The lineal championship – historically explained as ‘the man who beat the man’ – is the ultimate goal for some fighters. Given the wealth of belts that are won and lost in the sport, the lineal title is a throwback to a simpler time with one recognised champion.
Up until this year, Tyson Fury laid claim to it. He beat long-reigning Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 – a man who was widely regarded as lineal champion ever since Lennox Lewis had hung up the gloves. However, many fans believed that Fury’s hiatus from the sport from that win until 2018 muddies the water – although he did return and beat then WBC Champion, Deontay Wilder and has remained undefeated.
Tony Bellew caught up with IFL TV to chat about Fury’s recent retirement claim, and the conversation moved onto the workings of the lineal title.
“I think it’s amazing what he’s done, but you can’t retire every five minutes and then say that [you’re] coming back. You’ve just retired and let the one and two fight… It’s funny isn’t it because right now I don’t hear the word lineal champion anymore. Is that cause he’s not the lineal champion, or is he the lineal champion? I don’t know.”
When told that Fury ‘has got to be beat to lose that status’, Bellew responded with his pick for heavyweight lineal champion – which seemed more devil’s advocate than opinion.
“Has he? Okay, well then in my opinion Lennox Lewis is the lineal champion. Lennox Lewis has retired less times than Tyson Fury. Lennox Lewis retired once, Tyson Fury retired twice. So which way are we going with it? I’m just stating facts.”
The lineal champion is often debatable, a reason why some fans prefer to stick to the physical belts that change hands clearly. What is usually agreed, though, is that when a fighter retires the lineal title moves on to be fought between number one and number two of the division, or is left vacant until an undisputed champion is crowned.
If that is the case then of course Lennox Lewis can’t hold the crown, but perhaps Fury can’t either if his retirement was official, albeit brief. Fans who follow the logic of ‘The Gypsy King’ giving up the lineal championship when he announced his exit from the sport are then likely to award it to Oleksandr Usyk, who beat Anthony Joshua not long after for the WBA, IBF, WBO, IBO and The Ring titles.
Either that, or they will wait for an undisputed champion – but it could be a long wait.