Boxing's Lineal Heavyweight Champions

1876 - Present

Sonny Liston and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) during their fight for the heavyweight championship in 1964.
Sonny Liston (left) and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) in action during their heavyweight title fight at Miami Beach, Florida. Clay won the contest, becoming world champion, when Liston failed to come out at the start of the seventh round. (February 25, 1964). (Photo by Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images)

With all the title belts floating around, boxing fans tend to be most interested in the "lineal" champion in any particular weight class. A fighter can only truly become the lineal champ by beating the previous lineal champ -- or being "the man that beat the man." In the event the prior lineal champ has permanently retired, or, for non-heavyweights, permanently left the weight class, there is no definitive process to recognize a new lineal champ, but it generally requires a fighter to become universally acclaimed as the best in that class.

1876-1908: The Early Legends

Legendary boxers like John L. Sullivan, "Gentleman" James J. Corbett and Jack Johnson came onto the scene during boxing's early years. The three boxing greats held the title for more than half of the sport's first 42 years.

  • 1876 - May 30, 1880: Joe Goss - Claimed the title after defeating Tom Allen on a foul in 21 rounds.
  • May 30, 1880 - Feb. 7, 1882: Paddy Ryan - Won the title from Joe Goss in the 87th round when Goss was unable to continue.
  • Feb. 7, 1882 - Sept. 7, 1892: John L. Sullivan - Won championship from Paddy Ryan when Ryan was unable to continue after nine knockdowns. Recognized as the last bare knuckle champion and the first Marquess of Queensberry heavyweight champion.
  • Sept. 7, 1892 - Mar. 17, 1897: James J. Corbett - Won championship via 21st round KO of John L. Sullivan.
  • Mar. 17, 1897 - June 9, 1899: Bob Fitzsimmons - Won the championship via 14th round KO of James J. Corbett
  • June 9, 1899 - May 13, 1905: James J. Jeffries - Won championship via 11th round KO of Bob Fitzsimmons. Retires as champion.
  • May 13, 1905 - July 3, 1905: Title Vacant
  • July 3, 1905 - Feb. 23, 1906: Marvin Hart - Won vacant championship via 12th round KO of Jack Root.
  • Feb. 23, 1906 - Dec. 26, 1908: Tommy Burns - Won championship via 20 round decision over Marvin Hart.
  • Dec. 26, 1908 - Apr. 5, 1915: Jack Johnson - Won championship via 14th round TKO of Tommy Burns. First African-American heavyweight champion.

1915-1937: Dempsey, Tunney, Schmeling and Louis

The early part of the 20th century saw the emergence of names that would become legendary in boxing: Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Max Schmeling and Joe Louis dominated these years, with Tunney and Louis retiring as champs.

  • Apr. 5, 1915 - July 4, 1919: Jess Willard - Won championship via 26th round KO of Jack Johnson.
  • July 4, 1919 - Sept. 23, 1926: Jack Dempsey - Won championship via 3rd round TKO of Jess Willard.
  • Sept. 23, 1926 - July 31, 1928: Gene Tunney - Won championship via 10 round decision over Jack Dempsey. Retires as champion.
  • July 31, 1928 - June 12, 1930: Title Vacant
  • June 12, 1930 - June 21, 1932: Max Schmeling - Won vacant championship via 4th round DQ over Jack Sharkey
  • June 21, 1932 - June 29, 1933: Jack Sharkey - Won championship via 15 round decision over Max Schmeling.
  • June 29, 1933 - June 14, 1934: Primo Carnera - Won championship via 6th round KO of Jack Sharkey.
  • June 14, 1934 - June 13, 1935: Max Baer - Won championship via 11th round KO of Primo Carnera.
  • June 13, 1935 - June 22, 1937: James J. Braddock - Won championship via 15 round decision over Max Baer.
  • June 22, 1937 - Mar. 1, 1949: Joe Louis - Won championship via 8th round KO of James J. Braddock. Retired as champion.

1949-1964: Midcentury Years

Names like Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson -- who won the championship twice -- Sonny Liston and boxing's all-time great, Muhammad Ali, came onto the scene during this period.

  • Mar. 1, 1949 - Sept. 27, 1950: Title Vacant
  • Sept. 27, 1950 - July 18, 1951: Ezzard Charles - Won vacant championship via 15 round decision over Joe Louis to be recognized as heavyweight champion of the world.
  • July 18, 1951 - Sept. 23, 1952: Jersey Joe Walcott - Won championship via 7th round KO of Ezzard Charles.
  • Sept. 23, 1952 - Apr. 27, 1956: Rocky Marciano - Won championship via 13th round KO of Jersey Joe Walcott. Retired as champion. Only undefeated heavyweight champion.
  • Apr. 27, 1956 - Nov. 30, 1956: Title Vacant
  • Nov. 30, 1956 - June 26, 1959: Floyd Patterson - Won vacant championsip via 5th round KO of Archie Moore.
  • June 26, 1959 - June 20, 1960: Ingemar Johansson - Won championship via 3rd round TKO of Floyd Patterson.
  • June 20, 1960 - Sept. 25, 1962: Floyd Patterson - Won championship via 5th round KO of Ingemar Johansson. First man to regain the heavyweight championship.
  • Sept. 25, 1962 - Feb. 25, 1964: Sonny Liston - Won championship via 1st round KO of Floyd Patterson.
  • Feb. 25, 1964 - Apr. 28, 1967: Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali - Won championship via 7th round TKO of Sonny Liston.

