Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are both hoping to win all of the belts in 2021, but it is now exactly 21 years today since the last undisputed world heavyweight champion ascended to the throne.
It is hoped the two current British behemoths will clash twice next year to settle boxing’s biggest debate. Who is the greatest heavyweight of all?
Fury is currently the WBC champion while Joshua holds the IBF, WBA and WBO belts. But let’s take a trip down Memory Lane to remember the last one.
The last undisputed world heavyweight champion
The last undisputed world heavyweight champion was British great Lennox Lewis. Born in London but then raised in Canada, Lewis returned home to become a national hero and one of the greatest big men ever.
Lewis (41-2-1) enjoyed a stellar career before retiring following a brutal 2003 victory over Vitali Klitschko in an epic cameo.
His greatest moment though had come four years earlier, on a memorable night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 2
Lewis vs Holyfield took place in Las Vegas on Saturday November 13, 1999. The pair had met for the first time eight months early in March, at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
That first bout had ended in a hugely controversial draw. This despite most experts feeling Lewis had won comfortably. There was much scrutiny afterwards, particularly on the scorecard of judge Eugenia Williams. She scored the bout 115-113 for Holyfield, including a highly contentious fifth round which Lewis had appeared to dominate.
Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 2 belts
Lewis and Holyfield fought of course for the three main recognised heavyweight belts in 1999 – the World Boxing Council (WBC), the World Boxing Association (WBA) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF). On the line also were the notional lineal title, and the lesser known International Boxing Organisation (IBO) belt.
Lewis was WBC and lineal king heading into the bout, while Holyfield held the WBA and IBF titles.
The rematch in Las Vegas came seven years after boxing’s previous undisputed king had been crowned. That was Riddick Bowe following his epic victory over Evander Holyfield.
Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 2 scorecards
The fight took a similar path to the first meeting, with Lewis looking to use his superior size and boxing ability to dominate the bout.
It was nip and tuck through the first seven rounds, with Holyfield winning rounds 4 through 7 on all three scorecards.
Lewis though would not be denied and came on strong to win rounds 8-11 on all three cards, and round 12 on two of the three.
That finishing surge saw him becoming undisputed world heavyweight champion via unanimous points decision. Scorecards were 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111.
Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 2 purses
The reported purse for Lewis vs Holyfield 2 was a total of $30million. This was split evenly between the two fighters.
The bout was a pay-per-view event on TV in both the UK and the United States. Home Box Office (HBO) aired the fight in the United States, while Sky Sports Box Office showed it in the UK.
Lennox Lewis vs Evander Holyfield 2: the aftermath
If becoming undisputed world heavyweight champion is difficult, remaining so is even harder.
Several organisations, all with mandatory contenders demanding a title shot, means an almost impossible hand to juggle.
Lewis was undisputed world heavyweight champion for less than a year, after a controversy around the WBA belt. He would go on to make his first defence post-Holyfield against Michael Grant in April 2000. Holyfield and Ruiz meanwhile would face off for the WBA belt. Holyfield prevailed to become boxing’s first four-time world heavyweight champion.
The next undisputed world heavyweight champion
There are now four major world title belts in heavyweight boxing. Currently all of them are owned by Fury and Joshua.
‘The Gypsy King’ is the WBC champion while AJ is the current IBF, WBA and World Boxing Organization (WBO) ruler.
Both men have fights in December, after which it appears the route to an undisputed showdown next summer could be clearer.
The one fly in the ointment appears to be former cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk. He is the mandatory WBO challenger and pushing hard for an immediate title shot at Joshua.
AJ is likely to be left with a difficult decision – defend against Usyk and push that Fury fight back. Or vacate the WBO belt to meet Fury immediately.
The latter route of course would mean Fury vs Joshua would not be for the undisputed title. The next few months should be very interesting…