· James J Jeffries announces his retirement

On 13th May 1905, Jeffries became the first heavyweight champ to abdicate his throne. Naturally, it would not be easy to follow in his footsteps as he had more or less wiped the floor with everyone in sight. On 3rd July 1905, Marvin Hart fought Jack Root for the vacant championship and most record books list this, though at the time it was not taken too seriously. This is understandable because the awesome Jeffries cast a huge shadow and could likely have beaten both these guys on the same night.  However, regardless of how they would have fared against Jeffries, they were actually the most worthy contenders available. Hart had mixed in good company; he had boxed Philadelphia Jack O’Brien and Joe Choynski in no-decision bouts and gained a draw with former world light heavyweight champion George Gardner. In addition, he had outpointed Sandy Ferguson, who was a decent fringe contender. Perhaps most crucially, he had a decision over the brilliant Jack Johnson (though it should be noted that it was controversial and was essentially a gift because he was white and Johnson was black, but it was still recorded as a win). As for Root, he was a former world light heavyweight champion who had beaten the talented up-and-comer Jim Flynn in 1903 and the following year, he avenged a loss to George Gardner, who had previously taken his light heavyweight laurels. Furthermore, he had won a 6-round decision over Hart in Chicago in 1902. Of course, the departure of Jeffries left a relatively weak division but Hart-Root II for the vacant championship made sense.
Jeffries in training
· Gene Tunney announces his retirement

After successfully defending the championship against Tom Heeney on 26th July 1928 in the Bronx, New York City, Tunney stepped down. An elimination tournament was held to find a new champion, leading to a match between Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey on 12th June 1930. Schmeling had beaten Johnny Risko and Paulino Uzcudun, and Sharkey had beaten Young Stribling and former light heavyweight champion Tommy Loughran, as well as British hopeful Phil Scott. In the end, Sharkey walloped Schmeling where he shouldn’t and was disqualified, leaving Schmeling as Germany’s first world heavyweight champion.

A portrait of Louis

· Joe Louis announces his retirement

After making an incredible 25 defences, Louis retired on 1st March 1949. Ezzard Charles beat Jersey Joe Walcott on 22nd June 1949 and went on to score wins over Gus Lesnevich and Freddie Beshore. Charles was certainly the top guy in the division but he did not have universal recognition as world champ. Meanwhile, on 6th June 1950, Lee Savold stopped Bruce Woodcock in four rounds in London, England, and was acknowledged as world champion by the British authorities. Shortly afterwards, Louis announced he was making a comeback and Savold’s claim unsurprisingly fizzled out. Louis faced Charles on 27th September 1950, but lost on points. After this victory, Charles finally gained universal recognition as the genuine champion, as he not only had the most impressive record at the time, he had also beaten the former champion who had never lost the championship in the ring.

Marciano (standing) stopped the great Archie Moore in his final fight
· Rocky Marciano announces his retirement

On 27th April 1956, The Rock hung up his gloves. Who was most worthy to replace him? The answer; Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore. Patterson had beaten top contender Tommy Jackson to earn his shot and Moore had scored a points win over the highly-rated Nino Valdes. To add to his credentials, Moore was the reigning world light heavyweight champion and had given the awesome Marciano a spirited struggle the year before. Patterson stopped Moore in the 5th round on 30th November 1956 in Chicago.

· Muhammad Ali announces his retirement

On 22nd March 1967, Ali faced Zora Folley in New York City, stopping him in the 7th round. Afterwards, Ali’s reign was sidelined due to indictments for draft evasion following his refusal to be inducted into the US army. Ali was willing and able to defend the championship but had his licence revoked. The Ring magazine continued to recognize him as the champion and they were right; he had never lost the championship in the ring. Finally, on 1st February 1970, assuming he would never be able to box again, Ali announced that he was retiring and only then did the championship become vacant.

Meanwhile, Joe Frazier had gained recognition from New York state authorities as the champ, while Jimmy Ellis had picked up the WBA title. But neither had a rightful claim.  Clearly the two leading contenders in the division, they were scheduled to square off against each other on 16th February 1970, and when Ali made his announcement at the beginning of the month, the Frazier-Ellis bout could then be recognized for the vacant world championship. Frazier won when Ellis failed to step up for the 5th round.

· Muhammad Ali announces his retirement…..again

After winning the heavyweight crown for a third time with a decision over Leon Spinks on 15th September 1978, Ali retired on 27th June 1979. At the time, Larry Holmes emerged as the cream of the crop, having accumulated victories over Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton (in which he picked up the WBC belt) and Mike Weaver, all prior to Ali’s retirement. Weaver went on to claim the WBA title on 31st March 1980 by knocking out John Tate, and this solidified Holmes’ position at the top as he had already beaten Weaver. On 2nd October 1980, Holmes easily defeated a faded Ali, who was attempting an ill-fated comeback, and gained universal recognition as the new champ. This was similar to the circumstances involving Joe Louis in 1950, with Ali, like Louis, having retired as undefeated world champion only to make a return to the ring against the new best fighter in the division. In each case, the new best fighter beat the former champion to establish themselves as the next lineal linchpin.
There was no one else quite like Ali

· Lennox Lewis announces his retirement

Lewis stood aside as the world champion on 6th February 2004. A contest for the vacant crown took place later the same year; Vitali Klitschko against Corrie Sanders on 24th April in Los Angeles. But why Klitschko-Sanders?

