CHRISTINA LINARDATOU WILL return to the ring Saturday against Mikaela Mayer. While no title will be on the line, it’s a fight of significance, as Mayer is the type of opponent Linardatou worked toward facing again.

However, it’s just not the fight — or fighter — she initially wanted or expected to see.

Linardatou had been the WBO’s mandatory challenger for Chantelle Cameron’s undisputed junior welterweight championship. Linardatou held the WBO title in 2021 when she became pregnant. To not hold up the division, Linardatou vacated her belt with the understanding she’d be the mandatory challenger to whoever was the champion after she had her child and was ready to return.

And she did become the mandatory challenger after Cameron defeated Jessica McCaskill in November. However, this came with a literal cost — which is why Linardatou is fighting Mayer at lightweight on Saturday (ESPN+, 3 p.m. ET).

The WBO has no exception for purse splits for a fighter vacating her title due to pregnancy, meaning Linardatou was treated as any other mandatory challenger would, following WBO rules — a 75-25 split for the champion.

“I was a two-time world champion, and I was coming back. I vacated the title, so I was supposed to be treated like [a champion],” Linardatou said.

When reached by ESPN, the WBO confirmed it has no pregnancy exceptions, and WBO president Francisco Valcarcel told ESPN the organization was just following its bylaws.

Bylaws that focus on a fighter being out due to injury — not pregnancy.

“I’m telling you that we have the rules, and we work with the rules, you know,” Valcarcel said. “When that happens with the champion, the champion is unavailable to fight because he got injured or something like that, if [a fighter] cannot continue, we declare the title vacant. And then when [the fighter is] able to fight, he comes back and he follows the rules. We have a champion, 75-25 [split] for the champion.

“It’s the same rule for male and female.”

If a fighter is pregnant, the WBO title is vacated, Valcarcel said. When the fighter is ready to return, she will be installed as the mandatory challenger following a comeback fight. Valcarcel said the WBO did not consider making Linardatou a champion in recess or champion emeritus when she became pregnant because it is not something the organization does. Valcarcel said the WBO considers interim titles only in “exceptional” cases.

“When you opt to fight for the title and you decide to fight for the title, you got the conditions there,” Valcarcel said. “This is the condition we have. You agree or not. If you don’t agree with that, then you can go to other organizations and fight because nobody forces you to fight.”

When asked why the WBO doesn’t have a separate rule for pregnant fighters, Valcarcel said the only person to mention it was Linardatou’s promoter, Lou DiBella.

Valcarcel said anyone could raise the issue at the organization’s annual convention to potentially put a rule in place for fighters who become pregnant. Valcarcel declined to say whether or not he believes there should be a stipulation in place for pregnant fighters because he didn’t want to influence voting on any issue that may come to the WBO in the future.

A spokesperson for the WBC told ESPN it takes every fighter on a case-by-case basis, but in the case of a pregnant champion, the WBC would name the fighter a champion in recess. When the pregnant champion returned, the WBC would order a fight between the champion in recess and the current champion with a 50-50 purse split.

The WBA declares the pregnant champion a champion-in-recess, president Gilberto Mendoza told ESPN. When the fighter is ready to return she will fight the current champion with a 65-35 split going to the current champion. Mendoza said, though, he is open to talking with his board about revamping the WBA plan for pregnant fighters.

The IBF told ESPN that a champion who becomes pregnant is granted an exception by the organization — an extension due to pregnancy exists in the bylaws — and “the IBF has been flexible with the time needed as circumstances vary by case.” The IBF, if this occurred, would proceed with an interim champion while the pregnant champion was unavailable.

The WBO has no such policy in place.

WHEN LINARDATOU DISCOVERED she was pregnant, she figured she could still do some running and lifting to stay in shape. Then she felt a massive pain in her stomach and doctors told her she suffered a placental abruption.

Linardatou was confined to bed rest for a month. Training was no longer an option for the rest of her pregnancy. All she was allowed to do was walk.

Even while pregnant, Linardatou planned a return to boxing. This was her career, which she’d spent most of the last decade working toward. Initially, Linardatou wanted to wait until after her career to have children.

Linardatou gave birth to her son, Apollo, in September 2021. By that November, she resumed training. She told ESPN she gained nearly 30 pounds during her pregnancy. The first day back was “hell.” Linardatou could barely run. She felt like she was starting “from zero.”

“All the time I have doubts. I was like, ‘Am I going to be the same? Am I going to do it? Can I? It’s difficult,'” Linardatou said. “… I had been working for years and years and years to get myself to where I was, and then, now, I have to work one year, maybe less, to get myself again to where I was.”

Linardatou balanced motherhood and her training, sometimes even bringing Apollo to the gym. She slowly began to get back to her fighting weight and her training capabilities.

On July 27, 2022, she fought Aleksandra Vujovic in a six-round fight at junior welterweight, winning a unanimous decision in a tune-up fight required before she could request to become the mandatory challenger for the WBO title.

After Cameron beat McCaskill on Nov. 5, DiBella emailed the WBO asking Linardatou to be granted mandatory challenger status. The WBO obliged — at the 75-25 purse split.

LINARDATOU KNEW THE Cameron opportunity was big, even if she felt uncomfortable with the finances. Then another offer popped up: to fight Mayer. It wouldn’t be for a title — but the pay was far more reasonable, and the fight would get good attention.

Mayer was coming off her first career loss in October to now-undisputed junior lightweight champion Alycia Baumgardner. Mayer didn’t want to slow down and asked for a difficult fight. She had her eyes on former champion Delfine Persson, but she wasn’t available. Top Rank and Mayer then approached Linardatou.

Linardatou hadn’t fought at lightweight since 2016, when she lost to Persoon for the WBC lightweight title. She fought at junior lightweight once after, beating Baumgardner by split decision in Louisville in 2018. Linardatou is the only fighter to beat Baumgardner.

The fight intrigued Mayer.

It was not the fight Linardatou wanted, but it was the one that made sense to her financially — title or not. DiBella told ESPN the fight with Mayer will pay Linardatou “significantly more” than what the 75-25 split would have gotten her for the potential Cameron fight.

“We didn’t have a deal, a good deal,” Linardatou said. “So that’s why I took the fight with Mikaela Mayer and I preferred that fight, even if it’s not for a world title.”

Linardatou wants to ensure that future fighters don’t have to go through what she did — vacating her title due to pregnancy, only to be treated to a tougher wage situation when they return. Linardatou said she believes every organization should have rules to protect fighters who become pregnant.

She wants to see fighters immediately be given a chance to regain their title after a comeback fight to be treated like the champion they were before they gave birth. She wants the sanctioning bodies to allow a 50-50 purse split in instances of pregnancy.

“A champion that is a world champion that is coming back deserves that,” Linardatou said. “Because they should have more rules to protect them.”

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Christina Linardatou opens up about her pregnancy, her return, and why she vacated her title