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 who each have a world champion – the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF) and the World Boxing Organization (WBO).
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.
All of the major titles for boxing’s marquee weight class currently reside in the UK, and a potential unification showdown between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua appears increasingly likely later this year. The current plan is for late May or early June.
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 (30-0-1) became the WBC world heavyweight champion in February 2020 when he crushed the previously unbeaten Deontay Wilder (now 42-1-1-) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Fury and Wilder had been contracted to meet for the WBC title again later this year – their third fight in total. However the fight will not take place now. The challenge of a packed US TV schedule and COVID-19 meant time ran out. After Fury’s planned December 5 date against Agit Kabayel was also scuppered, ‘The Gypsy King’ will now return to the ring in 2021.
The mandatory contender for the WBC title right now is Russian Alexander Povetkin. He shattered the dreams of Dillian Whyte with a brutal fifth-round stoppage at Matchroom Fight Camp on August 22, 2020. Povetkin and Whyte will rematch in early 2021, with mandatory status again on the line. The rematch was initially slated for November 21, 2020 – but the Povetkin tested positive for COVID-19.
However the WBC has stated that Povetkin’s right to a title challenge does not kick in immediately. That allows Fury to instead pursue a unification match with Anthony Joshua.
IBF world heavyweight champion: Anthony Joshua
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.
AJ defended his belts in some style by knocking out durable Bulgarian Kubrat Pule in round nine of their showdown at London’s SSE Arena, Wembley on December 12, 2020.
Joshua was on top right from the start against the 39-year-old Pulev, forcing the Bulgarian to take a standing count and then dropping him in round three with a lovely uppercut. Another uppercut repeated the dose in the ninth and though Pulev beat the count, he was knocked out late in the session by a peach of a right hand.
WBA world heavyweight champion: Anthony Joshua
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 Anthony Joshua (24-1). He regained the title with a unanimous points victory over Andy Ruiz Jr in their rematch in Saudi Arabia in December 2019. Joshua had lost the belt to Ruiz, suffering his first professional career defeat in the process. That came at Madison Square Garden, New York in June 2019.
AJ had taken the WBA title for the first time with an epic victory over modern great Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium in April 2017. Joshua was floored in Round 6 and looked booked for defeat before mounting a superb recovery to stop ‘Dr Steelhammer’ in Round 11.
Joshua successfully defended the WBA title with that knockout of Pulev on Saturday December 12, 2020.
WBO world heavyweight champion: Anthony Joshua
The World Boxing Organization was founded in 1988 and is based in Puerto Rico. It is the third of the world heavyweight titles held by Anthony Joshua.
AJ won the WBO world heavyweight title with a unanimous decision against New Zealander Joseph Parker in Cardiff in March 2018. Joshua lost his belt in that stunner against Ruiz Jr in June 2019. He then won it back in their Saudi Arabia rematch in December 2019.
The mandatory contender for the WBO title is former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk (18-0). He defeated Dereck Chisora via unanimous points decision on October 31 to cement that status.
Joshua is likely to be left with a stark choice now. Firstly he can defend his belt against Usyk, and delay that massive Fury showdown. Secondly, he can vacate his belt and face Fury straight away. The second option would mean Fury vs Joshua would not be for the undisputed championship.
Should Joshua vacate the belt, then Usyk would likely meet Joe Joyce (12-0) for the vacant strap. Joyce took Daniel Dubois’ #2 spot in the rankings with a stunning upset victory over the 23-year-old prodigy on November 28 2020. The 10th-round knockout handed ‘Dynamite’ (15-1) his first defeat as a professional.
Joshua retained the WBO title with that dominant victory over Pulev in London on Saturday December 12, 2020.
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.
Ring magazine world heavyweight champion: Tyson Fury
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 Tyson Fury, who won the belt for a second time with that defeat of Deontay Wilder in Las Vegas in February. He previously won the title with the 2015 defeat of Wladimir Klitschko. He had been stripped for inactivity in early 2018.
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.
If Fury and Joshua do meet as planned in late May or early June – and the bout doesn’t end in a draw – we will get the first undisputed champion since Lewis more than 20 years ago.
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.