“The mission I set out on in the beginning – to become heavyweight champion of the world, undisputed, lineal champion – you could say that mission is complete.”
That quote by Lennox Lewis not only summed up his brilliant career but nicely concludes the journey of this six-piece timeline from 1885 to 2016. Before the official end but by no means the definitive ending lets jump all the way back to 1990 when Evander Holyfield dethroned Buster Douglas to collect the lineal title.
It wasn’t until April of 1991 that Holyfield made his first defense and it was in a fight billed as a “Battle for the Ages” against 42-year-old George Forman who had returned to the ring in 1987 after a ten-year lay-off. To many people’s surprise Foreman managed to last the full twelve and even knocked the champ off balance in the seventh but Holyfield outpointed his much older challenger.
Everyone in world boxing wanted to see one fight and that of course was Holyfield verses Mike Tyson. The fight was initially signed in November 1991, but the colossus bout was first delayed due to Tyson getting injured before the former champ was eventually sentenced to six years in prison for rape. The next logical opponent for Holyfield was WBO champion Francesco Damiani, but that fight was scrapped due to the Italian picking up an injury. In the end Holyfield stopped Bert Cooper in seven-rounds after receiving his first ever standing eight-count.
In 1992, Holyfield defeated former lineal champion Larry Holmes by unanimous decision before agreeing to fight the 1988 Olympic silver medallist Riddick Bowe on November 13. It was a gruelling fight that Bowe won by unanimous decision in Las Vegas, Nevada, the tenth-round in particular was one for the ages.
Bowe was now the new undisputed – discounting the WBO version – and linear heavyweight champion. The first defense of his titles was supposed to be against Olympic rival Lennox Lewis who had just stopped Donovan ‘Razor’ Ruddock in two-rounds. All four originally agreed to fight the winners from each bout but after a dispute over financial splits – sound familiar? – Bowe famously held a press conference to announce that he will relinquish the WBC title and threw it in the dustbin.
Although Bowe was no longer the WBC champ, he was of course still considered the linear. He successfully defended his titles in 1993 with two knockout victories over Michael Dokes and Jessie Ferguson. Almost a year to the day on November 6, Bowe and Holyfield signed for their rematch to take place in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Holyfield won by majority decision, but the fight was more famously remembered for when parachutist James “Fan Man” Miller landed in the ring during the fight.
Holyfield became the third man in heavyweight history to regain the lineal title after securing revenge against Bowe. In his first defence in April 1994, he took on another undefeated fighter Michael Moorer, who was also a former WBO light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion. Holyfield knocked down Moorer in the second-round, but the challenger recovered well to become the first-ever southpaw heavyweight champion winning by a majority decision.
By November 1994, the lineal title changed hands once again when ‘Double M’ lost his unbeaten record to the now 45-year-old George Forman by a tenth-round knockout. Moorer was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards until he was caught by a short right-hand that knocked him down for the ten-count. Forman became the oldest fighter ever to win the world heavyweight title and the fourth to regain it.
Foreman’s second reign was an fantastic achievement but the fact that he decided to fight low-ranked opponents rather then top contenders showed flaws within the linear timeline. The new champion was stripped of the WBA title before he could defend it because he refused to fight their number one contender Tony Tucker. Instead Foreman fought the IBF mandatory, German Axel Schulz which he won dubiously on points. The IBF ordered an immediate rematch in Germany but Foreman once again refused to cave in to yet another governing bodies demands so was stripped of his remaining title.
Without a recognised version of heavyweight gold Foreman was still considered the lineal heavyweight champion. In 1996, he defeated Crawford Grimsley in Tokyo on points before winning a close decision in a tough encounter against Lou Savarese in 1997.
While Big George’s second reign began to discredit the ‘linage legacy’ there were credible champions holding world titles; Holyfield was the new unified champion holding the WBA & IBF versions following an eleventh-round stoppage against a returning Mike Tyson in 1996 before the famous ‘Bite Fight’ in 1997, while two Brit’s Lewis and Herbie Hide held the WBC and WBO titles respectively. At the ripe age of 48-years-old Foreman agreed to face Shannon Briggs in an “eliminator bout” for the WBC strap. Briggs outpointed Foreman in a controversial majority decision to become recognised as the new lineal champion.
On March 28, 1998, Lewis defeated Briggs by a technical knockout in the fifth-round to retain his WBC title and claim the lineal championship giving its standing credibility once again. Following a unanimous decision victory against the awkward Zeljko Mavrovic, Lewis and Holyfield battled out a controversial draw in New York City in 1999.
Due to the contentious decision in the first fight it was inevitable that a rematch would follow to decide who would be considered the undisputed heavyweight champion. Sequels are rarely as good as the first but in the case of Lewis verse Holyfield their rematch was a lot more entertaining. The British-Canadian showed his class by outpointing Holyfield unanimously in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lewis reigned supreme by the turn of the millennium with wins over Michael Grant, Francois Botha and David Tua, albeit without the WBA title that he was stripped of following the Holyfield victory which was just another sanctioning body flexing its ego. By 2001, the boxing fan and his mother were shouting from the rooftops for Lewis and Tyson to finally share a ring but before that fight could happen Lewis had to deal with Hasim Rahman in Brakpan, South Africa. In a shock result it was Rahman that knocked out Lewis in five-rounds to collect all the marbles. Seven months later Lewis secured revenge with a fourth-round knockout of Rahman to become the fifth man in heavyweight history to regain the lineal title.
Finally, to everyone’s delight Lewis and Tyson took to the ring on June 8, 2002 at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee. In the highest-grossing event in pay-per-view history Lewis knocked out Tyson in the eighth-round to cement his legacy as one of the greatest heavyweights of not only his era but of all time.
