From Tyson-Tucker To Fury-Usyk, The Definitive Undisputed Timeline

BoxingScene presents the ultimate guide to the 78-step trail of the ‘undisputed’ heavyweight championship - from when Mike Tyson claimed three belts in 1987 to the present day when, at last, Oleksandr Usyk and Tyson Fury battle it out for four.

August 1, 1987: Mike Tyson beats Tony Tucker on points to add the IBF title to the WBC and WBA belts he already owns.

June 27, 1988: In a bout billed ‘Once And For All’, Tyson destroys Michael Spinks – the ‘lineal’ champion – in 91 seconds to reign as the lone king at heavyweight. 

February 25, 1989: Tyson overwhelms a brave Frank Bruno in five rounds. Strictly speaking, this was the last time that all available versions of the world heavyweight title were on the line in one contest. 

May 6, 1989: The World Boxing Organisation (WBO) throw their hat into the mix when Francesco Damiani knocks out Johnny Du Plooy in three rounds to win the inaugural heavyweight belt. Important to state that barely anyone notices.

December 14, 1992: Riddick Bowe, after taking the WBC, WBA and IBF titles plus lineal recognition from Evander Holyfield the month before, famously bins the WBC belt which is duly awarded to Lennox Lewis, thanks to his victory in a final eliminator over Razor Ruddock.

March 4, 1995: George Foreman, after taking the WBA, IBF and lineal titles from Michael Moorer the previous November, is stripped of the WBA title for failing to take on Tony Tucker, the organisation’s mandatory challenger.

June 29, 1995: Foreman relinquishes his IBF belt after refusing to give Axel Schulz an immediate rematch. He will retain lineal honours while trying and (thankfully) failing to legitimise the WBU.

December 9, 1995: Frans Botha outpoints Axel Schulz to win the vacant IBF title. Chaos is well and truly running amok with three others claiming ownership of titles (Foreman – lineal; Frank Bruno – WBC; Bruce Seldon – WBA) and the WBO strap lying vacant after Riddick Bowe had relinquished it (largely due to lack of interest after Holyfield refused to fight him again if that title was on the line).

March 16, 1996: Tyson savages Bruno in three rounds to win the WBC belt and vows to clean up all the titles just like he’d done so in the previous decade.

September 7, 1996: Tyson wins the WBA title with a one-round blowout of a seemingly terrified Seldon. The WBC title is not on the line, however. Two weeks later Tyson relinquishes the WBC strap after failing to agree terms with Lennox Lewis, his mandatory.

November 9, 1996: Holyfield stuns the world when he overpowers Tyson in 11 rounds in a WBA title fight. In victory, however, Evander is widely regarded as the leading heavyweight in the world.

February 7, 1997: Lewis stops an emotionally unfit Oliver McCall in five rounds to win the vacant WBC title. It makes the Englishman one of FIVE men calling themselves champion (Lewis – WBC; Holyfield – WBA; Moorer – IBF; Foreman – Lineal; Henry Akinwande – WBO).

February 18, 1997: Akinwande becomes the latest heavyweight to give up the WBO title so he can move towards a shot at an established belt. This is important to note when questioning Lewis’ claim to be the last ‘undisputed’ champion. Akinwande relinquishes so a fight with Lewis, the WBC boss, can be arranged. In July, Lewis thrashes an unwilling Akinwande in five.

November 8, 1997: Holyfield adds the IBF title to his WBA belt when he batters old rival Moorer to defeat in eight rounds.

November 22, 1997: Shannon Briggs is ruled a questionable points victor over the ancient Foreman to lay claim to what is starting to feel like an entirely mythical lineal title.

March 28, 1998: Lewis stops Briggs in a five-round thriller. He is now the WBC and lineal champ, with Holyfield the WBA and IBF boss and, ahem, Herbie Hide enjoying his second reign as WBO belt-holder.

March 13, 1999: Lewis fights Holyfield. Though not officially for all the belts (the WBO was busy sanctioning Hide vs Willi Fischer), everyone on Planet Earth recognised this as the fight to clear up the mess. Then the judges somehow came up with a draw.

June 26, 1999: Vitali Klitschko brings Ivan Drago to mind as obliterates Hide in two rounds to pick up the WBO gong.

November 13, 1999: Lewis outpoints Holyfield in their rematch to win everything bar that pesky WBO bauble. Nobody asks him about Klitschko in the aftermath, however.

April 1, 2000: Klitschko, despite winning practically every round, retires on his stool before the 10th round of his WBO defense against Chris Byrd who, later in the year, will be outpointed by Vitali’s brother, Wladimir. 

April 13, 2000: Lewis decides he wants to fight the hyped Michael Grant and not WBA mandatory, John Ruiz, so he gives up the WBA belt.

August 12, 2000: Holyfield, nine months after losing to Lewis, squeaks past Ruiz to win the vacant WBA title. The ridiculousness of this timeline should already be obvious.

September 5, 2002: After losing to Hasim Rahman then gaining immediate revenge before stamping all over the remnants of Tyson, Lewis gives up the IBF title rather than face leading contender Chris Byrd. 

December 14, 2002: Byrd outpoints the fast-fading Holyfield to win the vacant IBF strap. Evander, by the way, had lost the WBA title to Ruiz.

March 1, 2003: Roy Jones leaps out of the light heavyweight class and lands at the feet of Ruiz where he duly snatches the WBA title. Alas, he won’t stick around.

March 8, 2003: Corrie Sanders terrorises Wlad Klitschko, taking the WBO trophy inside two rounds.

June 21, 2003: Lewis retains his WBC and lineal titles when he stops substitute Vitali Klitschko in six bloody and gruelling rounds. 

October 18, 2003: Guess what Sanders decides to do with his WBO title? Hand that bad boy back.

February 6, 2004: Lewis bids farewell to the sport and announces his retirement.

April 24, 2004: Vitali wins a cracking scrap with Sanders in a bout for the vacant WBC strap and, with most agreeing this is the fight to crown Lewis’ successor, the lineal title. 

November 8, 2005: Vitali, ravaged by injuries, announces his retirement to leave the lineal title lying dormant for three years. There is little in the way of efforts to bring any of the other titles together during that time. Consequently, interest in the heavyweight division plummets.

February 23, 2008: In the first unification action of the century, and the first time that the WBO’s heavyweight title was deemed worthy of unification action full stop, IBF boss Wladimir outpoints WBO titlist Sultan Ibragimov over 12 rounds. For some historians, this is the point when the lineal title returned, too.

October 11, 2008: Vitali is all healed up and bludgeons an outclassed Samuel Peter in eight rounds to regain the WBC title. The hearts of those eager to see a return to one champion collectively sink as they realise there is no way that two brothers are going to fight each other.

November 7, 2009: David Haye joins the heavyweight landscape promising to restore order. He takes the WBA title from man mountain, Nikolay Valuev.

July 2, 2011: Haye and Wlad come together in a contest that generates serious interest the world over. The fight itself is a washout. Klitschko wins comfortably in a wet Hamburg. It’s not all bad though – at least it served to reduce the number of titlists. Wlad now holds the WBA, IBF and WBO belts, and has lineal recognition, with his big bro wearing the WBC colours.

August 27, 2011: Just because they can, the WBA sanction a bout between Alexander Povetkin and Ruslan Chagaev for something later known as the ‘regular’ title. Wlad is the ‘super’ champion, and the entire situation is ‘moronic’.

October 5, 2013: Wlad beats Povetkin on points to trim the amount of WBA champs back down to one. He also retains his IBF, WBO and lineal titles.

December 16, 2013: Vitali retires again, this time for good.

July 6, 2013: The WBA again decide one champion isn’t enough and crown Chagaev the regular champion after he beats Fres Oquendo on points in Russia.

