One of the things that amazes me the most about the writing business, specifically, but also about the media business in general is how many people are willing to accept something—even if it’s blatantly false—if it’s repeated often enough.
Manny Pacquiao, for example, IS an 8-division world champ, despite two of those world titles being Ring Magazine titles and a third, for a vacant junior middleweight belt, being won as a welterweight in a catchweight contest against bogus contender Antonio Margarito. To be world class-competitive in eight weight classes is a hell of a feat, but to claim actual world titles in all of those divisions requires at least a couple of asterisks and a wink-wink, nudge-nudge look the other way.
The same can be said of Tyson Fury’s claim to lineal champ status in the heavyweight division.
In his June 15 ESPN debut, the network hyped the lineal champ angle to the extreme in Fury’s company debut against Tom Schwarz. Fury’s ring walk even emphasized this talking point, having him walk past the great fighters in the heavyweight title lineage en route to the ring, implying that, alphabet belts be damned, the real historical champ was there in Vegas that night.
It’s hard to blame ESPN for pushing this angle hard. They’ve reportedly invested upwards of $100 million into the Tyson Fury Show and, although it reeked of desperation to an extent, the effort to fashion a world title around their fighter from a thread or two of plausibility was reasonable enough. After all, they’re pushing product and, yeah, like it or not, titles DO matter.
The problem is that Fury is not really the lineal heavyweight champ, at least not in the very literal way ESPN and Team Fury are peddling the concept.
I’ve been having this debate throughout the last nine days or so, both in public and while defending my stance against very oddly aggressive email assaults. A lineage ceases to be a lineage when there’s no actual lineage. It ain’t complicated to explain and not that hard to understand.
The lineal champ concept was dragged into light as the antidote to the multi-world champ reality in today’s boxing world. The idea was to acknowledge a “true” world champ based on actual title lineage. In other words, establishing “the man” based on being “the man who beat the man who beat the man,” traceable, at least in the heavyweight division, back to John L. Sullivan.
The problem is that the accounting of true championship lineage in boxing has always been deeply flawed and in today’s environment, it’s laughably irrelevant. No division, anywhere in the sport, has a true “man who beat the man” lineage going back more than a few years at most.
The heavyweight division is one of the more orderly divisions when it comes to lineage. But, even then, the actual lineage stopped being an actual lineage back in 1928 when Gene Tunney retired. Patched-together lineages stopped with the retirement of Rocky Marciano in 1956 and then the retirement of Lennox Lewis in 2004.
Tyson Fury beat Wladimir Klitschko in 2015. At the time, Klitschko was a three-belt champ, universally regarded as the top heavyweight in the world, and had been a top heavyweight for nearly a decade. And, although boxing nerds and unofficial ratings committee members had suddenly started calling him lineal champ after besting Ruslan Chagaev in 2009, the only way he could’ve been the lineal champ is if he had somehow mastered time travel to go back and repair the thrice-busted heavyweight title lineage.
At best, Tyson Fury is “the man who beat the man who never actually beat the man, but was declared the man in absentia.” Fury’s “lineage” goes back precisely one fighter.
If the criteria for being lineal champ is watered down to merely being the guy who beats the consensus number one guy in the division, then Andy Ruiz, who stopped consensus number one Anthony Joshua a little while back, also deserves lineal champ status.
But that’s ridiculous because the lineal champ designation is literally defined by being the latest in a direct succession of men who beat the men. This should not even be up for debate. The diplomat may try to toss a few modifiers in there like, “the lineal champ, dating back to 2015” or “the defender of the new lineage,” but reality is reality. And the reality is that there is no direct lineage tracing Fury back to John L. Sullivan, no matter how much ESPN would like there to be one.
It’s easy to just declare the man lineal champ and be done with it. If everyone says it and there are at least a few smart boxing people willing to go along with the idea, then why not? I know, in the past, I’ve taken that intellectually lazy way out. Why fight about Pacquiao’s eight divisional titles or Fury’s lineage when it saves so much more time to just go along with the crowd?
This is by no means a shot at Fury or an effort to belittle his talents or accomplishments. Not too long ago, on this very site, I ranked him number one in the heavyweight division right now, ahead of Wilder, Ruiz, and Joshua.
It’s just that what is, is and what isn’t, isn’t. And Tyson Fury is not lineal champ. Truth matters.