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).
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 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.
The mandatory challenger for Fury’s title is fellow Briton Dillian Whyte, but he is still waiting for that elusive title shot (he was mandatory for around three years before that shock loss to Alexander Povetkin in August 2020). The latest is that the WBC failed to order Fury vs Whyte at its Mexico City Convention in November 2021 so we wait for the political machinations to play out.
Reports suggest Fury would rather face IBF, WBA and WBO king Usyk in a unification match than Whyte, but Oleksandr of course must get through his rematch with Joshua first. More on that next…
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.
There is a rematch clause, and their second fight is expected to take place in the spring of 2022.
In other IBF heavyweight news, Cuban Luis Ortiz is slated to meet Charles Martin in a final eliminator in Florida on New Year’s Day 2022.
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 Oleksandr Usyk, who claimed the belt with that superb unanimous decision victory over Joshua in his own back yard in north London.
As already stated, there is a rematch clause so it is likely that at some stage in the near future Usyk will have to defend his titles against AJ. Likely again in London.
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.
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.
The lineal title will likely be on the line next if and when Fury meets WBC mandatory challenger Whyte.
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 then retained it when he defeated Wilder in their third fight in October 2021.
Like the WBC and lineal titles, the Ring magazine belt will likely be on the line next for a Fury vs Whyte showdown.
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 get through those tricky assignments vs Wilder and Usyk respectively, then we could get the all-British unification showdown the UK craves. It would result in the first undisputed champion since Lennox 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.