By Daniel Sharman
The lineal or 'World' championship has for decades held a special place in the hearts and minds of ardent boxing fans around the globe. Whilst major alphabet titles in the form of belts are both overly ubiquitous and often held by fighters without any sort of legitimate claim to supremacy within a weight class, the lineal champion is the fighter who can legitimately claim to be the best of the best, the true number one fighter within a given division. For a boxer to acquire the lineal status is for him to reach the pinnacle of the sport within his era, and serves as a notice to all other boxers in a weight class that this is the man to beat.
However, in recent times, largely due to Tyson Fury's vocal promotion of his own status as lineal heavyweight champion, it has become fairly commonplace to see boxing 'fans' criticise the very notion of a lineal champion, and label it as 'imaginary', 'made-up', and so on. Whilst these criticisms are usually made by those who are either uninformed, unable to understand the concept, or simply trolling, some more distinguished voices have spoken dismissively of the idea of a lineal championship (such as, for example, Thomas Hauser). Thus, in this two part series, I will address the two main criticisms levelled against the lineal championship, both of which I believe to be mistaken. This will also act as a follow up article to my previous one regarding the possibility of Naoya Inoue securing the lineal bantamweight title.
1.) "The lineal championship doesn't exist."
This is the main criticism directed towards the lineal championship. The criticism usually goes as follows: as there is no belt to be won for the lineal title, and no organisational rules to adhere to (e.g. enforced mandatory challenges), the lineal title isn't real; it's just 'made-up'.
This criticism gets the situation entirely the wrong way round. It is not the lineal title which is invented, but rather the championship titles proffered by various sanctioning bodies. It is the various alphabets titles which are created or made-up, whereas the lineal title is the real championship, existing separate to the dictates of any group of individuals who decide to call themselves a 'sanctioning' or 'governing' body. Fundamentally, the lineal championship is not the same as a championship which is sanctioned and controlled by a governing body (e.g. the WBC); the lineal title is not owned by any specific organisation or cabal of individuals, and was not created by them. Any group of people can get together, form an organisation, and decide to start giving out 'championships': this is what happened with the WBA and WBC, followed by the IBF, then WBO, and now the IBO. These titles only have legitimacy insofar as people are willing to recognise them as valuable (for instance, at one point the WBO was seen as illegitimate). By contrast, the lineal title is by definition legitimate: it is no more and no less than a designation which is attached to the best fighter within a given weight division, and a boxer's possessing the lineal championship amounts simply to the fact that others, both boxers and non-boxers alike, recognise that fighter's status as the best within their weight division.
Whereas the legitimacy of sanctioning body titles is subjective, or dependent on opinion, the legitimacy of the lineal championship is objective, or dependent on fact.
The word 'champion' itself implies the existence of a world or lineal champion: a champion means one who has shown his superiority to all others in some matter decided by public contest or competition, in this case, boxing. Thus, it is incoherent to maintain that there can be any more than one champion in a given weight class (let alone four or more). Indeed, the major sanctioning bodies, in mutually recognising one another's titles, themselves thereby tacitly conceding that the person whom they crown 'champion' is not really the champion, the true number one. And, it especially ridiculous that those fans who happily recognise all four major titles will at the same time denigrate the lineal championship; they are willing to accept a situation which is contradictory in itself, whilst denying the existence of something far more coherent.
Now, as regards the lineal championship, a boxer's holding the lineal status continues up until such point as he loses it to another fighter (who then succeeds him as the lineal champion), or he permanently retires (at least from the weight class in which he possessed the title). And the way a vacant lineal championship is filled is simple: the two boxers recognised as the best in the division square off against one another, and whoever wins assumes the new title.
It is almost universally agreed that there are too many titles in boxing, but most fans of the sport seem to have lost track of what championship titles are actually intended to be. Each governing body, at least in theory, intends their championship to be held by the genuine number one in a given division; when a fighter wins their championship, they are given a belt as an outward symbol or manifestation of their status as champion. It is not the belt itself which is important, and it is only supposed to outwardly show the important thing: that the person with the belt around their waist is the true champion, the genuine number one. The belt follows the championship, not the other way round.
It seems that fans, in our materially obsessed age, have got the order of things muddled. Many fans act as if the important thing is the physical act of holding a belt, and that, by holding the belt, a boxer thereby acquires the status of champion. This is all wrong: holding a belt merely indicates in a visible and aesthetically pleasing way that a given fighter is champion, no more, no less. By thinking that holding a belt makes one a champion, fans have fostered an environment in which sanctioning bodies are able to endlessly proliferate world titles on no greater basis than their ability to physically proliferate the belts themselves (note, for instance, that the WBA's 'regular' and 'super' belts are visually indistinguishable).
To recap, the lineal championship exists. It is a status or designation which is held by the best boxer in a weight class. Whilst there is no physical belt which a boxer receives to represent his status as lineal champion, he can nevertheless hold that status, and can only lose it through either retiring or being beaten by another fighter. The lineal champion is the real champion in a weight class. Unlike the championship titles of sanctioning bodies, the lineal title was not invented or contrived by an organisation or group of individuals, and its legitimacy is not dependent on people conferring legitimacy upon it; it is simply the designation given to the best fighter within a weight class, and exists above and beyond the whims of any self-purported sanctioning body whom the public may be willing to accept.
Coming up in Part 2: Responding to "The lineage has been broken, and so is no longer valid!"
(Images of Yuri Arbachakov and Daisuke Naito courtesy of http://jpba.gr.jp/, Image of Pongsaklek Wonjongkam courtesy of Thairec)
These articles are submitted by guest writers and sites. They aren't submitted by the usual folk behind Asian Boxing and don't fall in line with our editorial stance, giving a fresh view on various boxing issues from the Asian boxing scene.