Wilder vs Fury: Will winner be lineal champion?
Is Tyson Fury the lineal heavyweight champion of the world?
If so, the winner of his upcoming fight with Deontay Wilder should be viewed as the division's real and legitimate king.
Before we answer the question about Fury, let's address what it means to be a lineal champion.
Instead of a mere belt-holder (WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO), the lineal champion (or THE RING Magazine Champion) is the "true" king of his division because his RING Magazine title has direct lineage to the first champion in his division.
A fighter with boxing's RING Magazine title (i.e. the lineal distinction) is best described as "the man who beat the man."
When Mike Tyson faced Michael Spinks in 1988, the latter was lineal champion while Tyson held the WBC/WBA/IBF titles. Tyson was far more impressive and active in the ring but Spinks had lifted THE RING Magazine title from Larry Holmes 3 years prior and hadn't lost since.
Spinks had been stripped of the WBC title he won from Holmes but not his RING Magazine (or lineal) strap which he also won by defeated the Easton Assassin.
Tyson vs Spinks was essentially: Undisputed Champion vs Lineal Champion.
And while the public viewed Tyson as the champion, Team Spinks wasn't shy in reminding the media their man was real and legit heavyweight monarch.
Prior to that fight, it was Spinks, not Tyson, who was the successor to the championship lineage dating back to prior champions such as Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali.
And when Tyson defeated Spinks, Iron Mike became the lineage's new occupier. In a lineage sense, he became the modern-day Ali, Louis or Marciano just as Wladimir Klitschko years later.
Ring Title vs Sanctioning body titles (WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO)
Sanctioning bodies can be very political and can be swayed by money. Let's face it, for the good work they sometimes do they are still businesses.
The RING Magazine title, unlike belts of sanctioning organizations, is pure and exists to maintain, preserve and protect the integrity of boxing. Their lineal championship system is "intended to reward fighters who, by satisfying 'old-school' criteria, can justify a claim as the true and only world champion in a given weight class.
Also, unlike world titles granted by sanctioning bodies such as WBC, WBA, WBO and IBF, the prestigious RING title can only be won by:
a) defeating the current lineal champion in the ring or
b) via a box-off between two or more "legitimate" top-ranked contenders in the event the previous lineal champ retires, vacates the division or dies
Now, back to Tyson Fury.
He won lineal distinction by defeating Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 and hasn't lost since. As a result, Fury's claim as lineal champion is correct, right?
... Not quite. Well, yes and no.
In February, 26 months after Fury claimed the title, the RING stripped him.
"THE RING set a deadline (January 31) for Fury to reveal an opponent," RING said in a February 1 press release.
"... No such announcement has been made by the fighters promoter, hence the decision to remove Fury as champion. Fury will also be removed from THE RING heavyweight rankings for the time being.
"We at THE RING would like to make it clear that this decision had not been taken lightly."
"We deeply regret separating from the lineal championship and we would hope that fans appreciate our reasons for giving Tyson every opportunity over the past two years."
Although fight legend Jack Dempsey remained lineal champion despite taking a 3 year hiatus from boxing (Sept 1923-Sept 1926), policies have changed a bit over nearly 100 years. A fighter can't win the title and keep it without attempting to defend within a reasonable time.
The current RING Heavyweight title is officially vacant.
Officially and unofficially
Officially, Fury is not the lineal champion because he was stripped of that standing for a) being out of the ring over 2 years and b) making no attempt accommodate the RING's deadline, which was extremely lenient. Nevertheless, a case could be made for Tyson Fury being the unofficial or uncrowned lineal champion because he's the 'man who beat the man' and hasn't lost since.
And sure, Anthony Joshua defeated Wlad, too, but Klitschko had already lost the RING title to Fury by then.
Should Deontay Wilder beat Fury, the former's team will undoubtedly argue its man is the lineal champion, and will use that claim to try to strengthen it's negotiation leverage should Wilder face unified WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua.
N.B: Should the winner of Wilder vs Fury face Joshua, THE RING title would most definitely be at-stake as it would be hard to imagine the winner without THE RING's lineage blessing.