In professional boxing, the lineal championship of a weight class is a notional world championship title. It is initially held at some moment in time by a boxer regarded as the "true" world champion, and universally acclaimed as the best in the class. Another boxer can win the lineal championship only by defeating the reigning lineal champion in the ring. The lineal champion is described as "the man who beat the man". When a reigning Lineal Champion retires or leaves the weight class, a new Lineal Champion is usually accepted only when the two highest rated contenders meet in the ring.
The concept was developed by boxing fans dissatisfied by the tendency of each of the various sanctioning bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF, etc.) to recognize different champions, and in particular to strip a champion of his title for refusing to fight its top-ranked contender. Prior to the 1970s, this rarely happened; the National Boxing Association (NBA) and the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) sometimes recognized different champions, but there was usually only a short interval before one champion defeated the other. The "lineal championship" is intended as a return to that era. Several top boxers have specified holding the lineal championship as a personal accomplishment (e.g., Mike Tyson & Lennox Lewis) or goal (e.g., Nate Campbell).
An issue in the implementation of a "lineal championship" is what to do if the lineal champion retires, dies, or moves to a different weight class. Different ways of resolving this vacancy mean the "lineal championship" may itself be subject to dispute. In the NBA/NYSAC era, a title vacancy was generally filled by having a box-off between 2, 4, or even more top-ranked contenders. Since the modern lineal championship is merely a notional title tracked by fans, there is no money or organization to arrange such box-offs, and there may not be consensus on who the top contenders are.
One example given by Cliff Rold of BoxingScene is the light-heavyweight title, considered vacant from the time Michael Spinks went up to heavyweight in 1985 until 1996. While Rold considers Virgil Hill's defeat of Henry Maske as the beginning of the next line of succession, as does the International Boxing Research Organization and Cyber Boxing Zone, Ring Magazine and HBO controversially trace the title through Roy Jones.
Another criticism of the lineal championship is that a fighter may defend it against inferior opponents. For example, George Foreman was considered lineal champion from 1994 till 1997, when Shannon Briggs beat him. After the WBA and IBF stripped him of their titles in 1995, Foreman fought only two, low-ranked opponents before Briggs. The lineal champion is not necessarily the boxer viewed as the best. BoxingScene considered Zsolt Erdei the lineal light heavyweight champion from his 2004 defeat of Julio César González until 2009, when he moved up to cruiserweight; as he had fought only low-caliber opponents in the interim, Cliff Rold conceded, "while the concept of a champion needing to lose a title in the ring is solid, the practice is sometimes highly flawed".
The Cyber Boxing Zone (CBZ) website maintains the lists of lineal champions.
The boxing magazine The Ring also has its own lineal championship. In 2001 The Ring awarded Roy Jones their championship belt despite Dariusz Michalczewski being regarded as Lineal Champion. In 2002 however, The Ring introduced a championship policy. A vacant title is awarded only to the winner of a fight between The Ring 's #1 contender and its #2 or #3 contender; The Ring 's Top-10 contender rankings, while credible, are not systematic. In 2007, The Ring was acquired by the owners of fight promoter Golden Boy Promotions, which has publicized The Ring's world championship when this is at stake in fights it promotes (such as Joe Calzaghe vs. Roy Jones, Jr. in 2008).
In May 2012, citing the number of vacancies in various weight classes as primary motivation, The Ring unveiled a new championship policy. Under the new policy, The Ring title can be awarded when the No. 1 and No. 2 fighters face one another or when the Nos. 1 and 2 contenders choose not to fight one another and either of them fights No. 3, No. 4 or No. 5, the winner may be awarded The Ring belt. In addition, there are now six ways for a fighter to lose his title: lose a fight in his championship weight class; move to another weight class; not schedule a fight in any weight class for 18 months; not schedule a fight in his championship weight class for 18 months, even if fighting at another weight class; not scheduling a fight with a top 5 contender in any weight class for two years; or retiring.
BoxingScene.com disagrees with the lineages given by The Ring and by CBZ, especially in lower weight divisions with a higher rate of champions changing division. BoxingScene has traced its own most recent lineages, generally back to the 1990s.
- Muhammad Ali is the only heavyweight champion to hold the lineal championship three times, beating Sonny Liston (1964), George Foreman in a comeback from a three-and-a-half year forced retirement (1974), and Leon Spinks in an upset by unanimous decision (1978).
- Manny Pacquiao is the only boxer who is credited with lineal championships in four different weight classes (flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight) by Cyber Boxing Zone and BoxingScene.com. This has been reported by ESPN, CNN Sports Illustrated, and The Ring. Additionally, Pacquiao has held three Ring titles in three different weight classes (featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight).
See also 
- Raskin, Eric (2008-03-24). "In an ideal world, Casamayor fights the 'Galaxxy Warrior' next". ESPN. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
- Castellano, Daniel J. (2005). "Critique of "Lineal" Boxing Championships". Repository of Arcane Knowledge. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
- Rafael, Dan (2004-02-08). "Lewis retires, saying he has nothing left to prove". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-11-20. "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."
- Rold, Cliff. "Boxing's Lineal Mathematics: Champion Versus Champion II". Wail!. CBZ. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- Rold, Cliff (2009-11-14). "Erdei Vacates: Ding-Dong, the Lineage Argument is Dead". BoxingScene. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- "The Cyber Boxing Zone Lineal World Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
- "Golden Boy Enterprises’ Subsidiary, Sports and Entertainment Publications, LLC, Acquires The Ring Magazine, KO, World Boxing and Pro Wrestling Illustrated". Golden Boy Promotions. 2007-09-12. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
- Kimball, George (2008-04-27). "Calzaghe claim far from undisputed". Boston Herald. Retrieved 2008-11-14.
- Donovan, Jake (2009-02-16). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part I". BoxingScene. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- Donovan, Jake (2009-02-17). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part II". BoxingScene. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- Donovan, Jake (2009-02-19). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part III". BoxingScene. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- "Lineal flyweight boxing champions". The Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia. Cyber Boxing Zone. 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- Rosenthal, Michael (2009-10-28). "Pacquiao seeking title in record seventh division". The Ring blog. Retrieved 2010-01-29. "Pacquiao has won titles as a flyweight (1998), junior featherweight (2001), featherweight (2003, THE RING), junior lightweight (2008), lightweight (2008) and junior welterweight (2009, THE RING), which equals Oscar De La Hoya’s six-division record. And boxing historian Cliff Rold pointed out that Pacquiao is the only fighter in history to win four lineal titles (112 pounds, 126, 130 and 140)"
- Rafael, Dan (2009-05-01). "Pacquiao chases sixth title, history". ESPN.
- Graham, Bryan Armen (2009-05-04). "Beatdown of Hatton lifts Pacquiao into pantheon of all-time greats". Inside Boxing (CNN/SI). Retrieved 2010-01-30.