NEW YORK — Alycia Baumgardner was throwing slower punches toward the end, looking like she’d thrown every punch she had. And in some ways, perhaps she had.
The three-belt junior lightweight titlist already had knocked down Elhem Mekhaled two times and come close to a third, and now, all Baumgardner needed to do was close out the fight.
Following a unanimous decision win (99-89, 99-89, 98-90), she saw her dream realized: Baumgardner became the undisputed junior lightweight champion.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” she said. “I just know I had an assignment in front of me to make sure I had a dominating win, and that’s what we did.
“It’ll probably hit me tomorrow.”
In the co-feature Saturday night at a packed Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater, Baumgardner came out living up to her nickname of “The Bomb.” She landed massive shot after massive shot in the first three rounds and looked like she might get a third-round stoppage.
“You know when you hit hard, you know, you throwing bombs in there, you get a little, you know, you got to get that back,” Baumgardner said in the postfight ring interview. “But again, you know, I listened to my corner, I used my jab, I let that be the dictator on the round. And again, I just use my jab and punched off that.”
But Mekhaled (15-2, 3 KOs) held on in the round and, eventually, for the rest of the fight. It was the 31-year-old Parisian boxer who looked stronger in the final three rounds, including appearing to stun Baumgardner once, though Mekhaled didn’t do enough to score a knockdown of her own.
Instead, the 28-year-old Baumgardner (14-1, 7 KOs) continued to push on her own, landing just enough shots to keep each of those rounds close and stop Mekhaled from gaining too much momentum. Baumgardner, who was born in Fremont, Ohio, and lives in Detroit, said after the fight that she had started her period on Saturday, so “I dug deep” to get through the bout.
“I won’t know until I fight, and it kind of hit me in the little later rounds,” Baumgardner said. “But again, you can’t beat me on my worst day, and it just shows how strong a woman is, and you push through and you get the job done.”
Baumgardner said Mekhaled’s resiliency made Saturday’s fight more difficult in some ways than her October bout against Mikaela Mayer, when Baumgardner won the WBO and IBF titles.
While it didn’t show on the judges’ scorecards, Mekhaled appeared to get stronger as the fight continued.
“I wouldn’t have wanted anybody else for this undisputed fight,” Baumgardner said. “It showed me as a fighter what I need to work on.”
As Baumgardner added, “That should tell you that women can do it all. I showed discipline and grit. Hard work. You know, I had to fight who I had to fight, and I got here and I came out successful.”
Baumgardner said she wants big fights going forward, particularly mentioning undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor. Baumgardner indicated she also would be open to fighting undisputed junior welterweight champion Chantelle Cameron and undisputed featherweight champion Amanda Serrano and would like to eventually have a homecoming fight in Detroit.
Matchroom boxing promoter Eddie Hearn said the four undisputed champions from featherweight to junior welterweight could all potentially fight each other at some point.
“I want that challenge,” Baumgardner said. “I want to challenge myself. That’s the only way I’m going to know where I am and how I can be better. And I want that.”
Saturday’s victory capped a massive 15 months for Baumgardner, ESPN’s No. 4 pound-for-pound fighter. The stretch began in November 2021, when she went to the United Kingdom and won the WBC belt by knocking out Terri Harper. After beating Edith Soledad Matthysse in a mandatory defense in the U.K. in April 2022, Baumgardner beat Mayer for the IBF and WBO belts in October.
And then came Saturday — a day when she became undisputed by picking up the vacant WBA title in winning her first fight in the United States since August 2021.
“Here we are today,” Baumgardner said. “If you can believe in yourself and you can do it, it shows. And dreams do come true.”