One world champion.
Eight weight divisions.
A boxing fan’s dream? It sure is for us here at Lineal Champs.
Listed below are boxing's eight original weight divisions. Please click on any of them to view all the lineal world title bouts in that division, from its beginning to the present day (for background information on the thinking behind the lineal championship policy, please scroll further down).
What is a lineal world champion? Well, it's not the guy who just won a vacant alphabet belt which had just been stripped from some other guy for some reason that makes no sense.
Ever wondered what boxing's ratings would look like with only one world champion in eight divisions? Then click below. Not every boxing fan will always agree with every individual ranking, but it's sure straightforward to follow. If a boxer weighs between 126 and 135 lbs, he's a lightweight. And if a boxer weighs between 135 and 147 lbs, he's a welterweight. It's as simple as that.
The Thinking Behind The Policy Of Lineal Championships
Boxing’s Marques of Queensberry rules were first published in 1867 and signalled the end of the bare knuckle era. By the end of the 1890’s there were six weight divisions;
Each of these divisions had just one world champion, resulting in a maximum of six at any time, assuming none were vacant. Light heavyweight 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
By the end of the 1990’s there were seventeen weight divisions, 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, going into 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), IBA (International Boxing Association)and NBA (National Boxing Association). Again assuming there are no vacancies, this could mean a total of 153 “world champions” at once, and this is not taking into account the multitude of international titles, interim titles and “super” champions that these bodies can also create. Can anyone spot something wrong with this picture? Is there any other sport that can boast over 150 “world champions” simultaneously?
Of course, some of these governing bodies are particularly obscure and it is difficult to track them or to know if any have faded into oblivion.
James 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 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.
In 2002, a new policy was launched, again recognizing only one world champion, though all the “in-between divisions” were still featured. Furthermore, they did not take into account any lineal champions, meaning they were essentially starting from scratch.
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.
But if you are content with the quagmire of multiple champions in multiple divisions and have no concerns over title strippings, which are regularly perpetuated by the alphabet groups, that’s your choice and there are other sources for you to indulge in if you wish.
Here, world championships are only won and lost in the ring, as they should be, and we celebrate the man who beat the man who beat the man, going all the way back to the beginning.
It should be noted that no disrespect is aimed at any boxer who did not win a true, genuine world championship. For example, Thomas Hearns was a terrific fighter who scored some stunning victories and was one of the biggest stars of the 1980’s. However, although he collected a number of alphabet belts and fought in the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight divisions, he could really only be recognized as a legitimate world champion in the light heavyweight division (click on the light heavyweight link above for details on the history of the 175 lb division).
Thomas Hearns scored some superb victories and could be considered as the genuine world light heavyweight champion when he beat Virgil Hill on 3rd June 1991
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. There is a clear distinction between Abraham and both Taylor and Pavlik.
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, 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?
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 allegiances are switched spontaneously to whoever happens to be in favour at any given time 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.
The proliferation of weight classes essentially began in the 1960's, shortly after the arrival of the WBA in 1962 and the WBC in 1963 (weight limits for junior flyweight, junior bantamweight, junior featherweight, junior lightweight and junior welterweight had been set by the New York State Athletic Commission in 1920 but none of these "in-between divisions" were seriously pursued at the time and the NYSAC abolished them in 1930).
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, Primo Carnera and Buster Douglas, 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 foe (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. Though 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: