For years, boxing fans have yearned for the moment they can call a fighter the undisputed champion of their division. With the WBC, WBA (Super), WBO, IBF and Ring Magazine belts all being considered as legitimate world titles, it’s proving harder and harder to unify each division with one lineal champion.
With Terence Crawford and Julius Indongo squaring off in Nebraska on Saturday to become the only current undisputed king in boxing at any weight division, we look back at some who have achieved this feat before them.
Who’s held all the marbles…?
Muhammad Ali: WBC, WBA (1974-1978)
With ten defences in the heavyweight division in the mid-seventies, ‘The Greatest’ Muhammad Ali, unified the WBC and WBA belts in a competitive division. His dominance of the heavyweight division was confirmed in style in ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ bout with George Foreman where he stopped the heavy-hitting American inside eight rounds in front of passionate support, and cries of “Ali Bomaye”.
Ali was characteristically confident and colourful before the fight. He told interviewer David Frost, “If you think the world was surprised when Nixon resigned, wait ’til I whup Foreman’s behind!”. He also told the world’s media this following historic quote;
“I’ve done something new for this fight. I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.”
With defences including Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, Ali’s reign came to an end in a split decision loss against Leon Spinks in 1978, however Ali was able to gain revenge in their rematch that followed, despite the WBC belt moving elsewhere.
Lennox Lewis: WBC, WBA, IBF (1999-2000)
With a unanimous decision victory over Evander Holyfield in 1999, Lennox Lewis unified the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles seven months after fighting to a draw with ‘The Real Deal’. With this victory Lewis was also award the vacant IBO world title, however ‘The Lion’s’ reign of superiority was short-lived.
Lewis was stripped of his WBA belt due to a contract dispute regarding his first defence of his title, which was written into the contract at the time of Holyfield’s reign. Due to Lewis fighting Michael Grant and Francois Botha in his first two defences instead of the ‘number one contender’ John Ruiz, Lewis’ reign as ‘holding all the marbles’ came to a premature end. With Lewis and his team never refusing to fight Ruiz, the fact that the American heavyweight was too ill for the first fight and refused the second is always the centre of the debate whether Lewis should have been stripped by the WBA.
Mike Tyson: WBC, WBA, IBF (1987-1990)
With a win over Tony Tucker in 1987, ‘Iron Mike’ Tyson unified the WBC, WBA, IBF and later, Ring Magazine heavyweight belts. Winning all three judges scorecards by the scores of 119–111, 118–113 and 116–112 Tyson would become the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Leon Spinks in 1978.
After Tyson’s victory, speculation began over whether or not Tyson would next face undefeated Michael Spinks, who had attended the Tyson–Tucker fight, in order to add the lineal championship to his collection. After three devastating knockout defences against Tyrell Biggs, Larry Holmes and Tony Tubbs, Tyson eventually agreed to fight Spinks in 1988 in a fight that would last only 91 seconds by way of another Tyson KO.
In February 1990 Tyson’s reign would come to an end in unexpected fashion against underdog Buster Douglas. The line of “down goes Tyson!” on the commentary reverberated abound the boxing world as the Tokyo Dome in Japan saw one of the biggest upsets in sporting history.
Roy Jones Jr. WBC, WBA, IBF (1999-2002)
With a unanimous decision victory over Reggie Johnson in 1999, Roy Jones Jr. began his three year reign as the unified WBC, WBA and IBF light heavyweight champion. Defending against David Telesco, Richard Hall and five other contenders, ‘Superman’ moved up to heavyweight, relinquishing his world titles.
Winning world titles in four different weight classes, Roy Jones Jr.’s career is still rumbling on, with an eighth round stoppage win over Bobby Gunn in February this year. With 74 fights on his C.V, father-time is finally catching up with one of the sport’s most respected characters.
Marvin Hagler: WBC, WBA, IBF (1980-1987)
Bar Joe Louis in the 1930’s, no one has defended their status as unified would champion on more occasions that ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. With 12 defences over seven years, the skilled middleweight became the inaugural IBF during this period with a win over Wilford Scypion, in an undefeated streak that lasted eleven years.
In a defining fight against ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard in 1987, Hagler’s run and reign came to an infamous end in a split decision loss in Las Vegas, as we enjoyed the era of the ‘Four Kings’. With wins over Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, Hagler goes down as one of the all time greats in the sport, amassing a record of 62-3-2 in the process.
Bernard Hopkins: WBA, WBC, IBF, WBO (2001-2005)
After stopping Oscar De La Hoya in nine rounds in 2004, ‘B-Hop’ added the WBO to his undisputed status, becoming the first man to ever hold all four titles simultaneously. Previously, Hopkins became the undisputed champion after defeating Félix Trinidad in a middleweight tournament to successfully unify the WBC WBA and IBF belts.
Hopkins would go on to fight Jermain Taylor in back-to-back fights where he lost a split and then unanimous decision to the Canadian, with the IBF title no longer on the line in the second fight due to Taylor taking the rematch over a mandatory defence.
Retiring in December last year, ‘The Alien’ had a prolific career from middleweight to light-heavyweight, amounting to a 55–8–2 record over a 28-year career.
World Boxing Association (WBA), founded in 1921 as the National Boxing Association (NBA); re-founded in 1962
World Boxing Council (WBC), founded in 1963
International Boxing Federation (IBF), founded in 1983
World Boxing Organisation (WBO), founded in 1988
1920–1963, a boxer who held both the NYSAC and NBA (WBA) titles simultaneously
1963–1983, a boxer who held both the WBA and WBC titles simultaneously
1983–2007, a boxer who held the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles simultaneously
2007–present, a boxer who holds the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO titles simultaneously
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