A year later at the Staples Centre, Los Angeles, Lewis fought his last professional bout against Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko. Although, behind on the score cards at the time of the stoppage due to a severe cut Lewis was awarded the victory by technical knockout. Lennox Lewis announced his retirement in February 2004 creating another break in the lineal championship timeline.
Many boxing fans consider the lineal heavyweight title as vacant from the point that Lewis decided to hang up his gloves, but the historic title was in fact put on the line when younger brother of Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir fought Uzbekistani Ruslan Chagaev in 2009. The then unified heavyweight champ Klitschko beat Chagaev into submission in Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
Know body can discredit Wladimir of his lineal status after a decade of heavyweight domination. The Ukrainian was a formidable force for six-years defeating the top contenders of his generation such as; Eddie Chambers, Samuel Peter, David Haye, Jean-Marc Mormeck, Tony Thompson, Alexander Povetkin, Kubrat Pulev and Bryant Jennings as well as others.
It wasn’t until November 28, 2015 that Klitschko was finally defeated by Britain’s Tyson Fury in Dusseldorf, Germany. In an unexciting and uneventful clash of styles Fury outthought and outwitted the former champion to become unified and lineal heavyweight champion by unanimous decision.
Following months of failed negotiations for a rematch, a failed drugs test, relinquishment of the titles he had won and in the end retirement from boxing, the lineal championship title became vacant in 2016.
Even though Fury has since come out of retirement and claimed to be still the lineal heavyweight champion history suggests otherwise. None of the former champions from yesteryear ever returned as champion but merely the challenger.
When James Jefferies buckled under public demand to return to the ring against champion Jack Johnson, we did not ignore the five-year gap following Jeffries retirement in 1905. That would discredit a chunk of Johnson’s reign and the champions before him. The same goes for when Muhammed Ali was unfairly stripped of his title after refusing to induct himself into the armed forces for the Vietnam War. Both came back as challengers to the throne, never a champion.
Some say the lineal title can only be lost in the ring, hence “the man that beat the man” but unfortunately that is unrealistic if you take into consideration the former champions who retired undefeated. A new man will always rise to the top eventually, whether that man will be Fury again, Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder remains to be seen. The only way to clear up that argument is quite simple, they need to fight eachother.
The other problem with Fury’s claim is the acceptance of the failed drugs test, which has never happened in the history of the lineal title’s existence or at least been proven. To vacate and be stripped of your titles because you decide to retire is one thing but to fail a drugs test is nothing short of scandalous. Some suggest that there are certain politics involved and the case isn’t as open as shut as some may think, but Fury’s acknowledgment and acceptance of the ban would make even his most loyal fan question that decision.
However you want to perceive the current status of this historic title is your personal opinion, but my conclusion is the lineal championship will continue to remain vacant until we have an undisputed heavyweight champion once again. Let’s just hope that the current heavyweights can follow in the same footsteps as the linear greats.
Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
In the summer of 2016 British and Irish boxing had an unprecedented 13 recognised world champions, spanning across 10 different weight classes.
Within the last couple of years, we have managed to maintain double figures across 9 weight classes but since November 2018 there has been worrying decline to just 6. As we head into the next couple of weeks where two of our former world champions Anthony Crolla and Amir Khan attempt to defy the odds against the two-best pound for pounders in the world today, I can’t help but wonder if we will ever reach such dizzy heights again?
There is no doubt that the recent retirements of David Haye, Tony Bellew, James DeGale and George Groves have impacted on our recent fall from grace so to quote Sir Winston Churchill, who has the ability to “Take up the mantle of change. For this is your time.”
To kickstart our resurgence we have two very realistic chances of world championship glory starting with a 24-year-old that was born in Ghana but made in Britain, Isaac Dogboe. The former WBO Super-Bantamweight champion is on a revenge mission against Emanuel Navarrete on May 11 at the Convention Centre in Arizona, USA. If the talented youngster has prepared correctly, he should have more than enough quality to produce the goods and reclaim the title he lost last year.
Exactly one week later in Glasgow, Scotland another talented youngster gets his first crack at a world title in the semi-final of the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS). Super-Lightweight Josh Taylor will be rubbing shoulders with our homegrown elite in the future but first he will need to capture the IBF strap from undefeated Belarusian Ivan Baranchyk. Come the end of May we should have 2 more world champions.
On June 15 at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, England, IBF Featherweight champion Josh Warrington faces mandatory challenger Kid Galahad. The ‘Leeds Warrior’ will unusually be the favourite to prevail, whether that will make any difference remains to be seen. Either way Britain will still have a World Champion after this domestic dust-up.
Except for Crolla and Khan we have no more Brits currently scheduled to challenge for world honours so with nothing else but speculation and rumours, the question remains who else can stake their claim.
This week news circulated that Light-Heavyweight Anthony Yarde had agreed terms to fight WBO champion Sergey Kovalev this summer in Russia, according to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum. There has been no official announcement but with the continued speculation in recent months this fight looks like it could happen. With the Russian approaching the end of his career and Yarde heading into his prime this could be perfect timing for ‘The Beast’. His chances are realistic even though he is stepping into uncharted territory.
Former WBO Middleweight Champion Billy Joe Saunders is a genuine world champion without a title due to his own stupidity after failing a drugs test and being subsequently banned for 6-months. Following his suspension being lifted, Saunders has now moved up to the 168lb division and will fight Serbian Shefat Isufi on May 18 at Stevenage’s Lamex Stadium. Victory will hand Saunders the interim WBO Super-Middleweight title due to Gilberto Ramirez moving up to Light-Heavyweight. If the Mexican decides to remain at in the 175lb division then the interim title would become full champion.
Sticking with the 168lb division Chris Eubank Jr who recently captured the lesser IBO title when he defeated James DeGale in February must fancy his chances of picking up the more recognised title. Not to discredit the current IBF and WBC title holders, Caleb Plant and Anthony Dirrell but Junior is more than capable of dethroning either champion if he could produce a similar performance to the one, he put in against Degale. Who knows maybe Eubank Jr and Saunders could cross paths once again in a unification come the end of the year?
