Oscar Rivas outlasted undefeated knockout artist Ryan Rozicki to win the inaugural WBC Bridgeweight Championship. Judges Joze Manzur (116-111), Juan Carlos Pelayo (115-112) and Jack Woodburn (115-112) all comfortably won Rivas after twelve very entertaining rounds on Friday night at the Olympia Theater in Montreal, Canada.
The fight crowns the first champion in the WBC-exclusive 224-pound weight division that was formed last December.
Rozicki took the fight on barely three weeks’ notice, replacing Bryant Jennings of Philadelphia who was uncomfortable with Canada’s 14-day quarantine policy for unvaccinated visitors by withdrawing from the historic fight. Rozicki’s decision to accept the fight meant moving up from cruiserweight, although it wasn’t a drastic change in scale. Rozicki weighed 203 pounds, a career heaviest but only 2 ¼ pounds as he weighed 200 ¾ on his professional debut five years ago almost to the day.
Rivas weighed 222 for the occasion, slightly heavier than his career lightest 221 pounds just seven months ago as he began his transformation from heavyweight contender to aspiring bridgeweight king at 34 and over. 12 years in his professional career.
The 2008 Colombian Olympian, now based in Montreal, got off to an explosive start, taking on Rozicki head-to-head and asserting himself up close. Rivas landed a hook with both right and left hands to tip his undefeated foe late into the frame, continuing to apply heavy pressure in the second round.
Rozicki did his best to weather the storm, to the point of watching Rivas gasp throughout a competitive third round. The 26-year-old from Nova Scotia has had success with overhand rights, which Rivas took well but failed to respond with an equalizer for the first time in bout.
The same pattern was maintained in the fourth round, with Rozicki in the lead and Rivas looking for a second wind.
Rivas regained control of the fight midway through, appearing to have outlived Rozicki’s best. Rivas worked the body, landing left hooks at the bottom and moving up to the top, cutting off the right hands.
Rozicki saw the seventh round of a fight for the first time in his career, having been a knockout each time and having done so in six rounds or less before Friday. The sight of uncharted territory didn’t worry Rozicki, who described himself before the fight as a modern-day Jack Dempsey and made his presence felt with a jackhammer in one right hand while fighting with it. a bloody nose.
Rivas spent most of the second half of the fight working the jab and attempting to box from the outside. It didn’t always work, although enough straight shots went to the middle to cause blood to leak from Rozicki’s already broken nose.
Rozicki never stopped coming forward, even though it was almost his loss in the eleventh round. Rivas spent the first part of the frame fighting largely behind his jab before going on the attack in the last minute. An overhand right brought Rozicki’s header back, as did a left hook and right uppercut. Rozicki stepped forward but never left his feet and even managed a right hand between incoming punches.
Rivas built up a big enough lead that a point deduction in the twelfth round couldn’t deny his place in history. Rozicki did his best to pull victory from the clutches of defeat, as well as extend his perfect knockout-to-win streak through 13 pro fights, but ultimately ran out of time. It was a courageous performance for the career cruiserweight, who rose to 13-1 (13KOs) but no doubt won fans with his performance.
Rivas moves up to 28-1 (19KO) with the win, his second in a row since a twelve-round loss to Dillian Whyte over two years ago on the road in London, England. Rivas was among the first to raise his hand when the WBC began talks last summer about creating the bridgerweight division and was fully invested when it was officially launched.
It’s only fitting that he serves as a divisional ambassador, surviving a hellish brawl to become the first to claim the crown.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox