In combat sports where champions are decided by a challenge, the lineal championship of a weight class is a world championship title held initially by an undisputed champion and subsequently by a fighter who defeats the reigning champion in a match at that weight class. In professional boxing, the lineal champion is informally called "the man who beat the man".
Champions recognized by sanctioning bodies such as the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC), or the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) may vacate their title voluntarily, or be stripped of the title for breaching the sanctioning body's regulations or contracts. There will thus be a breach of continuity in the list of sanctioned champions which the lineal championship is intended to prevent. However, there is no single canonical list of lineal champions at any weight class, because there is no agreed upon method of determining the starting point for each lineage and conflicting opinions on what to do when the current champion retires or moves to a different weight class, although there is agreement that any stripping of a title be discounted.
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, 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 this 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. Several top boxers have specified holding the lineal championship as a personal accomplishment (e.g. Lennox Lewis) or goal (e.g., Nate Campbell). 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).
Mixed martial arts
In mixed martial arts (MMA), the lineal championship is of particular relevance because until the mid 2000s, the top-ranked fighters were spread out amongst 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 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. Daniel Cormier, whom Jones had just defeated, subsequently won the vacant UFC title. These events, however, do not affect the lineal title because Jon Jones was never defeated in the octagon.
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. Since the modern lineal championship is merely 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. One example given by Cliff Rold of BoxingScene is the light heavyweight title, considered vacant from the time Michael Spinks moved up to heavyweight in 1985 until some time in the 1990s. While Rold considers Virgil Hill's defeat of Henry Maske as the beginning of the next line of succession, as does Cyber Boxing Zone, Ring magazine controversially traces the title through Roy Jones Jr.
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. 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".
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.
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. CBZ commented in 2004, "The Ring has forfeited its credibility by pulling names out of its ass to name fighters as champions". 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). 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. Sports Illustrated used The Ring lineages for galleries of lineal heavyweight and middleweight champions.
Cyber Boxing Zone
The Cyber Boxing Zone (CBZ) website maintains lists of lineal champions, with input from boxing historian Tracy Callis of the International Boxing Research Organization. These were first published in 1994, and are retrospective to the introduction of Marquess of Queensberry Rules in 1885. The historical lists have sometimes been updated when new information about old fights comes to light. If its lineal champion at one weight class moves to another class, CBZ does not automatically vacate his title.
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.
Transnational Boxing Rankings Board
The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB) was formed in October 2012 as a volunteer initiative to provide boxing with authoritative top-ten rankings, identify the singular world champion of every division by strict reasoning and common sense, and to insist on the sport's reform. Board membership includes fifty respected boxing journalists and record keepers from around the world who are uncompromised by 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.
After the new editors of The Ring announced a controversial new championship policy in May 2012, 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, 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, and currently recognizes legitimate world champions or "true champions" each weight classes.
Since its inception, TBRB has been viewed by many boxing historians and analysts as the superior version of lineal championship (e.g. Teddy Atlas) and their rankings as the most authoritative in boxing today.
Current lineal boxing champions
|Weight class||Champion||Reign||Previous holder|
|Heavyweight||Tyson Fury (def. Deontay Wilder)||22 February 2020 – present||Vacant (since 18 October 2016)|
|Cruiserweight||N/A||Vacant (since 15 October 2019)||Oleksandr Usyk (def. Murat Gassiev)|
|Light heavyweight||Artur Beterbiev (def. Oleksandr Gvozdyk)||18 October 2019 – present||Oleksandr Gvozdyk (def. Adonis Stevenson)|
|Super middleweight||N/A||Vacant (since 16 March 2016)||Andre Ward (def. Carl Froch)|
|Middleweight||Canelo Álvarez (def. Gennady Golovkin)||15 September 2018 – present||Vacant (since 18 April 2017)|
|Junior middleweight||N/A||Vacant (since 21 September 2015)||Floyd Mayweather Jr. (def. Canelo Álvarez)|
|Welterweight||N/A||Vacant (since 19 April 2016)||Manny Pacquiao (def. Timothy Bradley)|
|Junior welterweight||N/A||Vacant (since 3 March 2020)||Mikey Garcia (def. Sergey Lipinets)|
|Lightweight||N/A||Vacant (since 18 April 2015)||Terence Crawford (def. Raymundo Beltran)|
|Super featherweight||N/A||Vacant (since 28 June 2008)||Manny Pacquiao (def. Juan Manuel Márquez)|
|Featherweight||N/A||Vacant (since 19 March 2005)||Manny Pacquiao (def. Marco Antonio Barrera)|
|Super bantamweight||Guillermo Rigondeaux (def. Nonito Donaire)||13 April 2013 – present||Nonito Donaire (def. Toshiaki Nishioka)|
|Bantamweight||N/A||Vacant (since 29 March 1987)||Bernardo Piñango (def. Gaby Canizales)|
|Super flyweight||Juan Francisco Estrada (def. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai)||26 April 2019 – present||Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (def. Juan Francisco Estrada)|
|Flyweight||N/A||Vacant (since 4 October 2016)||Román González (def. Akira Yaegashi)|
|Junior flyweight||N/A||Vacant (since 19 September 2011)||Giovani Segura (def. Iván Calderón)|
|Strawweight||N/A||Vacant (since 1 September 1999)||Ricardo López (def. Hideyuki Ohashi)|
- Muhammad Ali is the only three-time lineal heavyweight boxing champion. He beat Sonny Liston in 1964, George Foreman in 1974, and Leon Spinks in 1978.
- Manny Pacquiao is the first and only fighter in the history of boxing who is credited with lineal championships in five different weight classes (flyweight, featherweight, super featherweight, light welterweight and welterweight) by Cyber Boxing Zone, TBRB and BoxingScene.com. This has been reported by ESPN, CNN Sports Illustrated, The Ring, Yahoo! Sports and many boxing websites. He is also the third fighter in boxing history to win lineal world titles in three of the original eight weight divisions of boxing also known as the "glamour divisions" (flyweight, featherweight, and welterweight), joining the exclusive group of Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong. Additionally, Pacquiao has held three Ring titles in three different weight classes (featherweight, super featherweight, and light welterweight).
- 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.
- Fedor Emelianenko, heavyweight mixed martial artist, held the lineal title for longer than any fighter in history. Fedor won the title from Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira in 2003 and defended it 18 times before eventually losing it to Fabricio Werdum in 2010.
- 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.
- Jena J. (2018-12-20). "SHO's Farhood: To Me, Fury Lost Lineal Title When He Retired". On The Ropes Boxing. 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.
- "UFC purchases Strikeforce; UFC boss says organizations to operate independently". Mmajunkie.com. 12 March 2011. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
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- "The Cyber Boxing Zone". Cyberboxingzone.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- 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.
- "WILLIAMS: Why the lightweight division's lineal championship may be the last remaining outside of the UFC". Mmatorch.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "Boxing News : The Disputed Light Heavyweight Champion of the World". Web.archive.org. Archived from the original on 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2016-10-24.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- DeLisa, Mike (August 2004). "What the CBZ Means When it Refers to "Lineal Championships"". The CBZ Journal. cyberboxingzone. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "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.
- Kimball, George (2008-04-27). "Calzaghe claim far from undisputed". Boston Herald. Archived from the original on 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2008-11-14.
- "Chat: Chat with Dan Rafael - SportsNation - ESPN". Espn.go.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "The Horrible New Ring Magazine Championship Policy". Queensberry Rules. 2012-05-04. Archived from the original on 2012-05-07. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- Magno, Paul. "Ring Magazine's pretend rankings upgrade 'championship' policy". Theboxingtribune.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "Lineal Heavyweight Champions - Photos". SI.com. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "Lineal Middleweight Champs Since 1941 - Photos". SI.com. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "The Cyber Boxing Zone Lineal World Champions". Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
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- "New Lineal Bantamweight Championship Title Claimant!". CBZ Historical News. Cyber Boxing Zone. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- Greisman, David P. (20 September 2010). ""Fighting Words" – Mosley vs Mora Debacle: Caveat Empty". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
- 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.