Northern Ireland’s Ryan Burnett had the misfortune of losing for the first time in his career after succumbing to an unfortunate injury in the WBSS quarter-final against Nonito Donaire which cost him the WBA strap. The classy Bantamweight should be preparing for a unification fight against the WBO king Zolani Tete, instead he is in recovery and searching for a way back in amongst the elite of the division. Rather than wait for the WBSS to be completed, Team-Burnett should be looking at negotiating with WBC champion Nordine Oubaali? The 26-year-old has the tools necessary to defeat the Frenchman which in turn could put himself in position to fight the WBSS winner come 2020.
When browsing through all the current world champions across 17 weight classes and to not disrespect any of the current holders there are clear targets our British and Irish boxers must have identified.
For instance, I’m sure Eddie Hearn would be keen to get his top 2 Light-Middleweights Kell Brook and Liam Smith a shot at Tony Harrison’s WBC title. Although, it does look like Jermell Charlo will get first dibs for his chance to recapture the belt he lost in a rematch but Brook and Smith would still fancy their chances against either.
In the glamour division Shawn Porter is the current WBC champion but the likes of Khan and Brook – if he came back down to 147 – would definitely be confident of picking up a victory against the durable American.
At Lightweight Richard Commey holds the IBF version and would clearly have his card marked by our experienced former world champions Ricky Burns and Lee Selby. If any of those 2 could successfully secure a fight with Ghanaian Commey they wouldn’t only be in with decent shot of victory but they could also set-up a huge payday against the kings of the division Vasyl Lomachenko and Mikey Garcia, just like their fellow Brit Crolla.
While there are plenty of options for our homegrown fighters the likelihood of any of these fights coming to fruition is only hopeful at best. We do still need our current champions to hold onto their straps with the ambition of unifying. The target of matching or surpassing the class of 2016 come the end of this year is hardly unlikely but our chances of reaching double figures once again is certainly possible. Who knows maybe Crolla and Khan can achieve the impossible dream but if we’re being honest, a chance will be a fine thing.
While watching an excellent fight between two unbeaten prospects in Scott Fitzgerald and Anthony Fowler at the M&S Echo Arena in Liverpool, England on Saturday night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of when George Groves met James DeGale in 2011.
Going into the fight Fowler was (9-0, 8KOs) with the highly decorated amateur career and the favorite to prevail, just like Olympic gold medalist DeGale who was (10-0, 8KOs). Groves had a record of (12-0, 10KOs) and was the slight underdog, a lot like Fitzgerald (12-0, 9KOs).
Groves and DeGale had a rivalry that stretched back to the amateurs with a clear disliking for one other, exactly like Fitzgerald and Fowler. While one was fought at Super-Middleweight and the other at Light-Middleweight, both were close technical affairs that were eagerly anticipated on the domestic scene. The difference was the Groves points victory over DeGale was over shadowed with controversy while Fitzgerald’s tenth-round knockdown of Fowler cemented his win.
Like 8-years ago many fans and pundits have expressed their desire to see a rematch especially considering how close the fight was leading up to the knock down in the last round. If Fowler had managed to stay on his feet than it would have been the Liverpudlian who would have had his hand risen by referee Steve Gray if you take the judges’ scorecards into consideration of 94-95 twice in Fitzgerald’s favor and 96-94 in Fowler’s.
One thing missing from this integrin match-up was the British title which is currently held by the third man in the domestic 154lb triangle Ted Cheeseman. The British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) did originally sanction Cheesman vs Fowler but following his defeat the stewards have withdrawn ‘The Machine’ and installed Fitzgerald. Both camps have until April 10 to agree terms.
If the Preston fighter decides not to challenge for the beautiful Londsdale belt than a rematch with Fowler would create even more excitement. Considering the quality of the fight between two guys that are only at the early stages of their pro careers a second bout could easily be a headliner of an event in the summer.
Speaking of headliners, Liam Smith’s comprehensive victory over Sam Eggington was no surprise. ‘Beefy’ demonstrated once again why he is currently the only fighter in the 11st division that could potentially dethrone Kell Brook for the No.1 slot in Britain. Trainer Joe Gallagher signalled his desire to target unbeaten EBU European champion Sergio Garcia before attempting to mix it with the worlds elite once again.
While Eggington should probably consider stepping back down to the Welterweight division were his power is clearly more effective. ‘The Savage’ is still only 25-years-old and has plenty of time on his side to reserect himself on the domestic and possibly European scene at 147lbs.
Also on the Liverpool bill there was a fight to sink your teeth into, quite literally between Kash Ali and David Price. Ali was disqualified for persistent biting after Big Pricey landed a big shot in the fifth-round that clearly hurt his Birmingham opponent.
After the Liverpool giant’s 24th victory he called for a showdown against the winner of Dave Allen and Lucas Brown who face-off on April 20 at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London. There is of course the option of taking on the winner of Dereck Chisora or Senad Gashi who also feature on the same bill.
To conclude, the next question would be will Fitzgerald and Fowler be able to fulfill their potential and follow in the footsteps of Groves and DeGale? Let’s hope that a rematch will follow or at least happen sometime down the line, unlike their predecessors. Of course, only time will tell but I’m sure a certain Mr Cheeseman will have something to say about where they’re futures will end up. One thing is for sure, the British Light-Middleweight division has become a whole lot more exciting and it will be fun watching how each fighter develops.
Matchroom Boxing has been rightly criticized in recent months for their below average fight cards in Britain but the Saturday night show at the M&S Echo Arena in Liverpool, England has the potential to keep the doubters quiet and the broadcasters at Sky Sports relatively happy, for a while at least.
After all the success in the last few years and endless recognition for playing their part in the British Boxing boom, it’s been a poor start to the year by their standards. I’m sure Eddie Hearn would have to admit that the quality has slipped since the launch of DAZN in America.
