Lineal Championships in Boxing Explained

Muhammad Ali became lineal heavyweight champion three different times, a feat no one has matched.
Muhammad Ali became lineal heavyweight champion three different times, a feat no one has matched. | Harry Benson/Getty Images

Apart from each sanctioning body's exhaustive list of championship belts, there's a unique dispute over just how "lineal" championships in boxing are ultimately determined. The subject is one that draws much scrutiny around the boxing world.

So, in order to dispel the confusion and set things straight, we're here to provide a succinct explanation of the mythical distinction known as the lineal championship

What Does Lineal Mean?

Dictionary definitions of "lineal," per Merriam-Webster, include "composed of or being in a direct male or female line of ancestry," "relating to or derived from ancestors," "descended in a direct line," and/or "belonging to one lineage."

What is a Lineal Champion?

The lineal championship is a world title held first by the undisputed champion of a certain weight class, and subsequently by any fighter in that weight class who beats him or her, and so on and so on.

The lineal championship is a pure meritocracy. In order to claim it, a fighter must beat the titleholder. It is naturally held in high regard, viewed by many as the most prestigious title a boxer can win given that it comes with no required title defenses against mandatory challengers and cannot be relinquished by order of a sanctioning body.

What Happens When a Lineal Champion Retires?

It is possible for the title to be passed on by alternative methods. If a lineal champion retires, dies or moves to a different weight class than the one they claimed the title in, then the title is usually conferred via a match between the two top-ranked boxers remaining in the division.

Naturally, that can be the source of controversy, as nobody ever quite agrees on who most deserves the next shot at lineal glory in these situations.

Is Tyson Fury Really the Lineal Heavyweight Champion?

This is an intriguing question. Tyson Fury is the man who ended the reign of previous heavyweight lineal champ, Wladimir Klitschko, and he hasn't lost a fight since then. Logic would hold that he's still Mr. Lineal in the heavyweight division, but not everyone agrees given that he was forced to give up his championship belts due to being unable to face mandatory challengers in a timely manner and saw his career derailed by substance abuse issues and doping violations.

There's no consensus about what a positive drug or PED test means for a lineal champion's status as such. But you can bet that Fury and his promoters and fans have never once considered not calling him the lineal champ given that he's never lost a single professional fight.

Indeed, the lineal championship is a truly prestigious title to hold. Muhammad Ali, for example, is the only heavyweight boxer to ever claim the title three times. It takes true talent to be crowned the lineal champion.