(Re-written July 2010 by MJ Law)
So many weight divisions. So many titleholders. What a confusing mess. Almost every week it seems as though someone has been stripped of their belt or demoted to an "interim champion". Is it any surprise that boxing's popularity has dwindled over the last twenty years? It isn't featured on network TV anymore in either the UK or the USA and it gets little coverage in the national daily newspapers. In the UK, it is surpassed by soccer, cricket, tennis and Formula One racing, and maybe one or two other sports too. In the USA, it is overshadowed by football, basketball, baseball and probably ice hockey. Boxing fans appear to be an uncommon breed, lost in the crowd of other sports fanatics. Why? Is it because it struggles to attract casual fans? A casual fan may have heard of Oscar De La Hoya but they'd have no clue who Chad Dawson is (he's the current top light heavyweight in case you didn't know). Ask a casual fan who the reigning world welterweight champion is and they'd likely shrug. A muddled, confusing sport is not going to find it easy to attract new fans. It's as simple as that. But it's not so bad. This website promotes the philosophy of having one world champion in the original eight weight divisions. And guess what? That philosophy exists. Put on your 'one-champion-in-eight-divisions' glasses, look through the chaos and there they are; one lineal champ in eight divisions. Check out the ratings page elsewhere on this website and you'll see what I mean. True lineal champions still reign, and Manny Pacquiao, the living legend from the Philippines has been among them.
Quick question: what's the most exclusive club of all in boxing? Answer: boxers who have won a legitimate world championship in three of the original eight weight divisions. This club has just two members; Bob Fitzsimmons and Henry Armstrong. Remember, we're talking about genuine lineal championships here, not alphabet belts, and not in one of the superfluous "in-between" divisions. Fitzsimmons, sometimes known as “Ruby Robert," took the world middleweight crown from “Nonpareil” Jack Dempsey in 1891 with a 13th round KO. In 1897, he beat Jim Corbett for the heavyweight championship, landing his famous solar plexus punch in the 14th round. At the time, there was no light heavyweight division; this was not established until 1903. Fitzsimmons became the third champion in the 175 lb class when he outpointed George Gardner over 20 rounds that same year, thereby completing his hat-trick. In 1937, Henry Armstrong became the universally-recognized featherweight champ when he stopped Petey Sarron in six rounds. The following year, he battered Barney Ross for 15 rounds to win the world welterweight title (could you imagine a featherweight today taking on a welterweight?). Later in 1938, Armstrong got a decision over Lou Ambers to win the lightweight crown and remarkably, he held all three world championships at the same time! Few have come close to matching the exceptional achievement of Fitzsimmons and Armstrong. One who did was the awesome Sugar Ray Robinson. Having already been world champ at welterweight and middleweight, he challenged light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim in 1952. Unfortunately, intense heat zapped his strength and despite being ahead on points, he was too exhausted to come out for the 14th round.
Bob Fitzsimmons became the first boxer to win genuine world titles in three of the original eight divisions
Another star who came close was Sugar Ray Leonard. He won lineal world championships at welterweight (against Wilfred Benitez in 1979) and middleweight (against Marvin Hagler in 1987). In 1988, he defeated Don Lalonde of Canada to win the WBC light heavyweight crown (and the meaningless super middleweight title too) but this does not count because Leonard was not the universally-recognized world champion at 175 lbs as a result of this victory (it was a shame he never went on to unify the titles). Leonard’s rival, Thomas Hearns, also fought in the welterweight, middleweight and light heavyweight divisions but he only collected a series of alphabet belts and could only be classed as a true lineal champion at light heavyweight. Of course, with the introduction of additional weight classes and, more significantly, the ever-growing multitude of alphabet titles, the accomplishment of becoming a two or three division champion has become much easier. It’s got to the stage now in which just about anyone can do it. In essence, boxers today simply gain a collection of alphabet belts and the opponents they beat count more for their legacy than whatever “title” they hold. However, for those boxing fans who follow and recognize lineal world championships, there is a fighter out there right now who has the potential to join Fitzsimmons’ and Armstrong’s exclusive club. It’s Manny Pacquiao. Of course, Oscar De La Hoya had a chance too. In 1995, De La Hoya could claim to be the true world lightweight champ when he beat Rafael Ruelas in May that year. It certainly gave him the strongest claim at the time and “Boxing Illustrated” magazine, who was naming one proper world champion per division, recognized him as such. In 1997, he outpointed Pernell Whitaker, albeit controversially, to gain the lineal welterweight title and in 2004 he challenged Bernard Hopkins, who the entire universe acknowledged as the world middleweight champion. De La Hoya was stopped for the first time in his career, but had he won, he could have claimed genuine world titles in three of the original eight weight classes.
