The Lineal Lightheavyweight Championship
By Matt Tegen
The Light Heavyweight division was created in 1903 by Lou Houseman,
an influental Chicago-based sportswriter who also managed Middleweight
contender Jack Root. Root unfortunately had outgrown the Middleweight
division limit, 154 pounds at that time. With many of the Heavyweights
weighing 190 pounds or more, Houseman proposed that a
new division be created with a weight limit of 175 pounds.
After a couple of false starts, the idea was widely supported among boxing
circles of the day and when Root was matched with the faded Charles "Kid" McCoy.
Root won a convincing decision, and with it distinction as the first Light Heavyweight champ.
The title then quickly passed to George Gardner, who immeadiately handed
it over to Bob Fitzsimmons. Fitzsmmons then lost it to "Philadelphia"
In 1907, O'Brien wrote a newspaper article explaining how the Fitz fight
was fixed -- along with many of his other fights! So, from 1907 on the title may
be deemed vacant, though most explain this gap by saying O'Brien outgrew the
division, which is really not accurate. Interestingly, O'Brien later backed away from
his shocking revelation and made no mention of this in his 1928
book, though he does say crypticaly that "up to the Great War the
prizefighting game was dominated by gamblers, gangsters, and crooks ..."
In any event, O'Brien focused his attention on the Heavyweight divison.
O'Brien fought on until 1912 and while he remained active no one else claimed the title.
In 1912 Jack Dillon laid claim to the Light Heavyweight title when he
knocked out Hugo Kelly. Dillon didn't attain "universal" recognition
until 1914 when he defeated Al Norton and Bob Moha. The lineage
eventually worked it's way through Battling Levinsky, Georges
Carpentier, Battling Siki, Mike McTigue, Paul Berlenbach, and Jack
Delaney. Delaney who had won the title in 1926 elected to move up to
Heavyweight in 1927 vacating the title. Delaney like most of his fellow
Lightheavies was vanguished in one by Jack Sharkey in his foray into the
The title mess was quickly cleared up when oustanding Tommy Loughran was
matched up with former champ Mike McTigue. Loughran won the bout, but
after six defenses he elected to challenge Jack Sharkey for the US
Heavyweight Title. Loughran was kayoed in two and from that point on
campaigned as a Heavyweight.
After Loughran's departure a mini-tournament was arranged by the New
York State Commision. The final was won by the talented but troubled
Jimmy Slattery who defeated Lou Scozza. The NBA on the other hand didn't
recognize Slattery, opting to have their own tournament won by the
mediocre George Nichols. Nichols then lost his next fight to Lou Scozza
and most of the rest of his fights thereafter and drifted to obscurity.
Slattery meanwhile lost his crown to Maxie Rosenbloom in 1930.
Rosenbloom then won the lineal title when he defeated Scozza in 1932.
Rosenbloom then passed the title to the mediocre Bob Olin, who then lost to John
Henry Lewis. Lewis then elected to move up to fight Joe Louis, knowing
that he was suffering from career threatening blindness and that a fight
with Louis would be a good farewell payday. After getting taken out in
one by Joe Louis, he attempted to defend his Lightheavy title against
Len Harvey in London. By then, his failing eyesite was well known and he
was forced to retire and give up his title.
Meanwhile, the NBA had quickly matched Tiger Jack Fox with Al Gainer who
had lost to Lewis in a title defense the month before, for their vacant
title. Fox won and then passed the title over to Melio Bettina in February 1939.
In a rare instance of cooperation, the NBA agreed
with the NYS Commission that they would recognize
the winner of Bettina and Billy Conn as undisputed champion.
Conn won and laid claim to the title. Conn who was clearly the
outstanding fighter at Light Heavyweight at the time was universally
recognized as champ at this point, even though Len Harvey claimed a
version fo the title.
Conn got the bug to move up to Heavyweight in 1940 and work towards a
fight with Joe Louis. The NBA quickly brought in former titlist Bettina
to face Greek Anton Christoforidis. Christoforidis defeated Bettina on a
15 round nod, only to immeadiately lose it Gus Lesnevich. Meanwhile the
New York Commision had appointed Jimmy Webb as their champ, Webb was
starched by Tami Mauriello, who then challenged Lesnevich for the
"Undisputed crown." Lesnevich won the November 1941 bout, but with
World War II on the horizon, the division was frozen until 1946. During this time Lesnevich
flirted with going to Heavyweight but he kept the title and before finally
losing to Freddie Mills in July 1948.
Mills then lost to Joey Maxim in his first defense. Maxim kayoed
Sugar Ray Robinson in the sweltering heat of Yankee Stadium before losing
to Archie Moore in ecember 1952.
The Old Mongoose Moore reigned undisputed from 1952 till 1960 when
infrequent defenses and age discrimination led to the gradual removal of
Moore's recognition. Moreover, after 1961, Moore could not make 175.
The NBA strips Moore first and filled the belt with Harold Johnson.
Eventually Moore was stripped of the New York and European Boxing Union
recognition. Moore eventually gave up the Light Heavy crown in 1962.
Upon Moore's resignation, NBA champ Harold Johnson was matched with top
contender Doug Jones. Johnson defeated Jones to win universal
recognition as champ.
Johnson then passed the title through Willie Pastrano, Jose Torres, Dick
Tiger, and finally Bob Foster. Foster reigned from 1968 to 1974 before
retiring after a controversial draw with Jorge Ahumada. Foster later
came back, but since none of his fights were fought below the 175 lb.
weight limit, the lineage dies with his retirement.
The division then embarked on a nearly decade long period of anarchy.
The WBA belt was won by Victor Galindez, while the WBC belt was won by
John Conteh. Conteh was then stripped of his belt due to managerial
difficulties and a blown mandatory, Miguel Cuello then scooped it up and
was promptly kayoed by Mate Parlov. Meanwhile Galindez reigned on till
1978 and then lost and regained the belt from Mike Rossman. Parlov was
then kayoed by Marvin Johnson, who fell to Matthew Franklin (Saad
Muhammad). Johnson then iced Galindez, which allowed Saad Muhammad to
lay a claim to the throne. Johnson then lost immeadiately to Eddie
Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad), who since he owned a win over Saad Muhammad,
squashed Saad's claim. In 1981 Saad Muhammad lost to Dwight Braxton
(Qawi), while Eddie Mustafa Muhammad fell to Michael Spinks.
Spinks finally cleared things up in 1983, unifying the belt against Braxton.
Spinks held the title until 1985, when he made history by winning the
Heavyweight crown from Lary Holmes.
After this the title falls in disarray again. Fighters like Jeff Harding
and Dennis Andries played musical chairs with various titles. Even Tommy Hearns
copped a version of the title.
By 1992, the titles were in relatively stable hands as Virgil Hill
possessed the WBA belt, while Prince Charles Williams held the IBF crown
and Jeff Harding sat inactive on the WBC belt. Williams then lost his
crown to Henry Maske, while the WBC belt wandered around before ending
up in a garbage can where it belongs in November 1996. At this same
exact time longtime titlists Virgil Hill and Henry Maske elected to
unify the WBA and IBF belts, with Hill taking a decision and the vacant
Lineal crown. Hill then elected to return to Germany and challenge WBO
titlist Dariusz Michalczewski, losing a decision to him.
Michalczewski at this point owned the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts.
The WBA immediately stripped him the next working day for the "crime"
of holding the WBO belt. Meanwhile William Guthrie won a lawsuit
requiring him a title shot with Michalczewski within 30 days of him winning
the belt. Michalczewski of course dropped that one as well.
In the meantime Roy Jones has scooped up the "alphabet titles" and
is posing as "Undisputed Champ".
Until he defeats Michalczewski all he has is a claim.