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 and IBF belts all being considered as legitimate world titles, it’s proving harder and harder to unify each division with one rightful ruler.
In Manchester, UK, Oleksandr Usyk will defend his cruiserweight straps against the controversial Tony Bellew, with all four belts on the line as Britain hosts its first four-belt undisputed contest.
Most recently, last August, Terence Crawford became the undisputed champion at light-welterweight after stopping Namibian Julius Indongo inside three-rounds in front of a Nebraskan home crowd. This ended a long wait for an undisputed king at any weight, however, some of the sports iconic figures have ruled before him. Who else has held all the marbles?
Muhammad Ali: WBC, WBA (1974-1978)
With ten defences in the heavyweight division in the mid-seventies, 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 successful 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 the 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’ undisputed reign came to a premature end. With Lewis and his team claiming to have never refused 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’ 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 his 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.
With a UD win over Scott Sigmon in February this year, the 49-year-old added the German WBU cruiserweight title to his collection as he continues to battle against father time. Whether he carries on in the fight game is a constant point of debate in boxing circles.
Marvin Hagler: WBC, WBA, IBF (1980-1987)
Bar Joe Louis in the 1930s, no one has defended their status as undisputed world champion on more occasions that ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. With twelve defences over seven years, the skilled middleweight became the inaugural IBF champion 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 ever to hold all four titles simultaneously. Previously, Hopkins became the undisputed champion after defeating Felix 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 younger fighter, 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 2016, ‘The Alien’ had a prolific career from middleweight to light-heavyweight, amounting to a 55–8–2 record over a 28-year career.