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Lineal championship

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Muhammad Ali is the only three-time lineal heavyweight champion in the history of boxing

In combat sports where champions are determined by challenge, the lineal championship in a weight class represents an intangible world title first held by the victor of a bout between top contenders in the division.[1] Some argue that vacancies in divisional championships can only be filled by an undisputed champion.[2] A fighter who defeats the reigning champion in a match within the same weight class becomes the next lineal champion. In professional boxing, the lineal champion is informally known as "the man who beat the man."[3][4]

There is no universally recognized protocol for establishing the start of each championship lineage, leading to the absence of a single canonical list of lineal champions. A lineage can be disrupted when the reigning champion retires or changes weight class. Other factors such as prolonged inactivity, legal issues, or the inability of a champion to defend their title can also contribute to such disruptions. Additionally, when a sanctioning body such as the WBA, WBC, IBF, or WBO strips a title, this action is generally disregarded in determining the lineal champion.



John L. Sullivan, the first lineal champion, came to welcome his successor, Jack Johnson. Ever since, it has been a tradition for champions of the past to attend title fights of recent champions, essentially to "pass the torch" and legitimize their reign.[citation needed]

The concept of a lineal champion was developed by boxing fans dissatisfied by the tendency of each of the various sanctioning bodies (WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO, 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. In that era, a title vacancy was generally filled by having a single-elimination tournament box-off between two or more top-ranked contenders. The lineal championship is intended as a return to that era.

Early boxing champions at various weight divisions were established by acclamation between 1880 and 1920. Once a consensus champion had been awarded the title, the championship could usually be taken only by beating the reigning holder, establishing a lineal championship.

Several top boxers have specified holding the lineal championship as a personal accomplishment (e.g. Lennox Lewis[5]) or goal (e.g., Nate Campbell[3]). Many boxing experts view the lineal championship as a prestigious status which trumps the world titles being issued by the sanctioning bodies (e.g. Steve Farhood).[6]

Mixed martial arts[edit]

In mixed martial arts (MMA), the lineal championship is of particular relevance because until the mid-2000s, the top-ranked fighters were spread out among a number of mixed martial arts promotions across the globe. This included Japanese promotions such as Pride Fighting Championships, Pancrase, and Dream, as well as US-based promotions such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), World Extreme Cage Fighting (WEC), and Strikeforce. The UFC eventually purchased most of the major promotions[7] and, as a result, all of the lineal champions are currently signed with the promotion. Former UFC champion Jon Jones was suspended and stripped of the title for reasons resulting from an alleged hit-and-run felony charge.[8] Daniel Cormier, whom Jones had just defeated, subsequently won the vacant UFC title.


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 be subject to dispute. Since the modern lineal championship is a notional title tracked by fans, there is no money or organization to arrange a box-off to fill a vacant title, and there may not be consensus on who the top contenders are – this is true both for boxing and MMA.[4] One example given by Cliff Rold, writing for Cyber Boxing Zone, is the light heavyweight title, considered vacant from the time Michael Spinks moved up to heavyweight in 1985 until 1996. While Rold considers WBA titlist Virgil Hill's defeat of IBF titlist Henry Maske in 1996 as the beginning of the next line of succession, others trace the title through Roy Jones Jr.[9] after he had unified the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles in 1999.[10] The Ring presented Jones with its inaugural light heavyweight belt in 2002 even though then WBO titlist Dariusz Michalczewski had defeated Hill for the WBA and IBF titles in 1997 and was stripped of them.[10]

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 until 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.[3] Cyber Boxing Zone and BoxingScene considered Zsolt Erdei the lineal light-heavyweight champion from his 2004 defeat of Julio César González until 2009 when he vacated his title and moved up to cruiserweight. As he had not fought the highest-ranked 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".[11]

In mixed martial arts, most controversy centers on the proper method for determining the first lineal MMA champion within each weight class. Early fights did not follow the currently agreed upon weight classes determined by the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts, a rule set that was not finalized until the year 2000. For example: Some consider Mark Coleman's victory in 1997, when he became the first UFC Heavyweight champion, to be the beginning of the Heavyweight lineage. Others argue that Royce Gracie's victory at UFC 1 in 1993 is the true heavyweight starting point due to the Open-weight nature of the tournament. In this case, however, the lineal titles converge and unify with the current UFC Heavyweight title, so the champion remains the same regardless of which lineage one chooses to follow.[12]


The Ring[edit]

The boxing magazine The Ring has its own lineal championship. The original sequence was from its first publication in the 1920s until its hiatus in 1989, continuing as late as 1992 in some divisions. When it started awarding titles again in 2001, it did not calculate retrospective lineages to fill in the gap years, instead nominating a new champion.[13] CBZ commented in 2004, "The Ring has forfeited its credibility by pulling names out of its ass to name fighters as champions".[14] In 2007, The Ring was acquired by the owners of fight promoter Golden Boy Promotions,[15] 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).[16] Since 2012, to reduce the number of vacant titles, The Ring allows fights between a #1 or #2 contender and a #3, #4, or #5 contender to fill a vacant title. This has prompted further doubts about its credibility.[17][18][19]

Cyber Boxing Zone[edit]

The Cyber Boxing Zone (CBZ) website maintains lists of lineal champions, with input from boxing historian Tracy Callis of the International Boxing Research Organization.[14][20][21] These were first published in 1994, and are retrospective to the introduction of Marquess of Queensberry Rules in 1885.[21] The historical lists have sometimes been updated when new information about old fights comes to light.[22] If its lineal champion at one weight class moves to another class, CBZ does not automatically vacate his title.[23]


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.[9] BoxingScene has traced its own most recent lineages, generally back to the 1990s.[24][25][26][27]

Transnational Boxing Rankings Board[edit]

The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) was formed in October 2012 as a volunteer initiative to provide boxing with top-ten rankings, identify the singular world champion of every division, and to insist on the sport's reform.[28][29] Board membership includes fifty boxing journalists and record keepers from around the world independent of sanctioning bodies and promoters. The board was formed to continue where The Ring "left off" in the aftermath of its purchase by Golden Boy Promotions in 2007 and the following dismissal of the editorial board headed by Nigel Collins.[30]

After the new editors of The Ring announced a controversial new championship policy in May 2012,[31] three prominent members of the Ring Advisory Panel resigned. These three members (Springs Toledo, Cliff Rold and Tim Starks) became the founding members of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board,[32] which was formed over the summer of 2012 with the assistance of Stewart Howe of England. The board only awards vacant championships when the two top-ranked fighters in any division meet.[33]

Sports Illustrated[edit]

SI.com published galleries of lineal heavyweight and middleweight champions.[34][35]

Lineal Boxing Champion[edit]

Since April 6, 2019, LinealBoxingChampion.com (LBC) has been producing monthly, non-computerized divisional rankings for women's professional boxing.[36] The rankings are compiled by an international team of ten boxing experts,[37] which includes site editor and member of the International Boxing Research Organization, Adam McMeeking (from the UK),[38] International Women's Boxing Hall of Fame 2019 inductee,[39] David Avila (from the US), Max Boxing journalist[40] and former Boxing Monthly contributor, Anthony Cocks (from Australia)[41] and Ring Magazine contributor, Yuriko Miyata (from Japan).[42] In keeping with the tradition, the lineal champion status is awarded to the winner of a fight between the number one and number two ranked contenders.[43] Due to its limited number of competitors LBC does not recognize the light heavyweight division. LBC also keeps a record of the lineal champions in men's boxing, across all 17 weight classes, from the 1880s to present.


  • Muhammad Ali is the only three-time lineal heavyweight boxing champion. He beat Sonny Liston in 1964,[44] George Foreman in 1974,[45] and Leon Spinks in 1978.
  • Floyd Mayweather matched Manny Pacquiao,[46] by winning lineal championships in four weight classes. As well as lineal titles at flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight and junior welterweight, Pacquiao also won the TBRB and The Cyber Boxing Zone welterweight title in 2016, however, he did not gain international consensus as the true lineal welterweight champion of the division,[47] as at the time of Pacquiao/Bradley 3, many (including Ring Magazine)[48] considered Kell Brook [49] to be the best welterweight in the world. Boxing Monthly had Tim Bradley ranked at #3[50] and The Ring had Bradley at #4. No major sanctioning body titles were on the line for Pacquiao/Bradley 3, and neither was The Ring title.[51] Pacquiao has held three Ring titles in three different weight classes (featherweight, super featherweight, and light welterweight).[52]
  • Peter Aerts is the only five-time lineal heavyweight kickboxing champion. He beat Patrick Smith in 1994, Andy Hug in 1997, Ernesto Hoost in 1998, Andy Hug in 1998, and Semmy Schilt in 2010.[53]
  • Fedor Emelianenko, heavyweight mixed martial artist, held the lineal title for longer than any fighter in history.[54] Fedor won the title from Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2003 and defended it 18 times before eventually losing it to Fabricio Werdum in 2010.[55]
  • Claressa Shields and Jessica McCaskill are the only women to be recognized as two-weight lineal champions.[56]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ * "Lineal Heavyweight Champions". Sports Illustrated. 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  2. ^ "Undisputed vs Unified vs Lineal - Different Boxing Champions Explained". 7 July 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Raskin, Eric (2008-03-24). "In an ideal world, Casamayor fights the 'Galaxxy Warrior' next". ESPN. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
  4. ^ a b Castellano, Daniel J. (2005). "Critique of "Lineal" Boxing Championships". Repository of Arcane Knowledge. Archived from the original on 2020-11-12. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  5. ^ Rafael, Dan (2004-02-08). "Lewis retires, saying he has nothing left to prove". USA Today. Archived from the original on 2009-05-03. 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.
  6. ^ Jena J. (2018-12-20). "SHO's Farhood: To Me, Fury Lost Lineal Title When He Retired". On The Ropes Boxing. Archived from the original on 2018-12-24. Retrieved 2018-12-22. I don't want to give the alphabets too much credit and Wilder is obviously an alphabet champion with the WBC, but there's something to be said about lineal titles. It kind of overrides the alphabets at times because we know the alphabets can be nonsensical in who they choose to be champions and who they give title fights to. To me, Fury lost the lineal title when he retired for personal reasons.
  7. ^ "UFC purchases Strikeforce; UFC boss says organizations to operate independently". Mmajunkie.com. 12 March 2011. Archived from the original on 2016-10-17. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  8. ^ "Jon Jones stripped of UFC light heavyweight title, suspended indefinitely". FOX Sports. Archived from the original on 2015-11-28. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
  9. ^ a b Rold, Cliff. "Boxing's Lineal Mathematics: Champion Versus Champion II". Wail!. CBZ. Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  10. ^ a b "Undisputed Chaos: Boxing Belts & Titles Create Unending Confusion". The Fight City. 25 September 2017. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  11. ^ Rold, Cliff (2009-11-14). "Erdei Vacates: Ding-Dong, the Lineage Argument is Dead". BoxingScene. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  12. ^ "WILLIAMS: Why the lightweight division's lineal championship may be the last remaining outside of the UFC". Mmatorch.com. Archived from the original on 2016-08-03. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  13. ^ "Boxing News : The Disputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the World". Archived from the original on 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2016-10-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  14. ^ a b DeLisa, Mike (August 2004). "What the CBZ Means When it Refers to "Lineal Championships"". The CBZ Journal. cyberboxingzone. Archived from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  15. ^ "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. Archived from the original on 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
  16. ^ Kimball, George (2008-04-27). "Calzaghe claim far from undisputed". Boston Herald. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2008-11-14.
  17. ^ "Chat: Chat with Dan Rafael - SportsNation - ESPN". Espn.go.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  18. ^ "The Horrible New Ring Magazine Championship Policy". Queensberry Rules. 2012-05-04. Archived from the original on 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  19. ^ Magno, Paul (4 May 2012). "Ring Magazine's pretend rankings upgrade 'championship' policy". Theboxingtribune.com. Archived from the original on 2016-03-16. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  20. ^ "The Cyber Boxing Zone Lineal World Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone. Archived from the original on 2018-08-05. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
  21. ^ a b "Lineal Boxing World Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone. Archived from the original on 5 August 2018. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  22. ^ "New Lineal Bantamweight Championship Title Claimant!". CBZ Historical News. Cyber Boxing Zone. Archived from the original on 6 November 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  23. ^ Greisman, David P. (20 September 2010). ""Fighting Words" – Mosley vs Mora Debacle: Caveat Empty". Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  24. ^ Donovan, Jake (2009-02-16). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part I". BoxingScene. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  25. ^ Donovan, Jake (2009-02-17). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part II". BoxingScene. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  26. ^ Donovan, Jake (2009-02-19). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part III". BoxingScene. Archived from the original on 2021-10-17. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  27. ^ Donovan, Jake (20 February 2009). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part IV". Boxingscene.com. boxingscene. Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  28. ^ "The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: More Support is Needed - Boxing News". Boxing News 24/7. 2015-07-19. Archived from the original on 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  29. ^ Raskin, Eric (2013-04-02). "TBRB: A viable alphabet alternative?". ESPN. Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-04-24.
  30. ^ Tim Starks (September 9, 2011). "The Ring Magazine Shakes Up Its Leadership, Threatens Its Credibility". The Queensberry Rules. Archived from the original on May 5, 2016. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  31. ^ The Ring updates championship policy
  32. ^ Gibson, Paul (2 February 2015). "Boxing loses credibility with every new champion. Can the sport be saved?". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 3 January 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2016.
  33. ^ "What if boxing had one champion for every weight division?". The guardian. October 15, 2013. Archived from the original on May 4, 2016. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
  34. ^ "Lineal Heavyweight Champions - Photos". SI.com. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  35. ^ "Lineal Middleweight Champs Since 1941 - Photos". SI.com. Archived from the original on 21 May 2013. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
  36. ^ "LinealBoxingChampion.com: The Record Keeper of Boxing's Lineal Title". Lineal Boxing Champion. Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  37. ^ "LinealBoxingChampion.com: The Record Keeper of Boxing's Lineal Title". Lineal Boxing Champion. Archived from the original on 2019-11-30. Retrieved 2020-08-26.
  38. ^ "Member List". 2 August 2019. Archived from the original on 20 November 2020. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  39. ^ "Latest News Story on WBAN". womenboxing.com. Archived from the original on 2020-05-18. Retrieved 2020-08-26.
  40. ^ "Authors". Archived from the original on 2020-09-22. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  41. ^ "Aussie wrap-up for October - Boxing Monthly". Archived from the original on 2017-11-06. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
  42. ^ "Kosei Tanaka-Jonathan Gonzalez WBO flyweight title bout to be streamed live on RingTV.com". The Ring. 22 August 2019. Archived from the original on 17 October 2021. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  43. ^ "Fury's lineal championship: To be the man, you have to beat the man". ESPN.com. 12 September 2019. Archived from the original on 22 December 2019. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  44. ^ "Muhammad Ali's victory against Liston went beyond boxing and was a hi-viz jacket for civil liberties, a giant step for mankind". Mirror.co.uk. 25 February 2014. Archived from the original on 19 August 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  45. ^ "Ali Regains Title, Flooring Foreman". New York Times. October 30, 1974. Archived from the original on March 12, 2017. Retrieved March 2, 2017.
  46. ^ Rold, Cliff (2022-09-05). "Measured Against All Time: Floyd Mayweather Jr". BoxingScene.com. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  47. ^ Rold, Cliff (2016-04-09). "Pacquiao-Bradley III: Pre-Fight Report Card". BoxingScene.com. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  48. ^ McCarson, Kelsey. "Why Floyd Mayweather's Next Opponent Should Be Kell Brook or Erislandy Lara". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  49. ^ "Kell Brook the world's leading welterweight, says Paulie Malignaggi". Sky Sports. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  50. ^ https://www.linealboxingchampion.com/new-page-47
  51. ^ Fischer, Doug (2016-04-10). "Manny Pacquiao dominates Tim Bradley, confirms retirement". The Ring. Retrieved 2023-12-12.
  52. ^ Rosenthal, Michael (2009-10-28). "Pacquiao seeking title in record seventh division". The Ring blog. Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. 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)
  53. ^ Coffeen, Fraser (2015-02-06). "Kickboxing lineal title history: Lineal Heavyweight gold on the line at Glory 19". Bloody Elbow. Archived from the original on 2016-04-25. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
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  55. ^ Savage, Greg (2010-06-26). "Fedor Loses: Werdum Shocks the World". Sherdog.com. Archived from the original on 2010-06-29. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
  56. ^ "LinealBoxingChampion.com: The Record Keeper of Boxing's Lineal Title". Lineal Boxing Champion. Retrieved 2021-03-17.

External links[edit]