Matchroom Boxing’s stand-out show so far was last Weekend at the Copper Box Arena which was headlined by WBC Flyweight champion Charlie Edwards alongside a strong London association of fighters including the new British champions in Cruiserweight Lawrence Okolie and Light-Heavyweight Joshua Buatsi.
Matchroom clearly over shadowed the Queensbury Promotions night over on BT Sport which incidentally was on at the same time, even though Frank Warren went on record at the start of the year stating that these kinds of clashes would not happen. The only silver lining is at least they weren’t pay-per-view. With so many events scheduled this calendar year, it’s inevitable that fans will be torn between shows.
Getting back to this Weekends action, Matchroom’s new signing Liam Smith (26-2-1, 14KOs) will headline against Sam Eggington (24-5, 15KOs) alongside a strong Merseyside connection with every fight involving a Liverpudlian. This should add a bit spice to the atmosphere with clear fan favorites to support.
Starting with the main event, Light Middleweight Smith is coming off the back of a defeat to Mexican sensation Jaime Munguia in the summer of last year. The 30-year-old makes his long-awaited home return after almost a three-year absence. ‘Beefy’ is the former WBO champion at 154lbs and has only ever failed against the world’s elite but has excelled at domestic level.
Sandwiched in-between his defeats to Canelo and Munguia, Smith overcame Liam Williams twice winning the first inside nine-rounds due to a serious cut and the second by majority decision. With a combined opponent record of (396-383-2) the British No.2 will be the overwhelming favorite against his younger and tough Brummie opponent.
Eggington is a former EBU European Welterweight champion who featured in two prize-fighter tournaments early in his career before finding his feet in the professional ranks. ‘The Savage’ has claimed some decent scalps throughout his career with excellent wins over Frankie Gavin, Glenn Foot and Ceferino Rodrigue but his eighth-round knockout of a faded Paulie Malignaggi is a clear highlight so far.
Since moving up in weight Eggington has won 3 out of 4 but holds a combined opponent record of (355-271-25) which indicates the number of guys he has fought with winning records.
This probably shouldn’t be a headliner, but it is a decent fight, nevertheless. Smith has shared the ring with some real quality operators and has all the fundamentals necessary to beat Eggington convincing although, he is five-years his senior so youth may play a part. Eggington’s come forward style will suite Smith if he picks his shots wisely and keeps him on the backfoot.
In Eggington’s last defeat against a natural Light-Middleweight Hassan Mwakiny he was stopped in the second-round. Eggington will stand toe-to-toe and take unnecessary shots when in trouble. His instinct is not to clinch, get out of danger or even cover up for that matter therefore Smith will be too strong and clever for Eggington. I’m going with a mid-round stoppage, possibly a liver shot by Smith.
There is a tasty domestic encounter on the undercard also in the 154lb division between two unbeaten and untested fighters Anthony Fowler (9-0) and Scott Fitzgerald (12-0). Whoever gets the win will be in line for a shot at the British title against Ted Cheeseman so there is a lot at stake. It’s great that both have decided to take this fight so early in their careers, a gamble that both will learn more from in this one fight alone. I’m going for a Fowler victory.
The once upon a time darling of Matchroom boxing David Price (23-6, 19KOs) makes his long-awaited return to the Echo Arena after almost a six-year absence. The last time big Pricey made his walk to the ring in the same venue was on July 6, 2013, in the rematch against Tony Thompson. The 6’ 8” giant was originally tipped for stardom in the Heavyweight division at that point but as we all know those plans never materialized.
Price’s opponent is a 27-year-old unbeaten but untested Heavyweight Kash Ali (15-0, 7KOs) from Birmingham. I have a feeling this could be the last time we see Price in a boxing ring if he was to lose. Personally, I hope he gets the win and decides to call it a day on a positive note in front of his beloved Liverpudlians, rather than become a stepping stone for our young British prospects.
In the 140lb division EBU European champion Joe Hughes (17-3-1, 7KOs) defends his title against the British champion Robbie Davies Jnr (17-1, 12KOs) in another excellent domestic tear-up. In the same division Commonwealth champion Phillip Bowes (19-3, 3KOs) defends his strap against Tom Farrell (16-1, 5KOs).
Also, on the card is Cruiserweight Craig Glover (9-1, 8KOs), undefeated Jr Welterweight Gerard Carroll (9-0, 0KOs), Bantamweight Paul Butler (27-1, 14KOs), Jr Lightweight Natasha Jonas (6-1, 5KOs) and debutant Thomas Whittaker Hart.
Enjoy the fights ladies and gents & Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin’ Boxing with Billy C Show this Sunday, you can also follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
“My power is discombobulating devastating. I could feel his muscle tissues collapse under my force. It’s ludicrous these mortals even attempt to enter my realm.”
Those famous words were uttered by one of the most feared and ruthless heavyweights gloved boxing had ever seen in its 133-year existence. ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson was an intimidating figure with destructive power that dominated the late eighties.
Before the rise of Tyson, heavyweight boxing had a difficult 16-months following the retirement of Muhammed Ali with no recognized world number one and the lineal title rightfully vacant. It was also the first time since 1970 that the WBC and WBA world titles were separated.
The WBA waited for the official retirement announcement from Ali before ordering a fight between two undefeated fighters in John Tate and South African Gerrie Coetzee which the American won by unanimous decision.
While the WBC kicked off the first brainless act in 1978 when they stripped Leon Spinks for agreeing to have a rematch with Ali rather than face their number one contender Ken Norton. Controversially they awarded Norton their title for his victory over Jimmy Young the year before. In Norton’s first defense he lost against undefeated and number one contender Larry Holmes by split decision in a classic encounter.
Although there were effectively two world champions at the same time during the next four years, it was the WBC title that intertwined with the Lineal championship.
