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Tyson Fury: Boxing's lineal heavyweight champion?

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Lee Cleveland Updated

"A lineal champion retains his status until he loses to another man or formally announces his retirement."

That's the old school adage we've heard so much about in boxing and goes all the way back to the early 1900s.

Tyson Fury won the lineal heavyweight crown by defeating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. Subsequently, he was inactive for 2 1/2 years and even halfheartedly announced his retirement during the time..

Finally. he returned in early 2018 proclaiming to be boxing's real and legitimate (or lineal) heavyweight champion, even though RING Magazine stripped him of its title prior to his comeback.

Let's not forget, for years RING Magazine, the official, unofficial standard-bearer of lineages, has existed for that very reason.

And its champions have been widely recognized as the 'real and legit' titleholders, making the RING belt the the most prestigious of them all.

Forget the belt holders representing the WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO; The RING belt is often regarded as the most coveted and its owner is "The Man" in his division(s).

So, is Tyson Fury the lineal champion?

Well, the answer is both yes and no.

Jim Jeffries
In 1899, fight legend Jim Jeffries won the lineal heavyweight belt, the only title divisional title back then, by stopping Bob Fitzsimmons. Jeffries would successfully defend it numerous times before retiring undefeated in 1904 at 29.

During his retirement, the once muscular Jeffries retreated to his farm and ballooned to 330 pounds. Of course, 6 years later he'd be coaxed out of retirement to face newly-crowned heavyweight champion Jack Johnson who would easily dominate the former champ.

Despite being relinquished of his title and his long hiatus and inactivity, Jeffries was still considered the "unofficial but consensus" lineal champion by the public and entered the ring as such.

Of course, there was a strong racial element fueling that sentiment... but that's another article.

Jack Dempsey
After defeating Luis Firpo in 1923, the great Jack Dempsey, then the lineal champion, wouldn't step in the ring for another 3 years. But he didn't retire at that time, he simply took a break to attain other pursuits.

Instead of continuing to defend his title, Dempsey earned money by boxing exhibitions, doing product endorsements, and by appearing in films. He also did a lot of traveling and married actress Estelle Taylor.

When he returned to face Gene Tunney, Jack was still the official world heavyweight champion despite not having fought in 3 years. Of course, Dempsey would lose his comeback fight and his lineal status, and the subsequent rematch which is famously known as 'The Long Count Fight.'

Rocky Marciano
So, was Rocky Marciano, after 13 years away from the ring, still the lineal heavyweight champion of the world at the time of his death at 45? After all, he was retired and hadn't lost to another man.

Answer: No. Floyd Patterson became the new lineal champion after defeating Archie Moore in the same year as Rocky's retirement in 1956.

So, what gives?

LinealBoxingChampions.com. correctly states:

"When a Lineal Champion formally and publicly announces his retirement, the division’s title becomes vacant – a good example of this, was when Rocky Marciano held a short press conference in 1956 and announced to the world’s media:

“Gentlemen, I would like to announce my retirement from boxing.”

His announcement was clear and there was no misunderstanding. The Rock was done, thus paving the way for the two top contenders, Floyd Patterson and Archie Moore, to fight for the vacated lineal belt.

So, does that mean a 29 year old lineal champion can retire and still lie claim to that lineage at 77 if he stays inactive but doesn't formally retire?

Probably not, but for how long he'd be recognized as lineal champion by "some" (especially his fans) is anyone's guess.

Now, back to Tyson Fury...
In 2016, then lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury tweeted, “I’m the greatest, and I’m also retired.” Three hours later he Tweeted, “I’m here to stay.”

In fact, he may have retired an un-retired a few times.

What hurts Tyson Fury's lineal champion claim
For starters, he publicly retired and retiring is considered a form of relinquishment.

Secondly, a lineal champion shouldn't be allowed to sit on his title for a lengthy period without defending it against top opponents or at all, nor without any plan to defend it. So yes, RING Magazine was well within its right to strip Fury who, at the time, had been inactive for a year and offered no official plan to return.

But, the afforementioned argument can be debated.

What helps Tyson Fury's lineal champion claim
Fury's retirements could be deemed as off-the-record, tongue-in -cheek, statements. Unlike Rocky Marciano and Lennox Lewis before him, he didn't dress up in a suit and tie and formally announce his retirement at a press conference.

Even in Rocky III, Rocky Balboa made a formal retirement announcement prior to Clubber Lang's theatrics. Lineal champions tend to retire in formal ceremonies of sorts.

Secondly, Fury won the lineal title fair and square and has not lost to another man. He's 3-0-1 since lifting the crown from Klitschko. Moreover, many believed he edged WBC Champion Deontay Wilder despite the draw verdict rendered last December. And given Wilder's high status as top 2 undefeated heavyweight, then and now, Fury's performance against Wilder could certainly be used to further the former's claim.

So yes, Fury's supporters could reinforce his status by stating that Tyson returned from inactivity and (unofficially) beat the best despite not getting the official win.

What's more important is that he didn't lose. Regardless of what transpired in the ring, he couldn't lay claim to the lineal title had Wilder been given the nod.

So, is Tyson Fury the lineal champion?

His supporters and critics could make strong arguments for and against.

Like the many admirers of Jim Jeffries, detailed above, prior to his showdown with Jack Johnson, I consider Tyson Fury the unofficial lineal heavyweight champion of the world. He proved his mettle against Wilder and is unbeaten so he deserves an elevation in stature and prominence. However, because he took too much time off after winning the title, his lineal claim can be justifiably disputed.

Until he actually defeats an unbeaten Wilder or the winner of Anthony Joshua vs John Ruiz 2, I wouldn't place him in the same lineal category as Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson, Lennox Lewis and Wladimir Klitschko.

Conversely, I wouldn't consider Wilder, Joshua or Ruiz the "undisputed" (pun not intended) lineal champion as long as Fury is active and undefeated.

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