The fight game’s complex political landscape means even some fight fans struggle to name the current world heavyweight boxing champions.
There are four accepted major governing bodies which each has a world heavyweight champion – the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO).
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Add to that the Ring magazine championship – awarded by publication which is widely perceived to be ‘the bible of boxing’ – and the beltless but still important ‘lineal’ championship, and it’s easy to see why people might become confused.
Here is a rundown on the situation. One which means there is seldom one answer to the question ‘Who is the current heavyweight champion?’:
The current heavyweight boxing world champions
WBC world heavyweight champion: Tyson Fury
The World Boxing Council was founded in 1963 and is based in Mexico. It is probably the most famous of all the governing bodies. It is now presided over by President Mauricio Sulaiman (son of former President Jose Sulaiman). Its hallowed green belt is something all top-level fighters want to hold at some stage in their career.
Tyson Fury (33-0-1) became the WBC world heavyweight champion in February 2020 when he crushed the previously unbeaten Deontay Wilder at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. He then successfully retained his title with an 11th-round knockout victory over Wilder in a wildly exciting trilogy match, again in Las Vegas, on October 9, 2021.
Fury again retained the WBC title when he stopped the mandatory contender Dillian Whyte with a peach of an uppercut late in Round 6 in front of 94,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Fury talked about retirement in the immediate aftermath of his win, but clearly now he is back and he produced another masterclass to retain the hallowed green belt with a brutal beatdown of Dereck Chisora in December 2022.
We are now close to knowing who the next mandatory challenger for Fury’s WBC belt will be. That after Andy Ruiz Jr defeated Luis Ortiz in their eliminator and Deontay Wilder notched a first-round KO vs Robert Helenius in theirs.
The next logical step is Wilder vs Ruiz (nice fight) for the position as WBC mandatory contender.
IBF world heavyweight champion: Oleksandr Usyk
The International Boxing Federation was founded in 1983 and is based in New Jersey. It provided Anthony Joshua with his first world heavyweight title back in 2016. AJ stopped American Charles Martin inside two rounds at London’s O2 Arena. It was only his 16th professional fight.
Joshua lost the IBF belt in that stunning upset defeat to late stand-in opponent Andy Ruiz Jr in New York in June 2019. He gained revenge by outpointing Ruiz Jr in Saudi Arabia in December 2019 to once again reach the highest level of the heavyweight division.
Once again standing on the brink of that showdown with Fury, Joshua defended his belts against Ukrainian former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on September 25, 2021.
Despite starting favourite, Joshua was in trouble right from the start as Usyk befuddled him with terrific hand speed and elite movement and ring craft. Oleksandr built an early lead, and although AJ had some success in the middle rounds it was the Ukrainian challenger who finished the stronger to claim a unanimous decision by 117-112, 116-112 and 115-113.
Usyk of course would follow that up with another brilliant victory in the rematch with Joshua in August 2022 in Jeddah. AJ put up a much better showing and appeared to have Usyk in serious trouble in Round 9, but the champion showed incredible fighting heart again to turn the fight around and finish strong. Now all roads should read to a huge unification fight between Usyk and WBC/lineal king Fury. Hopefully early in 2023.
While Fury vs Usyk would leave any other contenders on the outside looking in, we do have a new mandatory contender for the IBF title in the shape of unbeaten Croat Filip Hrgovic. He defeated Chinese giant Zhilei Zhang in a final eliminator on the Usyk vs Joshua 2 undercard.
WBA world heavyweight champion: Oleksandr Usyk
The World Boxing Association was founded back in 1921 and is based in Panama. It is the oldest of boxing’s major governing bodies and runs under the stewardship of President Gilberto Mendoza.
The current WBA world heavyweight champion is Usyk (20-0), who retained the belt with that superb split decision victory over Joshua in Saudi Arabia in August 2022.
It is hoped that the belt will next be up for grabs in a huge unification showdown between Usyk and Tyson Fury.
WBO world heavyweight champion: Oleksandr Usyk
The World Boxing Organization was founded in 1988 and is based in Puerto Rico. It is now the third of the world heavyweight titles held by new champion Oleksandr Usyk.
Usyk won the title with that terrific performance to dethrone Anthony Joshua courtesy of a unanimous decision in front of a crowd of more than 67,000 fans in London. He then defended it successfully with a close but clear victory over Joshua in their Jeddah rematch in August 2022.
The mandatory challenger for the WBO heavyweight title is the unbeaten British star Joe Joyce (15-0) after his impressive 11th-round knockout victory over former world champion Joseph Parker in Manchester in September.
Lineal world heavyweight champion: Tyson Fury
The title of lineal heavyweight champion is the one most respected by hardcore fight fans.
The lineal champion in boxing is “the man who beat the man”. This avoids the confusion caused by fighters vacating some or all of their belts, or being stripped of them.
The current lineal world heavyweight champion is Tyson Fury. He took that moniker in November 2015 when he defeated previous champion Wladimir Klitschko on points in Dusseldorf. Fury is still undefeated inside a ring. He confirmed his lineal status with that crushing defeat of Wilder in February 2020 and retained the title with that stoppage win in their trilogy match in October 2021.
Fury once again successfully defended that lineal moniker in April 2022, when he stopped Dillian Whyte in Round 6 at London’s Wembley Stadium. He followed up with that brilliant performance to beat Chisora to a pulp in their December 2022 trilogy fight.
Ring magazine world heavyweight champion: Oleksandr Usyk
The Ring magazine world heavyweight title is worthy of mention due to the standing the belt. It is a form of lineal title – and the publication itself is still revered in boxing circles.
The current title holder is Oleksandr Usyk, who claimed the title with that victory over Joshua in their Saudi Arabia rematch in August 2022. That fight came just days after previous champion Fury had confirmed he was vacating the title.
Undisputed world heavyweight champion
There is no undisputed heavyweight champion right now. The coveted status is given to a fighter who holds the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO world titles simultaneously.
The last fighter to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world was Britain’s Lennox Lewis. He outpointed Evander Holyfield in their rematch in Las Vegas in November 1999 to unify the titles.
The list of legendary fighters to have been undisputed heavyweight champion in days gone by also includes Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Mike Tyson.
We could yet have an undisputed champion soon, if Fury and Usyk meet in early 2023.