Holmes retained his title against Alfredo Evangelista in 1978 and Ossie Ocasio in 1979 by knockout before hard fought wins over Mike Weaver and Earnie Shavers, both were stopped late after putting the champ down.
At the turn of the new decade, ‘The Easton Assassin’ recorded three more knockout victories over Lorenzo Zanon, Leroy Jones, and Scott LeDoux before Muhammad Ali came out of retirement in an attempt of becoming a four-time heavyweight world champion.
On October 2, 1980, Holmes won every round of a one-sided dominant display before Angelo Dundee pulled out the ‘Greatest of all Time’ in the tenth-round. After the fight the new lineal world champion emotionally said, “I fought one of the baddest heavyweights in the world today, and you cannot take credit from him.”
Even though Larry Holmes had beaten a clearly faded Muhammed Ali to be identified as the lineal champ, there was no doubt that he was now the numero uno of the division, irrespective of Mike Weaver collecting the WBA title from Tate a few months earlier.
Holmes continued to dominate the division for the next few years with eight consecutive victories, four by stoppage against top contenders like Trevor Berbick, Leon Spinks, Gerry Cooney, Randell Cobb and Tim Witherspoon from 1980 to 1983.
After the fifth-round stoppage of Scott Frank in September 1983, the WBC flexed their muscles by not sanctioning Holmes’ next fight against Mavis Frazier – son of Joe Frazier – instead they ordered their number one contender Greg Paige. Following Holmes first-round knockout of Frazier he decided to relinquish the WBC championship and accepted recognition as the first World Heavyweight Champion by the newly formed International Boxing Federation (IBF).
From 1984 to May 1985 Holmes clocked up three more title defenses against James Smith, David Bey and Carl Williams before stepping into the ring with the hope of equaling Rocky Marciano’s 49-0 career record against Michael Spinks, the brother of Leon Spinks. On September 21, 1985 Holmes missed the opportunity to make history losing by a contentious unanimous decision to ‘Jinx’ who became the second fighter after Bob Fitzsimmons to win both light heavyweight and heavyweight titles.
In 1986, all three major governing bodies agreed to allow their fighters to participate in a heavyweight unification series which was created by Don King and HBO Sports president Seth Abraham, with the hope of crowning an undisputed champion. The rematch between Holmes and Spinks was added to the series which Spinks won by a fifteen-round split decision on April 19.
Spinks retained the Lineal and IBF titles with a knockout win over Norwegian Steffan Tangstead in four-rounds but was later stripped by the IBF half way through the tournament because he chose to fight Gerry Cooney instead of his mandatory, Tony Tucker. While, Spinks retained his lineal status with a fifth-round knockout of Cooney there was a young superstar that was emerging from the series.
Mike Tyson was only 20-years-old with a record of 27 wins and 25 knockouts before he brutally destroyed Trevor Berbick in two-rounds to collect the WBC title in 1986, becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in history. Next up for Tyson was WBA champion James Smith who managed to take the young starlet the entire distance using grappling tactics but lost by unanimous decision in 1987.
Later that year Tyson, now a unified champion defended his titles with a sixth-round stoppage over Pinklon Thomas before becoming the first ever heavyweight to hold all three major titles when he collected the IBF strap with a unanimous decision victory over Tony Tucker in the series final, dubbed ‘The Ultimate’.
Rather than rest on his laurels and wait for Spinks to cave in to public demand to identify the true champion ‘Iron’ Mike knocked out Tyrell Biggs in seven, Larry Holmes in four and Tony Tubbs in two-rounds.
Finally, on June 27, 1988, Tyson faced Michael Spinks for the right to become the official number one heavyweight in the world. Tyson had plenty of his opponents already beaten before they even entered the ring, but none looked as terrified as Spinks did that night in Atlantic City. Tyson finished the job in just 91 seconds to retain the WBC, WBA, IBF and become the new Lineal world heavyweight champion.
Tyson defended his titles twice in 1989, a fifth-round stoppage over Frank Bruno and a first-round destruction of Carl Williams seemed to secure his status as the unstoppable force. While Tyson was still knocking people out a brand-new boxing organization was created that same year. The World Boxing Organization (WBO) became the fourth governing body awarding Italian Francesco Damiani their heavyweight title after a third-round knockout victory over Johnny DuPlooy.
By the start of the new decade the champ’s personal life was beginning to fall into disarray but in what should have still been a standard defense against Buster Douglas turned into one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. On February 11, 1990 in Tokyo, Japan, James ‘Buster’ Douglas survived an eighth-round knockdown to knockout the ‘Baddest man on the planet’ in the tenth to become the new heavyweight champion but not quite undisputed.
In the aftermath of the victory the IBF recognized Douglas immediately as their champion, but the WBA and WBC refused to do so following a protest from Tyson for the length of the referees ten count in the eighth-round knockdown. After Tyson officially withdrew his appeal Douglas was finally recognized as the undisputed champion.
However, Douglas’ reign was short lived when in his first defense against the former undisputed cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield – who was promised a title shot against Tyson before the Douglas fight – ended in a third-round knockout loss in October 1990. There was a new heavyweight king in town by the start of the nineties and it was the 31st Lineal Heavyweight Champion Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1990-2016. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
“What we saw in Quezon City, capital of the Philippines, in midweek represented a shining flood of that purity. To say so is not to claim that the third and last meeting of Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali would leave all who witnessed it ready to embrace the values of the prize-ring. Those 40-odd minutes of unremitting violence must have had the opposite effect on many. They would recoil from the thought that two men who were formidable in so many ways should seek to express themselves through an exchange of suffering, and especially they would wince at the sight of Frazier, his marvellous body reduced to a dilapidated, lurching vehicle for his unyielding will, reeling blindly in the murderous crossfire of the world champion’s final assaults.”