Klitschko had garnered wins over Herbie Hide, Obed Sullivan, Vaughan Bean and Larry Donald. Whilst none of these names make jaws drop, together they make up a reasonable record. Klitschko’s destruction of Canada's Kirk Johnson was more noticeable because Johnson was a decent contender, but most significant of all was his clash with Lewis on 21st June 2003. He had been oh-so-close to dethroning Lewis, being ahead on points when the bout was stopped in the 6th round due to a terrible cut he had suffered. As Lewis was considered to be far superior to every other heavyweight at the time, the fact that Klitschko had not only competed evenly with him but also feasibly appeared to be on his way to a victory was momentous. There would sadly be no rematch.

Sanders had earned his lofty ranking by flattening Vitali’s brother, Wladimir, on 8th March 2003. Before that stunning loss, Wladimir had been considered the number one contender, with wins over Chris Byrd, Ray Mercer and Jameel McCline on his ledger. Wladimir was being billed as a future champion and when Sanders unexpectedly knocked him out, he took his place at the front of the division.

Other claimants at the time included John Ruiz, who held the WBA belt. But that WBA belt had been needlessly stripped from Lewis back in 2000 and then been swapped around between Ruiz and a faded Evander Holyfield. Ruiz subsequently lost it to world light heavyweight champion Roy Jones on 1st March 2003, following which Jones returned to the 175 lb division. Ruiz picked up the WBA title again (or at least the interim version) by outpointing Hasim Rahman. Interestingly, Rahman’s three previous fights prior to facing Ruiz had consisted of a loss to Lewis (for the true world title), a loss to Holyfield and a draw with David Tua, certainly a rough patch. Meanwhile, Chris Byrd was holding the IBF title. Byrd actually had scored a win over Vitali Klitschko back on 1st April 2000 but had been defeated by Wladimir on 14th October the same year. Wladimir, of course, went on to lose to Sanders. Byrd had only managed to collect the vacant IBF title (which had also been taken from Lewis) by outpointing Holyfield (who had faded even more since losing to Ruiz) on 14th December 2002. If this whole situation causes confusion it should be no surprise as this is typical of the chaos caused by the alphabet groups.

Taking all this into account, the WBA and IBF claimants can be dismissed. Vitali Klitschko had redeemed himself since the Byrd fight and the winner of his bout with Sanders had the strongest claim to be the true world champion. Vitali won with a KO in 8 rounds.

· Vitali Klitschko announces his retirement

After being plagued by a series of injuries, Klitschko stated his intention to retire on 8th November 2005. However, Vitali’s younger brother, Wladimir, earned the right to be regarded as the next true champ.

At the beginning of 2008, Wladimir was certainly considered to be the best heavyweight in the world. He held the IBF title and had beaten a string of highly-ranked fighters; Samuel Peter of Nigeria, Chris Byrd of the USA (from whom he took the IBF title), Calvin Brock of the USA and Lamon Brewster of the USA (avenging an earlier loss from 2004).  At the beginning of 2008, the WBC title was in the clutches of Kazakhstan’s mediocre Oleg Maskaev, who had been inactive for over a year. He had won his title from Hasim Rahman by a 12th round KO on 12th August 2006, but Rahman had previously been outpointed by John Ruiz in a shot at the WBA title back on 13th December 2003, which subsequently cancelled out the WBC strand when Rahman gained that title.

What of the WBO title? Going into 2008, that was in the hands of Sultan Ibragimov of Russia. He had won it from Shannon Briggs of the USA (who was a former lineal world champion), who had won it from Sergei Lyakovich of Belarus, who had won it from the aforementioned Brewster. Prior to his loss to Lyakovich (which was on points on 1st April 2006), Brewster had an impressive winning streak; he had beaten Nate Jones (a former Olympian), Wladimir Klitschko, Kali Meehan, Andrew Golota and Luan Krasniqi (the latter three were all decent contenders when Brewster had defeated them).

Is this situation confusing? Of course it is, and you can thank the alphabet groups for that. Ruslan Chagaev, who was from Andijan, Uzbekistan, had the WBA title, which he had won from Nicolay Valuev of Russia on 14th April 2007. At the beginning of 2008, Klitschko and Ibragimov could reasonably be regarded as the two best heavyweights at the time. Chagaev was not without skills but his status relied upon his victory over Valuez, who was basically a lumbering dinosaur with no natural ability.

This website uses the "Return To Sanity" policy launched by The Ring magazine in 1987, which recognized only one genuine world champion in the original eight divisions. However, there was no rigid criteria set out by the writers of the magazine on how to recognize a new champion when a world title becomes vacant. During the tenure of the "Return To Sanity" policy, two world title vacancies were filled; in 1988 they recognized Sumbu Kalambay as the new middleweight champ and Julio Cesar Chavez as the new lightweight champ. Kalambay had the WBA title and had scored wins over top contenders Herol Graham, Iran Barkley and Mike McCallum and The Ring awarded him recognition after Barkley went on to win the WBC title. Kalambay was clearly the best middleweight in the world at the time. They later recognized Chavez when he beat Jose Luis Ramirez, which was logical when considering the situation at lightweight at the time. Supporting Kalambay and Chavez made sense and this provides an understanding of how new champions could be determined if the policy had continued. Using their rationale, when Klitschko outpointed Ibragimov on 23rd February 2008 at the legendary Madison Square Garden, he had a worthy claim to be the new legitimate world champion.

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