Lennox Lewis – No dispute, he was undisputed heavyweight champion of the world
Well, it all kicked off on Twitter 24 hours ago and the ensuing cyber superfight was pay-per-view material.
The first bell rang when Showtime Boxing’s Mauro Ranallo, a terrific commentator and staunch professional, stated that Mike Tyson was the last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, effectively dismissing Buster Douglas, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis as unified champions.
What was Showtime’s reasoning? None of these fighters held the WBO heavyweight title at the same time as they held the IBF, WBA and WBC versions. Sounds good, but the lines are blurred here, and it’s not surprising that Lennox Lewis is livid.
Older fight fans, like myself, will remember a time when the WBO was nowhere near as established as it is now. Through the years, the newest of the four recognized governing bodies (formed in 1988) gained recognition; country by country, division by division. However, for a long time the WBO was not recognized by the other sanctioning bodies, TV networks, RING Magazine, and even the fighters themselves. Case in point:
• In 1995, Evander Holyfield requested that the WBO heavyweight title held by Riddick Bowe not be on the line for their third fight. Holyfield was concerned that his rankings with the IBF, WBA and WBC would be affected.
• That same year, Oscar De La Hoya entered the ring against Rafael Ruelas with six WBO world title fights under his belt. However, De La Hoya was not recognized as a world champion by RING Magazine until he took the IBF lightweight title from Ruelas.
• In 1997, Henry Akinwande, only two months shy of defending his WBO heavyweight title, enters the ring against WBC counterpart Lennox Lewis. He had to vacate the WBO belt in order to secure the Lewis fight.
• In 1999, Prince Naseem Hamed, then the WBO featherweight titleholder, claimed the WBC version when he outpointed Cesar Soto. Shortly thereafter, Hamed was contacted by then-WBC president Jose Sulaiman requesting that he chose between the organizations. Hamed relinquished the WBC title as a result.
The point of telling you all this is that the WBO belt was not always viewed as a genuine world title.
When Lewis fought Holyfield twice in 1999, these were battles for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world (IBF, WBA and WBC titles only) and that is demonstrable. Go back and watch the rematch and you will hear Lewis officially crowned as “undisputed” champion when he is given a 12-round unanimous decision.
Yes, Vitali Klitschko held the WBO heavyweight title at the time, but jump into a Back to the Future style DeLorean and drive back to 1999. This was not Vitali Klitschko, hall of famer; this was Vitali Klitschko, big tough Ukrainian kid who was once knocked out as a kickboxer and was yet to fight the best.
And we’re not just besmirching the heavyweights with Showtime’s logic. Around the same time, a host of other fighters were anointed “undisputed champions” in their respective weight classes without the WBO belt being involved:
Roy Jones Jr. vs. Reggie Johnson
Date/ Venue: June 5, 1999/ Grand Casino, Biloxi
Titles at stake: IBF, WBA and WBC
Result: Jones Jr. receives universal acclaim as the “undisputed” light heavyweight champion of the world after posting a 12-round unanimous decision. Dariusz Michalzewski held the WBO light heavyweight title at this time.
Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad
Date/ Venue: Sept. 29, 2001/ Madison Square Garden, New York
Titles at stake: IBF, WBA, WBC and RING middleweight
Result: Hopkins receives universal acclaim as the “undisputed” middleweight champion of the world after posting a 12th-round TKO. Harry Simon held the WBO middleweight title at this time.
Kostya Tszyu vs. Zab Judah
Date/ Venue: Nov. 3, 2001/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Titles at stake: IBF, WBA, WBC and RING junior welterweight
Result: Tszyu receives universal acclaim as the “undisputed” junior welterweight champion of the world after posting a second-round TKO. DeMarcus Corley held the WBO junior welterweight title at this time.
Winky Wright vs. Sugar Shane Mosley
Date/ Venue: March 13, 2003/ Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas
Titles at Stake: IBF, WBA, WBC and RING junior middleweight
Result: Wright receives universal acclaim as the “undisputed” junior middleweight champion of the world after posting a 12-round unanimous decision. Daniel Santos held the WBO junior middleweight title at this time.
Cory Spinks vs. Ricardo Mayorga
Date/ Venue: Dec. 13, 2003/ Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City
Titles at stake: IBF, WBA, WBC and RING welterweight
Result: Spinks receives universal acclaim as the “undisputed” welterweight champion of the world after posting a 12-round majority decision. Antonio Margarito held the WBO welterweight title at this time.
Of the five bouts listed, four of the victors were declared “undisputed” world champions on fight night (Jones was named unified champion). So, by inference, if we’re saying Lewis was not undisputed heavyweight champion when he defeated Holyfield in November 1999, then none of the above winners were undisputed champions and it was all a lie?
That is re-writing history, and that is not OK. There is nothing wrong with Showtime Boxing admitting an error in research. We’ve all done it. They would just look so much better if they did, and that’s the least Lennox Lewis and the other fighters who have had their respective accomplishments called into question deserve.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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