May 10, 2014: Bermane Stiverne drops and stops Chris Arreola in six rounds to nab the vacant WBC title.

September 11, 2014: The WBA decide that two champions aren’t enough and crown Luis Ortiz the ‘interim’ champion after he bulldozes Lateef Kayode in one round. So, the WBA have three world champs at heavyweight. Klitschko, Chagaev and Ortiz. Great stuff.

January 7, 2015: Ortiz is stripped of his interim trinket after failing a drug test.

January 17, 2015: Excitement greets Deontay Wilder’s arrival on the world scene as he outhustles Stiverne to win the WBC title.

October 17, 2015: Ortiz, seemingly clear to fight, regains the interim bauble with victory over someone called Matias Ariel Vidondo and the WBA have three titlists again. Thank goodness for that, nobody says.

November 28, 2015: Tyson Fury stuns most when he brilliantly outboxes Wladimir Klitschko to win the WBA, IBF, WBO titles and gain lineal status. It feels like a new era is upon us.

December 8, 2015: Though one understands that mandatory challengers are there for a reason, the lack of common sense applied in certain situations is jarring. The IBF highlight the impossibility of having one champion when they strip Fury for agreeing to a contractual rematch with Klitschko instead of accepting the challenge from the largely unknown Vyacheslav Glazkov.

January 16, 2016: Charles Martin wins the vacant IBF belt when Glazkov limps out of action with a leg injury in round three. 

April 19, 2016: Anthony Joshua breathes new life into the division when he feasts on Martin, surely not helped by his tight leather shorts, in two rounds to win the IBF strap. 

June 24, 2016: Fury pulls out of his July 9 rematch with Klitschko citing an injured ankle. On the same day, United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD) reveal that Fury tested positive for illegal substance nandrolone 16 months previously.

September 23, 2016: Fury pulls out of rearranged date with Klitschko, citing he is ‘medically unfit’ to fight. News also appears that he’d failed another test, this time for a recreational drug, earlier in the year.

October 12, 2016: Fury relinquishes his WBA and WBO belts. Nothing is mentioned about the lineal title until he returns, a little under two years later.

December 10, 2016: New Zealander Joseph Parker pockets the vacant WBO title when he’s awarded a controversial 12-round verdict over Andy Ruiz Jr after a dreary bout.

April 29, 2017: In one of the division’s greatest fights, Joshua exchanges knockdowns with returning veteran Wlad Klitschko in the middle rounds, rides out a storm then makes the most of his second wind to triumph in the 11th. In the process, he retains his IBF title, and, in a rare moment of sanity, the WBA put their vacant title on the line for this one too. Some declared this as a battle for the vacant lineal title as well – something subsequently forgotten.

March 31, 2018: Joshua outpoints Parker to add the WBO title to the IBF and WBA belts already in his possession. Only Deontay Wilder and his WBC championship await…

June 9, 2016: And maybe Tyson Fury, too. After serving a backdated ban, emerging from depression and shifting some serious mass he returns, in Manchester, stopping a wildly overmatched Sefer Seferi in four rounds.

August 11, 2018: After a brief release into society, the WBA are sent back to the lunatic asylum after sanctioning a bout between Trevor Bryan and BJ Flores for the interim title.

December 1, 2018: Wilder and Fury engage in a tremendous scrap for the WBC belt and – so say the marketeers – Tyson’s old lineal title. Fury somehow claws himself back into consciousness after a heavy fall in the 12th and it’s declared a draw.

June 1, 2019: Joshua heads to New York for his American debut and after spending an awful lot of time fielding questions about when he’s going to fight Wilder and Fury – who announce a rematch during fight week – substitute Andy Ruiz Jr scores a colossal upset to take the WBA, IBF and WBO titles.