That beautifully crafted piece of writing described the extraordinary spectacle of the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ by The Guardian’s greatest sports observer, Hugh McIlvanney, who we sadly lost this year. Before we arrive to that unrivalled heavyweight duel, we must first straighten out any confusion that was left behind following Muhammed Ali’s exile from boxing in 1967 for draft evasion.
As mentioned in previous articles before there were breaks in the linear timeline but what makes this hiatus, so scandalous is Muhammad Ali was stripped because of his views away from the ring and not because he was calling it a day due to father-time. Robbing us of his prime years.
Both boxing governing bodies decided to remove Ali as their recognized heavyweight champion which effectively meant that Ali was no longer the Lineal Champion.
The WBA arranged an eight-man elimination tournament which included all the top contenders to the throne, except for Joe Frazier who turned down the opportunity.
On August 5, 1967, Jimmy Ellis (23-5, 11KOs), beat Leotis Martin (24-1, 14KOs) by a ninth-round knockout while Thad Spencer (31-5, 14KOs) outpointed Ernie Terrell (39-5,18KOs) on the same card in Houston, Texas.
Hard hitting Argentine Oscar Bonavena (30-3, 25 KO’s) traveled to Frankfurt and outpointed German Karl Mildenburger (52-3-3, 19KOs) before Jerry Quarry (24-1-4, 14KOs) won a close split decision against Floyd Patterson (46-5-1, 35KOs) in Los Angeles, California.
In Louisville, Kentucky, it was the home fighter Jimmy Ellis that produced a career best performance to win a unanimous decision against Bonavena, while in the other semi-final Quarry beat Spencer by a twelfth-round stoppage. On April 27, 1968, Jimmy Ellis won the vacant WBA heavyweight title by majority decision over fellow American Quarry in Oakland, California.
The WBC stated they would only recognize a fight between New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) champion ’Smokin’ Joe Frazier – won against Buster Mathis in 1968 – and a suitable contender for their world title to be put on the line.
Like when Floyd Patterson’s trainer Cus D’Amato tried to avoid Sony Liston in the early sixties, Angelo Dundee refused to entertain a unification bout between his fighter Jimmy Ellis and Joe Frazier, but like the decade before it was just a matter of time. It took 2-years before the fight was eventually signed with both heavyweight straps and the lineal title up for grabs. On February 16, 1970, ‘Smokin’ Joe became the 21st lineal heavyweight champion when he made light work of Ellis at Madison Square Garden. Dundee refused to let Ellis out for the fifth round following two knockdowns in the fourth.
Although Frazier was considered as the official number one in the heavyweight division the imminent return of the former champion Muhammed Ali bought his status into disrepute. In his first defense Frazier stopped arguably one of the best Light Heavyweight’s in Bob Foster after just 2-rounds, while Ali returned with two wins against credible opponents Quarry and Bonavena.
Ali and Frazier set a date for their first encounter in Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, budded ‘Fight of the Century’. With all the marbles on the table and their undefeated records on the line it was Frazier that won a close unanimous decision after putting Ali down in a memorable last round with his trademark left hook.
Frazier made two more successful defenses against Terry Daniels and Ron Stander before agreeing to face a 24-year-old George Foreman who had a record of 37-0 and 34 knockouts on January 22, 1973 in Kingston, Jamaica. The ‘Sunshine Showdown’ lasted only two-rounds with Frazier being knocked down six-times in the second-round before referee Arthur Mercante put an end to the one-sided beat down.
Big George’s first defense was in Tokyo, Japan against Puerto Rican Jose Roman which only lasted 2-minutes. His next defense was on March 26, 1974 against Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela. Once again Foreman stopped the bout in ruthless fashion, a knockout in just two-rounds ended the ‘Caracas Caper’.
Muhammad Ali would be Foreman’s next opponent who had remarkably won 13 of his last 14 fights in a 3-year period since defeat to Frazier in 1971. The former champion’s only loss came against Foreman’s last opponent Norton by split decision, but he gained revenge 6-months later. On January 28, 1974 Ali evened the score with Frazier at Madison Square Garden by unanimous decision setting up a meeting with champion Foreman.
In Kinshasa, Zaire on October 30, 1974, in a fight dubbed as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’, a 32-year-old Ali was on yet another mission to shock the world like he did 9-years earlier against Liston. While the media worried for Ali’s health, Ali adopted the “rope-a-dope”. A tactic used to tire out your opponent while taking punishment, which seemed ridiculous and dangerous considering Foreman’s punching power but ended up being genius move. Muhammed Ali became the second man in lineal heavyweight history to retain the title when he stopped Foreman in round 8.
After the heroics in Zaire, Ali defended his titles against Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle and Joe Bugner before agreeing to a third and final meeting on October 1, 1975 against Frazier, famously known as ’The Thrilla in Manila’. In sweltering temperatures of 100 °F (38 °C) Ali and Frazier produced one of the greatest 14-rounds of heavyweight boxing you’ll ever see that at times defied belief. The fight was stopped when Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch pulled his fighter out before the final round, despite protests from Frazier.
Muhammed Ali retained the title for six more bouts until February 15, 1978, when he lost to 6-0-1 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks by split decision in Las Vegas. On September 15, 1978 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the age of 36-years-old Muhammad Ali became the first heavyweight champion to retain the lineal title for the third time. After the historic victory Ali, announced his retirement from boxing leaving the title vacant once again.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1979-1990. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
“If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So, I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”
Those powerful words were proudly and elegantly articulated by the late great Muhammed Ali after refusing to be drafted into the United States army during the Vietnam War. Before we look into why there was a third break in the Lineal timeline lets pick-up from where we left off in 1956.
Rather than simply order a fight between the top two contenders following Rocky’s early retirement the International Boxing Club chose to order an elimination tournament to crown Marciano’s successor.
Floyd Patterson who was ranked as the number one light heavyweight by Ring Magazine, outpointed Tommy Jackson in his first ever heavyweight fight to setup a showdown with Archie Moore for the vacant title.
The ‘Gentleman of Boxing’ produced one of his finest performances as a heavyweight in 1956, stopping the ‘Old Mongoose’ in the fifth round to become the first Olympic gold medalist and youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history, at the tender age of 21 years.
Not too different to today’s era Patterson who was guided by Cus D’Amato – the same Cus that introduced a young Mike Tyson into boxing – decided to ease his new champion into the division by carefully selecting fringe contenders for his first defenses. D’Amato was clearly avoiding a certain rising star Sony Liston who was starting to make a name for himself by demolishing the better opposition.
In 1959, Patterson was supposed to make light work his of Swedish opponent Ingemar Johansson, but bad judgment resulted in a third-round stoppage after the American was knocked down seven-times, losing his world heavyweight crown. Johansson became a national hero overnight and was cheered by 20,000 fans when he returned to his hometown in Gothenburg.
On June 20, 1960, in New York City Patterson knocked Johansson out in the fifth round to become the first man to recover the world undisputed heavyweight title. The left hook that Patterson landed was so devastating that Johansson remained flat on his back for a further five minutes after being counted out.
After a rubber match victory over the Swede by a sixth-round knockout, Patterson defended his title once more before number-one contender Liston could not be avoided anymore. D’Amato did not want to entertain a fight with Liston because of his mob connections but to get the fight signed Patterson removed his manager from handling his business affairs.
Before Patterson fought Liston the National Boxing Association (NBA) rebranded themselves as the WBA on August 23, 1962, a year before the WBC was founded in July 22, 1963.
In Chicago, 1962, Liston was in a destructive mood knocking out Patterson in the first round, the third-fastest knockout in boxing history. A year later the rematch took place in Las Vegas and Liston once again ended the contest in round-one becoming the first to hold the newly named WBA title and first official new WBC heavyweight champion.
A young brash Olympic gold medalist from the 1960 games in Rome would be Liston’s second defense in 1964. Cassius Clay was his name, but he would later become Muhammad Ali the ‘Greatest of all Time’. Many pundits favored Liston, but Ali produced a massive upset to win the fight after the champ failed to emerge from his corner in the seventh. “I am the greatest! I shook up the world,” Ali shouted to those that doubted him.
On May 25, 1965, the stupidity of boxing’s Governing Bodies emerged when the WBA stripped Ali of their title because the new heavyweight champion refused to fight their mandatory in favor of a rematch with Liston. Ernie Terrell defeated Eddie Machen to collect a version of the title, but everyone knew who the real champion was. Ali won the rematch against Liston to retain the WBC title and his Lineal status in 1965 with the famous, “phantom punch” which was officiated by Jersey Joe Walcott.
In 1965 Ali defeated Floyd Patterson by technical knock-out in the twelfth-round before traveling to Canada and Europe to defend his titles against George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London and Karl Mildenberger. Ali returned to America in 1966 and stopped Cleveland Williams in three-rounds, unify and outpoint Ernie Terrell and knockout Zora Folley in seven.
At the age of 25-years-old, Muhammed Ali was stripped of his titles and passport, had his boxing license suspended, sentenced to five years in prison and hit with a $10,000 fine for refusing to be inducted into the armed forces during the Vietnam conflict. The champ paid his bond and remained free until his case worked its way through the appeal process. He did not lace-up a glove to compete in the ring from March 1967 to October 1970, robbing Ali of his prime years.
So, what of the Lineal title? Well, the WBA chose to stage an eight-man tournament that featured most of the top contenders while the WBC strap remained vacant until 1970.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1967-1979. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
“Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit.”
Those famous words were orignally coined by the great Joe Louis, before Mike Tyson repeated a simular line in 1987. But before we delve into the Joe Louis era let’s continue from where I left off in 1928, when Gene Tunney had just announced his retirement.
It took 2-years until promoters organized the ‘Battle of the Continents,’ between German Max Schmeling and American Jack Sharkey. Schmeling became the first man to win a heavyweight championship by disqualification after Sharkey delivered a low-blow.
After just one credible defense against Young Stribling, Schmeling controversially lost his title in a rematch with Sharkey in 1932. One year later the ‘Boston Gob’ made his first defense against Primo Carnera after defeating the Italian previously, he was knocked out in the sixth round of their second meeting.
In 1934, Carnera lost to Max Baer after getting knocked down multiple times before referee Arthur Donovon stopped the fight. Almost a year to the day of winning the heavyweight title Baer lost in a shock defeat against hand-picked James J. Braddock by a 15-round unanimous decision.
Even though the newly coined ‘Cinderella man’ held the title for 2-years he never made a single defense because the American public were worried that a loss to Max Schmeling would result in the Nazis keeping the title and denying a US fighter the chance to ever win it back.
Eventually, Joe Louis was given the title shot in 1937, and after being knocked down in round one recovered to dominate and knock Braddock out cold in round-eight.
Joe Louis refused to recognize himself as the champ until he avenged his sole defeat of former champion Max Schmeling. After three successful defenses, the rematch in 1938 was considered one of the most famous boxing matches in the 20th century.
Nazi Germany was a year away from starting World War 2 and Schmeling was their boxing poster boy, this wasn’t just a boxing match it was more than that. “I had my own personal reasons and the whole damned country was depending on me,” said Louis.
The Yankee Stadium was the venue with 70,043 fans in attendance as they witnessed the ‘Brown Bomber’ demolish Schmeling in two-minutes and four seconds.
From 1939 through to May 1941, Louis defended his title thirteen times with wins over Louis Galento, Bob Pastor, Abe Simon and Buddy Baer, among others before his hard-fought victory over Billy Conn. Before the rematch with Conn, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Louis voluntarily enlisted for the United States Army in 1942 before he was released from military service in 1945.