- Donovan, Jake (20 February 2009). "Crowning And Recognizing A Lineal Champion – Part IV". boxingscene. Retrieved 12 August 2013.
- "The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board: More Support is Needed - Boxing News". Boxing247.com. 2015-07-19. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- Raskin, Eric (2013-04-02). "TBRB: A viable alphabet alternative?". ESPN.
- Tim Starks (September 9, 2011). "The Ring Magazine Shakes Up Its Leadership, Threatens Its Credibility". The Queensberry Rules. Retrieved April 19, 2016.
- The Ring updates championship policy
- Gibson, Paul (2 February 2015). "Boxing loses credibility with every new champion. Can the sport be saved?". The Guardian.
- "What if boxing had one champion for every weight division?". The guardian. October 15, 2013. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
- "ESPN Highlights Transnational Boxing Rankings Board". Stiff Jab.
- Gibson, Paul (2 February 2015). "Boxing loses credibility with every new champion. Can the sport be saved?". The Guardian.
- "Successions | Transnational Boxing Rankings Board". Retrieved 2020-02-23.
- "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.
- "Ali Regains Title, Flooring Foreman". New York Times. October 30, 1974.
- Dave Anderson (September 15, 1978). "Muhammad Ali reclaims heavyweight title from Leon Spinks". World History Project.
- "Pacquiao Rebounds, Decisions Bradley". Thecomeback.com. 2016-04-10. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "Lineal flyweight boxing champions". The Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia. Cyber Boxing Zone. 2009. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
- "The Lineal Welterweight Champs". The Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 15, 2016.
The following list gives credit to "The Man Who Beat The Man." As always ludicrous decisions of "sanctioning bodies" are ignored. Explore our On-Line Boxing Encyclopedia for more info.
- "TBRB on Twitter: 'Jim Lampley and Max Kellerman of @HBOboxing on and Manny's record after #PacquiaoBradley:'". Twitter. 2016-04-09. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "MGM Grand Results – Pacquiao Outclasses Bradley in Trilogy Closer". The Sweet Science. 2016-04-09.
- "Welterweight: Filling the void when championship becomes vacant". Lineal Champs.
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- "Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley III: Post-Fight Report Card". Boxing Scene. April 11, 2016. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
- 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.
- 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)
- Kevin Iole (2016-06-29). "Bob Arum believes Manny Pacquiao 'wants to return'". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved June 29, 2016.
- Chandler, Michael J. (2016-04-10). "Pacquiao tops Bradley by UD in vintage display". The Score. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
Still the only Eight-Division world champion, Pacquiao's 10 titles paired with the honor of being the first to capture the lineal championship in five different weight classes sets him apart.
- Hogg, Dave (2016-04-10). "Manny Pacquiao makes history in retirement bout". TodaysKnockout.com. Retrieved May 27, 2016.
Manny Pacquiao never got his rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., but on Saturday night, he did something that Mayweather never accomplished. By beating Timothy Bradley in his last fight, Pacquaio claimed the vacant linear welterweight title and became the first boxer to win the true championship in five different weight classes. Fittingly, he ended his career by breaking the record he shared with Mayweather.
- "History of the Lineal World Championships". The Lineal Champs. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
- Coffeen, Fraser (2015-02-06). "Kickboxing lineal title history: Lineal Heavyweight gold on the line at Glory 19". Bloody Elbow. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- "A Lineal Title Supported Argument for the GOAT in MMA". Bloody Elbow. 2015-01-29. Retrieved 2016-10-24.
- Savage, Greg (2010-06-26). "Fedor Loses: Werdum Shocks the World". Sherdog.com. Retrieved 2016-10-24.