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Undisputed vs. unified: Explaining the different types of boxing champions



WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury will defend his title against Deontay Wilder on October 9 with plans to challenge current unified champion Oleksandr Usyk to determine the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the four-belt era.

The original plan was for Fury to face former WBA (Super), IBF and WBO Anthony Joshua for the titles. But an arbitrator ruled that Wilder was owed a third fight with Fury before any Fury-Joshua fight could happen. That allowed Usyk to step in as the mandatory challenger for Joshua and pull off the stunning upset. And with Joshua owed a rematch with Usyk, it means that we may have to wait a little while longer to determine an undisputed champion.

Figuring out who the world champions are in boxing has become convoluted for the casual fan. There are a number of belts in each division and things can get quite complicated when trying to figure out what the difference is between a “unified” champion and an “undisputed” champion.

Before 1960, most of boxing’s champions were considered “undisputed” because there was only one champion in each weight class. But as the popularity of the sport grew, so did the number of boxing organizations that would crown their own champions. This led to many disputes over who was recognized as the “real” world champion with fighters moving up and down in weight class, boxing politics coming into play, and various other reasons. Up until 2004, there were three major sanctioning bodies in boxing: World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF).  

A fourth was added in 2004 when the World Boxing Organization was recognized by the WBC in its ranking listings. 

And the four-belt era was upon us in boxing.

Since 2004, there have only been five men’s fighters who have held all four titles from major sanctioning bodies in the same weight class.

  • Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight)
  • Bernard Hopkins (middleweight)
  • Jermain Taylor (middleweight)
  • Terence Crawford (junior welterweight)
  • Josh Taylor (junior welterweight)

But there have been plenty of fighters who have held two or more of the major sanctioning titles in a division. 

What is a unified champion?

A unified champion is one who holds two or more of the major sanctioning titles in a division:

Who are the unified champions in boxing?

Current unified champions include: 

  • Heavyweight: Oleksandr Usyk — IBF, WBA (super), WBO
  • Light heavyweight: Artur Beterbiev — IBF, WBC 
  • Super middleweight: Canelo Alvarez — WBA (super), WBC, WBO
  • Junior middleweight: Jermell Charlo — IBF, WBA (super), WBC  
  • Welterweight: Errol Spence Jr. — IBF, WBC
  • Junior welterweight: Josh Taylor — IBF, WBA (super), WBC, WBO  
  • Lightweight: Teofimo Lopez — IBF, WBA (super), WBO 
  • Super bantamweight: Murodjon Akhmadaliev — IFB, WBA (super)
  • Bantamweight: Naoya Inoue — IBF, WBA (super) 

What is an undisputed champion?

An undisputed champion is a fighter who holds all four major championship belts (IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO) in a division. 

It’s a rare feat that has only been accomplished by nine fighters in the four-belt era, five men and four women. 

Undisputed men’s boxing champions

  • Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight) 
  • Bernard Hopkins (middleweight)
  • Jermain Taylor (middleweight)
  • Terence Crawford (junior welterweight)
  • Josh Taylor (junior welterweight)*

*current champion

Undisputed women’s boxing champions

  • Claressa Shields (middleweight)
  • Claressa Shields (light middleweight)*
  • Cecilia Braekhus (welterweight)
  • Jessica McCaskill (welterweight)*
  • Katie Taylor (lightweight)*

*current champion

It’s possible that we see one other undisputed champion crowned in 2021 with WBC, WBO and WBA (Super) champion Canelo Alvarez set to face IBF titleholder Caleb Plant on November 6 to determine the first undisputed super middleweight champion. 



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