The lineal champion. The man who beat the man who beat the man. The number one.
Tyson Fury will claim to many he is indeed the lineal champion, after all, he was the man to dethrone Wladimir Klitschko in November of 2015.
Making the claim to be the lineal champion is a big deal. Its bigger than holding belts. You are the man of the division – and in the heavyweight division, it means that much more.
But for Tyson Fury to claim he holds lineal championship is simply untrue.
To understand why, we must first break down what the lineage of the heavyweight division looks like.
Going back to 1885, bare-knuckle heavyweight world champion John L. Sullivan oversaw the introduction the Queensbury rules – the rules that brought boxing into the modern era. The lineal championship was therefore born.
Sullivan was beaten by James L. Corbett in 1892. He became the man. Bob Fitzsimmons beat Corbett, James J. Jefferies beat Fitzsimmons. The man who beat the man process was in full flow. Then Jefferies retired in 1905 – the lineage was vacated as Jefferies never lost in the ring.
When a fighter retires, the lineage breaks, and the lineal title will then be contested by the accepted two best in the world. In the early 20th century, before the days of boxing boards and councils, this system was adequate.
The lineage was passed from champion to champion all the way through the glory days of the heavyweight division. Tunney, Schmeling, Joe Louis, Ingemar Johansson, Floyd Patterson, Liston, Ali, Foreman, Tyson, Holyfield. All these greats held the lineal title.
Then Lennox Lewis.
Lewis beat Vitali Klitschko – just.
Lewis then retired and vacated the lineage just as Jefferies did almost 100 years prior.
The modern standard of a lineal champion can be one of two things. The man who beat the man, or the consensus dominant champion. The consensus dominant champion over the following ten years was Wladimir Klitschko. He was declared the lineal champion and granted the Ring magazine title in 2009 after he defeated Ruslan Chagaev. He became the man.
What about Fury?
Tyson Fury then beat Klitschko. He became the man. No arguments there. Tyson Fury was the lineal heavyweight champion of the world – ad held the Ring magazine belt.
Then, in 2016, Fury failed a drug test and retired. For three years. The lineage broke.
The lineage of the heavyweight division remains broke, and cannot be claimed until we do not have a consensus dominant heavyweight champion. When a man claims all four belts, he is the undisputed and lineal champion – just see Oleksandr Usyk. Claimed all four belts, became the undisputed and lineal cruiserweight champion.
By failing a drugs test, and retiring for three years, Fury relinquished any claim to the lineal heavyweight title he once held. The point that you cannot lose the lineal heavyweight title until you lose a fight in the ring is simply not true.
If that were the case, James J. Jefferies would still be the lineal champion – despite the fact he passed away in 1953. If Lennox Lewis decided to make a comeback at the age of 52 – would he be considered the lineal champion? Categorically not. He retired and vacated lineal title.
Fury retired and failed a drugs test after the Klitschko fight.
He lost the right to claim the heavyweight lineage – at this moment.
Fury back to Number One?
Should Fury beat Pianeta on Saturday, beat Wilder in their expected fight, and then beat Joshua to claim all the belts – he would become the lineal champion again. This is a very real possibility.
However, as Matt Christie claims, “Once a champion retires or, in Fury’s case, fails a drug test, then surely they lose their right to the championship, lineal or otherwise”.
Tyson Fury, at this moment in time, is a contender. The same as the likes of Jarrell Miller, Dillian Whyte, and Alexander Povetkin. Make no mistake also, should the Joshua Wilder fight happen, the man who wins has a greater claim to the lineage than Fury – being the undisputed champion for any period of time makes you the lineal champion. Retiring and failing a drugs test relinquished any claim to the lineal title that you have. That is my opinion.