It’s on,” Rodney Berman, Lerena’s co-promoter exclaimed in formally announcing the event. “Lerena the first boxer to contest [for] a WBC [Bridgerweight] title. 13 March, Lerena/Laggoune for the Bridgerweight silver title at the palace of dreams on your world champions.”
The newly formed Bridgerweight division carries a maximum weight limit of 224 pounds. The winner of the bout will be named as a top contender to the still-vacant world title.
Lerena (26-1, 13KOs) has campaigned for most of his career in the cruiserweight division, where he has held the International Boxing Organization (IBO) title since September 2017. The 28-year old southpaw took a break from cruiserweight in his most recent outing, a 5th round stoppage of Patrick Ferguson on December 19 at Emperors Palace where he weighed 211 ¼ pounds.
It appears his next bout will now take place at around that same mark, as part of the first-ever sanctioned Bridgerweight fight. Lerena is ranked No. 3 in the division, which introduced its first set of rankings earlier this month.
Laggoune (25-2-2, 14KOs)—ranked No. 12 at Bridgerweight—has also traditionally campaigned in the cruiserweight division. The 28-year old from Aalst, Belgium is coming off of a 12-round majority decision defeat to Tommy McCarthy in their EBU cruiserweight title fight this past Halloween at SSE Arena, Wembley.
The loss snapped a five-fight win streak Laggoune after moving back up in weight following a brief stint at light heavyweight, though fluctuating between heavyweight and cruiserweight from his first few years as a pro. The upcoming clash with Lerena—who has won 15 straight dating back to 2015—will mark Laggoune’s first career fight outside of Europe and second straight on the road after having fought exclusively in Belgium.
Criticism continues to swirl around the formation of the Bridgerweight division, which was first introduced by legendary matchmaker and boxing historian Don Majeski during the annual WBC convention this past August. In his presentation, Majeski used the WBC’s Top 40 heavyweight rankings as evidence of quality to be found in rolling out an 18th weight class.
Unfortunately, top-tier talents have decline to participate, including former heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (42-1-1, 41KOs), former World cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13KOs) and current top-rated heavyweight contender Michael Hunter (19-1-1, 13KOs).
“Usyk is one of the best cruiserweights in boxing history,” Mauricio Sulaiman, president of WBC previous told BoxingScene.com. “We have now seen him fight twice at heavyweight, including his fantastic win over Derek Chisora. Usyk is now looking at an opportunity to challenge (unified heavyweight titlist) Anthony Joshua, which will generate a lot of money. Usyk is the (WBO heavyweight) mandatory challenger, and we at the WBC most certainly respect his decision to pursue and reach that goal of winning the heavyweight title under those conditions.
“Deontay Wilder has his mind made up to pursue (a third fight) with our WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. So, even though Deontay Wilder and Oleksandr Usyk can both fight at Bridgerweight, we don’t see them making any such plans at this time (and therefore won’t be ranked).”
From there came the first set of rankings, largely limited to those who’ve expressed a participatory interest. The current No. 1 Bridgerweight contender is Oscar Rivas, a 33-year old heavyweight contender from Montreal by way of Colombia whom he represented in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Rivas’ inclusion was met with sharp criticism, having not weighed 224 pounds or lighter since his second pro fight, nor any lighter than 228 ¼ pounds in the past ten years. In his most recent start, Rivas weighed 239 ¼ pounds in a tightly contested points loss to Dillian Whyte last July in London. Despite this, the once-beaten heavyweight contender has assured the WBC of his commitment to at least entertain the concept of competing at the weight.
For now, the Bridgerweight division remains between the 200-pound cruiserweight limit and the unlimited heavyweight division, which the WBC now classifies as anyone weighing above 224-pounds. A more radical shift—though perhaps practical, if universally embraced—calls for the Mexico City-headquartered sanctioning body to lower the cruiserweight limit to 190 pounds, the original limit when first introduced as the Junior Heavyweight division more than 40 years ago. The limit was raised to 200 pounds in 2003.
The division is named after Bridger Walker, a six-year old boy from Wyoming who was universally celebrated for his act of heroism in rescuing his four-year old sister from being attacked by a one-year old German shepherd this past July. Walker was then attacked by the dog, who latched onto the boy’s cheek leaving a deep scar which required more than 90 stitches during a two-hour emergency surgery.
Walker’s act was lauded worldwide, though the WBC’s attempt to honor his efforts hasn’t yet warmed over boxing’s frigid and historically bitter fanbase. Time will tell whether the division’s first sanctioned bout will help break the ice.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox