One world champion. Eight weight divisions.
A boxing fan’s dream? It sure is for us here at Lineal Champs.
Listed below are links to boxing's eight original weight divisions. Please click on them to view all the lineal world title bouts in that division, from its beginning to the present day (for background information on the lineal championship policy, please scroll further down).
The evolvement from the bare-knuckle era into boxing with gloves was a gradual one, and the divisions did not adopt boxing with gloves at the same time. For example, the first division to have a champion use gloves in a world title bout was middleweight in 1884 and the next was welterweight in 1888. By the end of the 19th century, all world title bouts involved gloves, though the light heavyweight and flyweight divisions had not yet come into force by this stage.
Ever wondered what boxing's ratings would look like with only one world champion in eight divisions? Then click on the link below. Not every boxing fan will always agree with every individual ranking, but it's certainly straightforward to follow (which is the way it should be). If a boxer weighs between 126 and 135 lbs, he's a lightweight. And if he weighs between 135 and 147 lbs, he's a welterweight, and so on. It's as simple as that.
The Lineal Championship Policy
John Douglas was born in 1844 and he would surely never have been able to predict the incalculable impact he would have on boxing in the future. His father, Archibald, was a Scottish politician who also held a title of nobility; he was the 8th Marquess of Queensberry. In 1858, John inherited this title from him and became the 9th Marquess, and in 1867 he gave his patronage to a set of rules for boxing, which became known as the Marquess of Queensberry rules. The rules were actually created by John Chambers, who was from Llanelli in Wales and was a prominent sportsman, having been involved in billiards, cycling and wrestling, as well as boxing. These rules signalled the end of the bare-knuckle era and simultaneously weight divisions were being instituted. By the end of the 1890's, there were six; heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight, lightweight, featherweight and bantamweight.
Each of these divisions had just one world champion, resulting in a maximum of six at any time, assuming none were vacant. The light heavyweight class was introduced in 1903, prompted by Lou Houseman, a Chicago newspaperman who managed contender Jack Root, and then flyweight followed shortly afterwards. These original eight divisions were standardised by the National Sporting Club in the UK (which was the forerunner of the British Boxing Board of Control) in 1909 with the following weight limits;
* Heavyweight - unlimited
* Light heavyweight - 175 lbs
* Middleweight - 160 lbs
* Welterweight - 147 lbs
* Lightweight - 135 lbs
* Featherweight - 126 lbs
* Bantamweight - 118 lbs
* Flyweight - 112 lbs
It was sensible and easy to understand but by the end of the 1990’s the situation was drastically different; there were now a mind-boggling seventeen weight divisions, which consisted of those above plus the following:
* Cruiserweight - 200 lbs
* Super Middleweight - 168 lbs
* Junior Middleweight - 154 lbs
* Junior Welterweight - 140 lbs
* Junior Lightweight - 130 lbs
* Junior Featherweight - 122 lbs
* Junior Bantamweight - 115 lbs
* Junior Flyweight - 108 lbs
* Strawweight - 105 lbs
In addition, at the beginning of the 21st century, there were nine governing bodies sanctioning “world title” fights: the WBC (World Boxing Council), WBA (World Boxing Association), IBF (International Boxing Federation), WBO (World Boxing Organisation), WBU (World Boxing Union), IBO (International Boxing Organisation), IBC (International Boxing Council), WBF (World Boxing Federation) and IBA (International Boxing Association). Assuming that there are no vacancies, this could mean a total of 153 “world champions” at any given time, and this is not taking into account the multitude of international titles, interim titles and “super” champions that these governing bodies have also generated. Can anyone spot something wrong with this picture? Is there any other sport that can boast over 150 “world champions” simultaneously?
So why are there so many sanctioning bodies? And why are there so many extra weight divisions? The answer to both these questions essentially comes down to the same issue; money. When boxing became legal in New York state in 1920, the New York State Athletic Commission established weight limits for thirteen divisions, which comprised the original eight as already set out by the National Sporting Club in the UK, plus junior flyweight, junior bantamweight, junior featherweight, junior lightweight and junior welterweight. However, these "junior divisions" were not particularly popular and there was no activity at all at junior flyweight, junior bantamweight and junior featherweight. Although world title bouts were initiated at junior lightweight and junior welterweight, they were not regarded as highly as those in the original eight and by the mid-1930's both junior lightweight and junior welterweight had fizzled out.
The real problems for boxing began in 1962 when the WBA was formed and began to sanction "world title bouts". The following year, the WBC was launched, but they did not operate in conjunction with the WBA, thus the scenario began in which there could be two "world champions" in each division. These governing bodies function by charging a sanctioning fee for every "world title" fight that takes place, so why unite and share the fee when they can work independently and keep the entire fee for themselves? Of course, the more title bouts there are, the more sanctioning fees will be raised, and this is basically the reason for creating more weight divisions because it means more title fights. It is also the reason why more governing bodies have been sprouting up ever since; there is big money to be made! Furthermore, it is the reason why more titles have been created; more big money! It is actually quite amazing just how many titles there are, because we now have interim champions, diamond belt champions, silver belt champions, inter-continental champions, Baltic Sea champions, and on and on and on. If we consider the concept of interim champions, this would suggest that the reigning world champion is perhaps sidelined due to an injury and an interim champion is put in place in the meantime. But the term "interim" is irrelevant because the governing bodies tend to have an interim champion anyway even if the world champion is active.This entire situation is utterly ludicrous and has rendered titles virtually meaningless.
James J Corbett was the first world heavyweight champion under Queensbury rules
In their July 1987 issue, The Ring magazine launched a policy entitled “A Return To Sanity” which reverted back to the original eight weight divisions in order to combat the growing confusion generated by the governing bodies (a.k.a. the alphabet groups). Previously, The Ring had recognized a single, legitimate world champion but with their new policy they eliminated the “in-between divisions”. However, when the magazine gained new ownership in 1989 this was scrapped. But the philosophy of the "Return To Sanity" policy was ideal ; it was that only the original eight divisions were needed and that world titles should be won and lost in the ring. In other words, for a boxer to become the world champion he had to beat the reigning world champion.
The governing bodies have caused a number of major problems for boxing, and this is not only because there are far too many of them. The state of boxing is made completely confusing by having so many "world champions" in so many weight divisions. But to make matters worse, each of these governing bodies produce ratings that have been consistantly absurd, with undeserving or unknown boxers being listed for no apparent reason. And this is not a new phenomenon; it has been occurring for over thirty years! Boxers who have defeated no notable opposition crop up in the governing bodies' ratings on an alarmingly frequent basis, which results in a world champion defending against a hapless no-hoper in a pointless mismatch.To go along with this, the governing bodies regularly strip champions of their titles almost on a whim, citing reasons that are largely unjustifiable or baffling. It is such a common occurrence that no one raises an eyebrow about it anymore. If any boxing fans wish to learn more about the dubious machinations of boxing's governing bodies, they should read a book called Boxing Confidential by Jim Brady.
This website is inspired by the guidelines set out in “A Return To Sanity” and is for all boxing fans who are dissatisfied with the current state of chaos the sport is in. If you are an old school purist who treasures the integrity of the sweet science and acknowledges the incredible achievement of being a true, genuine world champion then this is the website for you. Here, we celebrate the lineal champions. In other words, the man who beat the man who beat the man, going all the way back to the beginning. We would like to stress that no disrespect is aimed at any boxer who did not win a true, genuine world championship. For example, Azumah Nelson of Ghana was a terrific fighter who scored some stunning victories during his career and although he collected a number of alphabet belts, he could not really be recognized as a legitimate world champion in one of the original eight divisions.
Thomas Hearns was a huge star and should be considered an all-time great fighter but he did not win a universally-recognized world championship in any division he fought in
If a boxer is content with winning only an alphabet title, that is their choice, but there is a big difference between being an alphabet title-holder and a WORLD champion. For example, during 2007, Arthur Abraham of Germany held the IBF middleweight title; he was not a world champion as he had no lineal claim or had defeated any of his alphabet counterparts, therefore he just had the IBF title, nothing more. At the same time, Jermain Taylor of the USA and his successor, Kelly Pavlik, also of the USA, had the genuine world title. They had the WBC and WBO titles too, but more importantly they had the lineal claim which traced back to Bernard Hopkins, who had previously gained universal recognition. Abraham's belt traced back to nothing because it had been stripped from Taylor.
Another point worth highlighting is that the genuine world champion may not automatically be the best fighter in the division. The questions of “Who is the best?” and “Who is the real champ?” can have a different answer. A perfect example of this is in the heavyweight division in the mid-1980’s, in which Mike Tyson collected the WBC, WBA and IBF titles during 1986 and 1987, but this did not result in him becoming the legitimate world champion. That designation belonged to Michael Spinks.
Spinks had previously held the IBF title but had been needlessly stripped of it for failing to defend against fellow American Tony Tucker. At the time, Tucker was a decent contender but no one was beating the drums for a Spinks-Tucker showdown, in which Spinks would make $750,000 for the fight. However, he could make far more money and greatly enhance his reputation in a much more lucrative bout with the charismatic, hard-punching Gerry Cooney, and that was the option he chose. His purse for the Cooney clash was $5 million.
It was a match-up that was more appealing for fans, generated more media interest and showed that Spinks could break down a bigger, stronger opponent. It proved to make much more sense and actually stoked the anticipation for a “superfight” with Tyson. Who could blame Spinks for taking on Cooney instead of Tucker? As a sidenote, Tucker's record was no better than Cooney's.
Michael Spinks (covering up) proved no match for Mike Tyson but he was still the legitimate world heavyweight champion going into their clash
Nevertheless, Tyson was regarded as the best heavyweight on the planet and was heavily favoured to beat Spinks. When entering 1988, the answer to the question of “Who is the best” was “Tyson” but the answer to the question of “Who is the real champ?” was “Spinks”. Why? Because Spinks had beaten Larry Holmes (twice) and Holmes had been the universally-recognized world champion, regardless of any alphabet appellations. Spinks had never lost in the ring, which meant that Tyson could not be classed as the legitimate world champion until he had beaten Spinks. On June 27th, 1988, in a bout billed as “Once And For All”, Spinks made the foolish decision to stand with the murderous-punching Tyson and was knocked out in the 1st round. The fact that Spinks was swept aside quickly did not make his claim any less valid and besides, if the champion was always the best fighter in the division, the world title would never change hands. If titles are simply stripped from boxers and awarded to somebody else then all integrity is lost.
In November 1986, shortly after the Tyson-Trevor Berbick contest (which Tyson won by 2nd round KO), an interview was conducted with Jose Sulaiman, the president of the WBC. In that interview he stated that no champion could have dignity unless he had beaten his rival title-holders and he advocated Tyson’s aim to unify the alphabet belts. Those were Sulaiman’s words but it is a philosophy he has alarmingly done little to support ever since, even though he had the power to do so. The alphabet groups have had their chance (far too many chances) to enrich the sport and provide direction, stability and fairness. In the eyes of many boxing fans, they have failed.
In respect of the divisions recognized on this website, some boxing followers may argue the case for the existence of the cruiserweight division, based on the fact that most heavyweights in this era are bigger than those in the past, and those followers have a point. Most pre-Second World War champs weighed less than 200 lbs. For example, the best fighting weight of Jack Dempsey, who reigned from 1919 to 1926, was around 185-190 lbs, and the best fighting weight of Jack Johnson, who reigned from 1908 to 1915, was around 200 lbs. More recent champions, such as Larry Holmes, who reigned from 1980 to 1985, and Mike Tyson, who reigned from 1988 to 1990, weighed in the region of 215 lbs at their respective peaks. This illustrates that heavyweights have gotten bigger. However, bigger is not automatically better. Consider the careers of huge heavyweights, such as Greg Page, Tony Tubbs and even Ridddick Bowe. All of them had relatively disappointing careers and failed to live up to any potential they may have once shown. Bigger heavyweights lack grace, finesse and stamina. The largest heavyweight champions in history, and this would include Jess Willard (champion from 1915 to 1919), Primo Carnera (champion from 1933 to 1934) and Buster Douglas (champion in 1990), would all be ranked near the bottom in a list of who's the best.
A number of light heavyweights who moved up in weight, like Michael Spinks, Michael Moorer and Roy Jones skipped the cruiserweight division altogether. And there have been many instances of a "small" heavyweight beating a much larger opponent (Michael Spinks KO 5 Gerry Cooney in 1987, Roy Jones PTS 12 John Ruiz in 2003, Jack Dempsey KO 3 Jess Willard in 1919, Evander Holyfield PTS 12 Riddick Bowe in 1993, David Haye PTS 12 Nicolay Valuev in 2009, Max Baer KO 11 Primo Carnera in 1934, etc.) Therefore, size is not the automatic key to victory. The cruiserweight class has failed to ignite the imagination of fans in general and rarely commands the spotlight. All the best so-called cruiserweights, including Holyfield, Haye, James Toney, Al Cole, Juan Carlos Gomez, and Tomasz Adamek, all moved up to heavyweight anyway, leaving this website with the decision to stick with the original eight divisions only.
When considering further the topic of weight divisions, it's worth comparing boxing to other sports in which size and weight play a role, such as weight-lifting, in which there are eight weight divisions. And another example is wrestling, and this does not refer to the WWE fantasy world. In Greco-Roman wrestling there are ten weight divisions and in freestyle wrestling there are seven or eight weight divisions depending on the age of the competitors. Thus, why would boxing need as many as seventeen? For further thoughts supporting the notion of one world champion in eight divisions, please check out the links for two articles below: