The History Of The Linear Heavyweight Title, And An Accomplishment Achieved By Just Two Men

27.07.06 - By James Slater There was a time when it was simple. Everyone knew who the heavyweight champion of the world was. From the man on the street, to the avid fight fan - such a question would have been answered in a flash. But not any more. Nowadays, thanks to multiple titles - a product of the alphabet soup gangs - many fight fans, let alone the casual observer, cannot tell you who the heavyweight king is. Once upon a time, such a notion would have been considered ludicrous. With the linear title traceable, from the current champ back to the previous holder of what was once called the richest prize in sports, it was a simple case of the man who beat the man.

There were no arguments. A fighter was either dethroned as a result of losing in the ring, retiring, or passing away. But today confusion abounds. There is no reason why it should be this way. As one boxing writer once wrote - how can there be more than one world champion, when there is only one world? Why indeed?

Looking back at the history of linear heavyweight championship, we can see how things used to be. A challenger defeating the reigning champ and ascending to the throne was the most common scenario, while occasionally a fighter would retire while still holding the title. In such a case a match-up between the two top contenders would settle who would be the new boss. But this way of doing things ended when the life of the linear title reached its end. With the retirement of Vitali Kitschko ( some would say sooner even, due to not perceiving the Ukrainian as the linear ruler - more about this later) and then no box-off between two fighters universally recognised as the top contenders, came the end of the linear title. As a result, there is NO “real” heavyweight champion of the world anymore! We have at least three men claiming to be the real deal instead. Oh - for the days of yesteryear.

John L. Sullivan, the heavyweight champion before the gloved era, loses the title to James J. Corbett in 1892. Corbett then loses it to Bob Fitzsimmons, who loses it to James J. Jeffries. Jeffries retires and relinquishes the title. Marvin Hart becomes champion by defeating contender Jack Root, then loses the title to Tommy Burns, who loses to Jack Johnson. Johnson then loses it to Jess Willard, who is beaten by Jack Dempsey. Dempsey loses to Gene Tunney, and Tunney retires. Max Schmeling defeats Jack Sharkey in a battle to decide Tunney’s successor, Sharkey then beats Schmeling in a return bout, before losing the title to Primo Carnera. Carnera loses to Max Baer, Baer then loses to James J. Braddock. Braddock loses to Joe Louis, who retires as the champ. To decide the new ruler, Jersey Joe Walcott and Ezzard Charles box and Charles wins, only to lose in a rematch. Walcott then loses the title to Rocky Marciano. Rocky relinquishes the title by way of retirement, and Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore meet to decide his successor, Patterson wins. He then loses to Ingemar Johansson, only to regain the title in a second fight. Floyd then loses to Sonny Liston, who loses to Cassius Clay (who changes his name to Muhammad Ali soon after his win).

Ali is then forced into exile for religious beliefs, only to return to the ring to box Joe Frazier. Frazier wins and become the champion. Frazier then loses to George Foreman, who loses to the come backing Ali. Ali then loses to Leon Spinks, who loses to Ali in a return fight. Ali then retires, only to return to box Larry Holmes, Holmes wins and is the title holder. Holmes loses to Michael Spinks, who loses to Mike Tyson, who loses to James Douglas. James loses the title to Evander Holyfield, who loses it to Riddick Bowe. Bowe is dethroned by Holyfield in a rematch, and then Evander loses the title to Michael Moorer. Moorer loses to George Foreman (who becomes the oldest man in history to win the title) and then Foreman loses to Shannon Briggs. Briggs loses to Lennox Lewis, who, after losing and then regaining the title from Hasim Rahman, retires as champ, thus relinquishing. And finally, Vitali Klitschko defeats Corrie Sanders to become the linear champ in some eyes - including those of Ring magazine - the proclaimed “Bible of Boxing”. Klitschko then retires as ruler, after which there is no contest to decide his successor. Hence the end of line for the linear heavyweight championship of the world.

And now to the very rare accomplishment mentioned in this article’s title. During all the changing of hands the linear title went through, only two men ever captured it in a single round. Just two boxers managed to get their hands on the championship in less than three minutes. They are Charles “Sonny” Liston and “Iron” Mike Tyson. These two fighters, who are similar in so many other ways, are linked by this achievement. Such a thought will no doubt please Mike Tyson, being the Liston admirer he is. Mike can often be seen paying his respects at Sonny’s grave, just outside of Las Vegas. And though both men are known and remembered for things that are less than flattering, they can both rest in peace with the knowledge that they alone were capable of winning the richest prize in all sports in such a dominating and speedy fashion.

Mike Tyson and Sonny Liston - the only holders of a distinctive accomplishment.

Article posted on 28.07.2006

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