This Toronto boxer became a world champion in just 4 matches

Sara Haghighat-Joo stands next to her brother Sasan Haghighat-Joo. She says she decided to get into professional boxing when her brother died in September 2023. (Submitted by Sara Haghighat-Joo - image credit)

It took Sara Haghighat-Joo four matches to become the World Boxing Association's Light Flyweight Champion this year — she said it's the fastest a Canadian boxer has ever become a world champion.

"In pro boxing, there's four world titles. Until I have them all and I'm [the] undisputed champion, that's when I'll be really satisfied and happy," Haghighat-Joo told CBC Toronto.

Boxing wasn't Haghighat-Joo's first choice of sport. She played basketball at her high school in Surrey, B.C. But when her coach told her she would be benched for the season, she went from the court to the ring.

She said her family encouraged her to make the switch.

"Martial arts kind of runs in my family," she said. "My dad was on the Iranian national team for wrestling. So, my brother grew up doing wrestling and kickboxing and all sorts of different martial arts. And so they were 100 per cent for it. My family in general is very competitive."

Haghighat-Joo said she started training with her brother, Sasan, a few times each week, never intending to actually fight. But six months after she began, coach Terry Cooke at the Astoria Boxing Club told her she was ready.

At 16, she won her first match against a girl her age. The next day, she beat a 24-year-old boxer.

It was while fighting on fractured feet at her first national event in 2013 that she met her current coach, Stevie Bailey. Bailey offered to train her and, after attending a two-week camp with him, she made the move half-way across the country to join his gym in Toronto.

Sasan died in September 2023. Haghighat-Joo said her brother always believed in her and told her she would be champion, and she proved him right when she won the World Light Flyweight Championship on April 27.

"I feel like he's almost my guardian angel," Haghighat-Joo said. "I'm doing this for him."

Win will boost local boxing community: referee

Mark Simmons, the referee for Haghighat-Joo's championship fight, said he could tell the fight was going to be good.

"It was intense right from the beginning," he said.

Simmons said he also officiated Haghighat-Joo's first professional match and was surprised how quickly she got a chance at the championship belt.

"I was shocked to be honest that Sara was fighting for the world title in her fourth fight," he said.

The fight — one of just a handful of championship fights in Ontario in the last three decades, according to Simmons — will bolster the province's boxing community. Having championship-level bouts will motivate boxers and trainers alike, Simmons said, while also making officials like him up their game.

Fighter's goal is to become undisputed world champion

CBC Toronto met with Haghighat-Joo at the West End Athletic Club in Etobicoke. Bailey said she's the club's first world champion, and they even sell pink T-shirts with "Team Sara" written on them.

LISTEN | Haghighat-Joo on her boxing journey:

Haghighat-Joo said she plans to put her belt on the line for a shot at another title this fall — a step toward claiming all four professional boxing championships and becoming the undisputed world champion.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is getting Haghighat-Joo to slow down, Bailey said.

"She doesn't like to take many breaks," he said.