Louis resumed his career with a victory over Conn and two wins over Jersey Joe Walcott before he offically retired in 1949. Due to financial problems Louis was forced back into the ring only to be outpointed by Ezzard Charles in 1950, becoming the recognized Lineal Champion after defeating Jersey Joe Walcott in June 1949 for the vacant heavyweight strap.
The ‘Cincinnati Cobra’ made successful defenses against Walcott in their rematch, Lee Oma and Joey Maxim before losing in his third meeting with Walcott by a knockout in the seventh round. Jersey Joe Walcott became the oldest man to hold the crown at 37-years-old before retaining the title against arch-rival Charles in their fourth and final meeting.
Jersey Joe defended the title against undefeated legend Rocky Marciano on September 23, 1952. The champion floored Marciano in the first round and was ahead on the scorecards going into the thirteenth round when both threw right-hands but Rocky’s powerful right dubbed ‘Suzie Q’ landed first knocking Walcott out, becoming the nineteenth world heavyweight champion.
In six defenses from 1952-1956 Marciano defeated Walcott by a first-round knockout in their rematch, Roland La Starza, Ezzard Charles (twice), Don Cockell and Archie Moore. At the relatively young age of 32-years-old with a record of 49-0 Rocky announced his retirement from boxing leaving the world heavyweight title vacant once again and creating the second break in the Lineal timeline.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1956-1966. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23
“They said I was only a glove fighter and I was afraid of the bare knuckles. For that reason, I consented to fight Ryan as I did. I think I have proved that I can fight with my knuckles, and now anyone who wants to tackle me will have to do it in my fashion. I will not fight again with the bare knuckles because I do not wish to put myself in a position amenable to the law. Fist-fighting days are over with me. I have introduced the new rules of fighting to this country and I intend to stand by them.”
That statement was issued by John Lawrence Sullivan in 1882 after knocking out Paddy Ryan within nine-rounds. The ‘Boston Strong Boy’ is the first recognized lineal heavyweight champion in the gloved-era and the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champion, universally known as “The Man who Beat the Man”.
Although, the Marquis Queensberry rules were not introduced until 1885 – a code of generally accepted rules in the sport of boxing – Sullivan did in fact participate in the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title fight which lasted 75-rounds against Jake Kilrain in 1889.
Officially, the Cyber Boxing Zone (CBZ) acknowledge John L. Sullivan as the first Heavyweight Champion under the Queensberry Rules after his victory against Dominick McCaffery in 1885. Sully was eventually dethroned by a 21st round knockout upset by James J. Corbett at the Olympic Club, New Orleans in 1892.
The new champion made just one defense of the title in a 5-year period – boxing was outlawed in most states during that time – he was stopped with a “solar plexus” punch in the 14th round by British boxing legend Bob Fitzsimmons.
Fitzsimmons become the lightest heavyweight champion in history but lost his title in 1899 to James J. Jeffries who will later be budded America’s ‘Great White Hope’, in the Jack Johnson era.
Jeffries held his title until retiring in 1905 after defeating Corbet twice and Fitzsimmons for a second time in a brutal fight were the Brit was in complete control until he was knocked out with a left-hand in the 8th round.
After six years of dominance Jeffries stepped aside leaving the Heavyweight title vacant for the first time since its existence. It was decided that after a victory over Jack Johnson in 1905 that Marvin Hart deserved a shot against top-ranked Jack Root who had already beaten Hart 3-years prior. With Jefferies officiating the fight in Reno, Nevada, ‘The Louisville Plumber’ knocked out Root in the 12th round.
Hart’s reign was short lived as underdog Tommy Burns who was (2-1) at the time won a 20-round decision and went on to defend his title eleven times, although some reports suggest thirteen, if the rumor of two defenses in one night were true?
In December 1908, Burns became the first heavyweight champion to agree a fight with an African American, and that opponent was none other than Jack Johnson. The fight was held in Sydney, Australia and it was stopped in the 14th round by the police. Referee Hugh McIntosh awarded the decision to Jack Johnson who became the first African American heavyweight champion, 6-years after lightweight Joe Gans became the first African American boxing champion.
The ‘Galveston Giant’ defended his title 10-times from 1908-1915 defeating significant opponents like Stanley Ketchel who had his front teeth knocked out and former champion labelled the ‘Great White Hope’ James J. Jefferies, who came of retirement to save the championship. Johnson dominated in a one-sided beat down before Jeffries was saved from further punishment by his corner when they threw in the towel.
Like in today’s era, some fighters are not given an opportunity to challenge for a world title. Sam Langford was the world colored heavyweight champion in 1913 and should have been given his shot but instead Johnson fought Battling Jim Johnson. In 1915, Johnson’s domination was brought to a shuttering end when he was knocked out in the 26th round by Jess Willard.
Although Willard fought several times, he only ever defended his title once against Frank Moran before Jack Dempsey became the first man to knock Willard down, in fact he knocked him down seven-times in round one before Willard retired on his stool in 1919.
Dempsey was a cultural icon in the 1920’s with many of his fights setting financial and attendance records, including the first million-dollar gate. Dempsey defended his title six-times with notable victories over Frenchmen Georges Carpentier and Tommy Gibbons before losing a 10-round decision over Gene Tunney in 1926.
Tunney was only ever defeated once in his career by Harry Grebb before winning the world heavyweight title against Dempsey. He went on to defend against Dempsey a year later in the famous ‘Long Count Fight’ and stop Tom Heeney in 1928 before retiring as champion.
Like in 1905 when Jeffries retired as world heavyweight champion the title became vacant, but this time Tunney never came out of retirement to lose his title which created the first break in the heavyweight lineal timeline.
Check out the next installment of The Lineal Heavyweight Championship Timeline from 1928-1956. Don’t forget to listen-in to the Talkin Boxing with Billy C Show and follow me on Twitter@JohnnoSE23