1967-1988: Ali, Frazier, Foreman -- and Tyson

These were the years that Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman took their turns as champs -- often fighting each other for the crown. Larry Holmes also took the title late in this period with a TKO fo Ali. And, Mike Tyson had a brief -- but thoroughly dominant -- run as champ in the late 1980s.

  • Apr. 28, 1967 - Mar. 8, 1971: Title Vacant - On Apr. 28, 1967, Ali is stripped of championship for refusal to be inducted via draft into the U.S. Army.
  • Mar., 8 1971 - Jan. 22 1973: Joe Frazier - Won vacant championship via 15 round decision over Muhammad Ali.
  • Jan. 22, 1973 - Oct. 30, 1974: George Foreman - Won championship via 2nd round TKO of Joe Frazier.
  • Oct. 30, 1974 - Feb. 15, 1978: Muhammad Ali - Won championship via 8th round KO of George Foreman. Second man to regain the heavyweight championship.
  • Feb. 15, 1978 - Sept. 15, 1978: Leon Spinks - Won championship via 15 round decision over Muhammad Ali.
  • Sept. 15, 1978 - June 27, 1979: Muhammad Ali - Won championship via 15 round decision over Leon Spinks. First three-time heavyweight champion.
  • June 27, 1979 - Oct. 2, 1980: Title Vacant
  • Oct. 2, 1980 - Sept. 21, 1985: Larry Holmes - Won vacant championship via 10th round TKO of Muhammad Ali to be recognized as heavyweight champion of the world.
  • Sept. 21, 1985 - June 27, 1988:​ Michael Spinks - Won championship via 15 round decision over Larry Holmes.
  • June 27, 1988 - Feb. 11, 1990: Mike Tyson - Won championship via 1st round KO of Michael Spinks.

1990-2001: The Shocking Upset

Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis dominated the nineties, with one exception: George Foreman, having come out of retirement in 1987, eventually reclaimed the title in 1994, at age 45, becoming the oldest heavyweight champ in history.

  • Feb. 11, 1990 - Oct. 25, 1990: James "Buster" Douglas - Won championship via 10th round KO of Mike Tyson.
  • Oct. 25, 1990 - Nov. 13, 1992: Evander Holyfield - Won championship via 3rd round KO of James Douglas.
  • Nov. 13, 1992 - Nov. 6, 1993: Riddick Bowe - Won championship via 12 round decision over Evander Holyfield.
  • Nov. 6, 1993 - Apr. 22, 1994: Evander Holyfield - Won championship via 12 round decision over Riddick Bowe. Third man to regain the heavyweight championship.
  • Apr. 22, 1994 - Nov. 5, 1994: Michael Moorer - Won championship via 12 round decision over Evander Holyfield.
  • Nov. 5, 1994 - Nov. 22, 1997: George Foreman - Won championship via 10th KO of Michael Moorer.
  • Nov. 22, 1997 - Mar. 28, 1998: Shannon Briggs - Won championship via 12 round decision over George Foreman.
  • Mar. 28, 1998 - Apr. 22, 2001: Lennox Lewis - Won championship via 5 round TKO of Shannon Briggs.
  • Apr. 22, 2001 - Nov. 17, 2001: Hasim Rahman - Won championship via 5th round KO of Lennox Lewis.
  • Nov. 17, 2001 - Feb. 6, 2004: Lennox Lewis - Won championship via 4th round KO of Hasim Rahman. Fourth man to regain the heavyweight championship. Retires as champion.

2004-Present: No Title

The lineal title is technically vacant. "Ring" magazine named Tyson Luke Fury as the lineal champ after he defeated long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko, Wikipedia notes. Fury also won the International Boxing Federation and several other titles on the night he beat Klitschko, but he was stripped of his IBF title after refusing a mandatory challenger match with Vyacheslav Glazkov.

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Your Citation
Eisele, Andrew. "Boxing's Lineal Heavyweight Champions." ThoughtCo, Jul. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/boxings-lineal-heavyweight-champions-424105. Eisele, Andrew. (2017, July 24). Boxing's Lineal Heavyweight Champions. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/boxings-lineal-heavyweight-champions-424105 Eisele, Andrew. "Boxing's Lineal Heavyweight Champions." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/boxings-lineal-heavyweight-champions-424105 (accessed November 19, 2017).