December 7, 2019: The anticipation that accompanies the Ruiz-Joshua sequel, staged in Saudi Arabia, all but disappears when the champion removes his t-shirt moments before the opening bell to reveal a stomach that has been filled to bursting point. Joshua boxes smartly, stays out of trouble, and wins a lopsided decision to regain his titles. 

February 22, 2020: Out in Las Vegas, weeks before the world is plunged into lockdown, Fury turns in the finest performance of his career and pulverizes Wilder in seven one-sided sessions.

June 10, 2020: Fury announces on social media that a two-fight deal with Joshua has been finalised. 

October 31, 2020: Oleksandr Usyk wins his first meaningful bout in the heavyweight division, decisioning Derek Chisora, but largely fails to impress. 

May 17, 2021: With Joshua-Fury seemingly on the brink of being formally announced, and a date for the undisputed clash in Saudi Arabia firmly in the diary, Wilder’s contractual right for a third fight with Tyson is confirmed in court. 

September 25, 2021: With Fury out of the equation, Joshua – to his credit – agreed to a scrap with Usyk but it all goes awry when the Ukrainian boxes beautifully and bewitches the Englishman. Usyk wins a unanimous verdict, and Joshua’s three belts, to formally announce his arrival in the championship sweepstakes. 

October 9, 2021: Widely expected to pick up from where he left off the previous February and do something of a job on Wilder, Fury is dragged into a hellacious barnstormer with Wilder in fight three. After they share four knockdowns, the definitive fall comes in the 11th round with Wilder out for the count.

April 23, 2022: In front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium, a faultless Fury toys with leading WBC contender Dillian Whyte before finishing him in round six. Then he announces his retirement.

June 6, 2022: After somehow finding himself installed as the WBA’s number two contender following a loss to Joe Joyce, Daniel Dubois wins that wretched ‘regular’ strap when he exposes Trevor Bryan and flattens him in four.

August 20, 2022: Usyk beats an improved Joshua, again on points, before the Briton has something of a malfunction in the aftermath and dumps the belts out of the ring. Perhaps the wrong time to do it but hard not to agree that somebody needed to chuck them.

December 3, 2022: After Usyk bluntly refused to fight on a hastily arranged date, and Joshua also opted for a longer break, Fury thrashes the shell of old rival Chisora in the most unnecessary third fight in history. All is (almost) forgiven when Usyk appears at ringside and, at last, the undisputed drought looks set to end.

March 22, 2023: Fury-Usyk talks collapse over a disagreement on who will earn what in the rematch of a fight that suddenly looks further away than ever before.

July 11, 2023: Fury confirms that he will fight MMA star and boxing debutant Francis Ngannou in a non-title fight 10-rounder on October 28. Show him the money. 

August 26, 2023: Usyk beats Daniel Dubois, both the WBA ‘regular’ champion and WBA mandatory, in nine rounds. Usyk was dropped in the fifth with a shot ruled a low blow. Team Dubois’ appeal that it should not have been ruled a low blow is unsuccessful in the aftermath.

September 29, 2023: Fury and Usyk agree to fight each other. They sign contracts and everything! All Fury must do is get through his bout with Ngannou, 0-0, unscathed. Hurrah!

October 25, 2023: Out in Saudi Arabia, many journalists have it on good authority that Fury versus Usyk is signed and sealed for December 23.

October 28, 2023: Ngannou drops Fury in round three, busts up his face and is unlucky to be adjudged a majority decision loser after 10 rounds. Afterwards, Frank Warren admits it’s unlikely that Fury will be fit enough to face Usyk on December 23.

November 16, 2023: It is officially confirmed that Fury-Usyk will take place on February 17, 2024, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

February 2, 2024: Fury-Usyk is postponed after a gaping wound is opened above Fury’s right eye in sparring.

February 4, 2024: With Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority in Saudi Arabia, determined to get a new date in the diary as soon as possible, the undisputed clash between Usyk and Fury is rescheduled for May 18.

May 18, 2024…….