Can Manny become a triple champion like Fitzsimmons and Armstrong?
Now Pacquiao has the opportunity. In 1998, he knocked out Chartchai Sasakul in eight rounds in Bangkok, Thailand. Sasakul was regarded as the lineal world flyweight champ and his claim could be traced all the way back to Miguel Canto. In 2003, Pacquiao beat Marco Antonio Barrera for the featherweight crown. Barrera was universally accepted as the true champ at 126 lbs and that gave Pacqiuao two legitimate world titles in two of the original eight weight classes. Currently, Juan Manuel Marquez can claim to be the legitimate world champion at lightweight. He certainly has the strongest entitlement and “The Ring” magazine identifies him with that designation. So if Pacquiao takes on lineal champ Marquez and wins, he should be able to rank himself alongside Fitzsimmons and Armstrong! Pacquiao is currently loitering in the welterweight class, but he could easily move back down to lightweight. He has faced Marquez twice before; in 2004 they boxed to a draw and in a rematch in 2008, Pacquiao won a narrow decision. Their first two bouts created a classic rivalry and was edge-of-the-seat stuff from beginning to end. Surely boxing fans would love to see a rubber match to settle the score. Does Pacquaio realize what's at stake if he drops back down to lightweight and tackles Marquez for a third time? Fitzsimmons and Armstrong would welcome a new member into their club.
But there's another option. Floyd Mayweather is the lineal champion at welterweight. A multi-million dollar, headline-grabbing showdown with Pacquiao had already been scheduled for March 13th this year but fell apart due to disagreements over pre-fight drug testing (though if Mayweather v Pacquiao had taken place then it would not have been for the lineal welterweight championship; Mayweather needed to beat Shane Mosley, the holder, first, which he did in May). There has been talk of the bout being re-scheduled for November 13th but it appears to be a longshot for a deal to be reached. However, if a Pacquiao-Mayweather clash does take place and Pacquiao wins, he can claim to be the lineal welterweight champion, which allows him to join Fitzsimmons and Armstrong. That's assuming Mayweather is still the champ if and when they ever meet in the ring.
Is a Marquez-Pacquiao rubber match possible? Who knows in this era of politics, money squabbles and bickering between camps and promoters? Anything can happen…..though too often doesn’t. Nevertheless, Mayweather has his own chance of stepping into Fitzsimmons' and Armstrong's club. He defeated Jose Luis Castillo in their first fight in 2002 to be regarded as the genuine world lightweight champion. In 2006, he outpointed Carlos Baldomir to become the lineal welterweight champion, and he regained that status when he beat Mosley back in May. He's two-thirds of the way there! In April this year, the exceptionally-talented Sergio Martinez beat Kelly Pavlik to win the true world middleweight championship. Recently, there have been discussions concerning Mayweather possibly moving up and challenging Martinez. Mayweather against Martinez is certainly a mouth-watering match-up and if it happens, and if Mayweather wins, he'll lay claim to lineal world championships in three of the original eight divisions. For some, this may not mean much, and records can be easily lost in the bottomless quagmire of alphabet belts. Plus, it’s not always easy to determine a true champion. But for those who love their history and prefer to follow universally-recognized world titles, Pacquiao and Mayweather have a real chance to reach a plateau that only two men have reached before. In this age, with boxing in the state it’s in, it’s about the nearest we can get to such a milestone. All we need is Pacquiao-Marquez III, or Pacquiao-Mayweather or Mayweather-Martinez. If only.....