It’s been a while, but Saturday, September 25 brings one of the biggest heavyweight fights in a year and a half. Current WBA, IBF, WBO, and IBO champion Anthony Joshua will face off against Oleksander Usyk. It’s not the title bout people want for the heavyweight division, but politics and money remain issues in getting a Joshua fight against Tyson Fury.
Fury is currently the WBC and Ring Magazine heavyweight champ. He is fighting Deontay Wilder in a rematch of Fury’s February 2020 seventh round TKO. Fury-Wilder came together because Fury and Joshua could not come to terms on a series of bouts.
At some point, the hope is that Fury and Joshua face off to formally unify the heavyweight division. Both fighters have held three of the four major belts at one time, but one has always remained loose. Fury, Joshua, and Wladimir Klitschko have all held three of the belts in the four-belt era.
The last time the heavyweight division was unified was in April of 2000 when Lennox Lewis held the WBA, WBC, and IBF titles. He held all the major titles at the time after beating Evander Holyfield via unanimous decision in November 1999 to claim the WBA and IBF titles.
Lewis never made a formal defense of all three belts due to his contract in fighting Holyfield. The WBA stripped him of his title after he agreed to fight WBC mandatory challenger Michael Grant instead of the WBA’s mandatory challenger, John Ruiz. Ruiz sued because language in the Holyfield contract stated the winner of Lewis-Holyfield would be against the WBA’s No. 1 contender. Lewis stuck with the Grant fight and that ended his undisputed reign.
The previous undisputed champion was Riddick Bowe, when he claimed all three belts in a unanimous decision victory over Evander Holyfield. A month later, Bowe lost his undisputed status without making a single defense when he dumped the WBC title into a trash can. That’s boxing for you!
Holyfield had previously been undisputed champ after beating Buster Douglas via third round knockout. He made three successful title defenses against George Foreman, Bert Cooper, and Larry Holmes before Bowe beat him.
And of course, Douglas claimed the title with his stunning knockout of Mike Tyson in 1990. The latter had been the first undisputed champion of the three-belt era and made six successful title defenses before losing the belt.
The longest reign by an undisputed heavyweight champion belongs to Joe Louis. He knocked out James Braddock in June 1937 and held the NYSAC and NBA titles until his temporary retirement in 1949. During that time he made a record 26 successful title defenses.