Becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world is often considered to be the pinnacle achievement for a fighter in the sport of boxing.
The highly coveted status has been held by some of the sport’s most well renowned names over the years including Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.
Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk are both vying to join the illustrious list. The two champions are currently in possession of all four major belts in the heavyweight division.
It has now been over 20 years since boxing had an undisputed heavyweight champion. But what does it mean to be the undisputed champion and who was the last fighter to hold that status in the heavyweight division.
What does it mean to be an undisputed champion?
The undisputed champion in boxing is a fighter who holds all the belts from the sport’s four major governing bodies: the WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF.
Other belts such as the IBO belt and the Ring championship title are not factored into the undisputed champion status.
A unified champion is defined as a fighter who holds belts from two or more bodies, but not necessarily all four major titles in the division.
For example, Oleksandr Usyk is a unified champion as he has held the WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight titles since defeating Anthony Joshua in 2021.
But he is not the undisputed champion as Tyson Fury is the holder of the WBC heavyweight title.
A potential fight between the two unbeaten fighters would lead to a first undisputed champion in the heavyweight division for 23 years, unless the fight was to finish as a draw.
Who was the last undisputed champion in the heavyweight division?
The last undisputed heavyweight champion of the world was boxing commentator and former professional boxer Lennox Lewis.
He held the WBA, WBO and IBF titles from November 1999 to April 2000.
At the time there were only three recognised belts in the sport of boxing, this soon changed in 2004 when the WBC belt was added. Meaning there has been no undisputed heavyweight champion in the four-belt era.
Who is Lennox Lewis?
Lennox Lewis, nicknamed The Lion, is a three-time world heavyweight champion. He is viewed by some experts as one one of the most talented heavyweights to ever step into the boxing ring.
Holding dual British and Canadian citizenship, Lewis rose to prominence as an amateur boxer by winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, beating future heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe in the final.
The 6ft 5in fighter made his professional debut in 1989 and he won a series of regional titles in his first three years in boxing including the Commonwealth and British titles.
Lewis won the world title for the first time in 1993 by beating veteran Tony Tucker by unanimous decision. He defended the world title against Frank Bruno and Phil Jackson before falling to a shock defeat against Oliver McCall in 1994.
The Lion regained the world title in 1995 and became the undisputed world champion for the first time in his career by beating Evander Holyfield in November 1999.
How did Lennox Lewis lose the undisputed title?
Lennox Lewis never defended the undisputed heavyweight title and he was stripped of the WBA title on April 29, 2000 because of a mandatory defence controversy.
When Lewis captured the undisputed title he was reportedly contracted to fight the WBA mandatory challenger at the time John Ruiz.
However, Lewis instead opted to fight Michael Grant. Lewis won the fight with a second round knockout, maintaining the IBF and WBO belts. However, he never regained the WBA title in his career.
Lewis went on to record a series of victories over the likes of David Tua, Hasim Rahman, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitchsko. He retired as world champion in 2003 with a record of 41 wins, two losses and one draw.
Who else has been the undisputed heavyweight champion?
The undisputed champion status has been held by some of the greatest fighters in the history of the heavyweight division including Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Evander Holyfield and Rocky Marciano.
Tyson is the youngest heavyweight to ever be crowned undisputed champion, he was just 21-years-old when he defeated Tony Tucker in 1987.
Muhammad Ali was the only fighter to be recognised as the undisputed champion on three separate occasions over the course of his glittering career in the sport.
Joe Louis held the undisputed heavyweight title for the longest period, he held the belts from 1937 to 1949 - making a total of 26 defences in the process.
While Rocky Marciano recorded a perfect career record of 49 victories without ever being beaten in the ring. He remains the only unbeaten heavyweight champion in boxing history.