Undisputed vs. unified: Explaining the different types of boxing champions

WBC and WBO junior welterweight champion Jose Ramirez and IBF and WBA (Super) titlist Josh Taylor will battle on Saturday night in Las Vegas to determine who the undisputed junior welterweight champion is. The winner will be the fifth undisputed champion in the four-belt era and second in the division since Terence Crawford accomplished the feat in 2017. 

Figuring out who the world champions are in boxing has become convoluted for the casual fan. There are a number of belts in each division and things can get quite complicated when trying to figure out what the difference is between a “unified” champion and an “undisputed” champion.

Before 1960, most of boxing’s champions were considered “undisputed” because there was only one champion in each weight class. But as the popularity of the sport grew, so did the number of boxing organizations that would crown their own champions. This led to many disputes over who was recognized as the “real” world champion with fighters moving up and down in weight class, boxing politics coming into play, and various other reasons. Up until 2004, there were three major sanctioning bodies in boxing: World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC) and the International Boxing Federation (IBF).  

A fourth was added in 2004 when the World Boxing Organization was recognized by the WBC in its ranking listings. 

And the four-belt era was upon us in boxing.

Since 2004, there have only been four men’s fighters who have held all four titles from major sanctioning bodies in the same weight class.

  • Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight)
  • Bernard Hopkins (middleweight)
  • Jermain Taylor (middleweight)
  • Terence Crawford (junior welterweight)

But there have been plenty of fighters who have held two or more of the major sanctioning titles in a division. 

Both Ramirez and Taylor are unified champions with two belts between them. But after they clash, there will only be one champion, and that individual will be recognized as the undisputed junior welterweight champion of the world. 

What is a unified champion?

A unified champion is one who holds two or more of the major sanctioning titles in a division:

  • IBF
  • WBA
  • WBC
  • WBO

Who are the unified champions in boxing?

Current unified champions include: 

  • Heavyweight: Anthony Joshua — IBF, WBA (super), WBO
  • Light heavyweight: Artur Beterbiev — IBF, WBC 
  • Super middleweight: Canelo Alvarez — WBA (super), WBC, WBO
  • Junior middleweight: Jermell Charlo — IBF, WBA (super), WBC  
  • Welterweight: Errol Spence Jr. — IBF, WBC
  • Junior welterweight: Jose Ramirez — WBC, WBO  
  • Junior welterweight: Josh Taylor — IBF, WBA (super)  
  • Lightweight: Teofimo Lopez — IBF, WBA (super), WBO 
  • Super bantamweight: Murodjon Akhmadaliev — IFB, WBA (super)
  • Bantamweight: Naoya Inoue — IBF, WBA (super) 

What is an undisputed champion?

An undisputed champion is a fighter who holds all four major championship belts (IBF, WBA, WBC and WBO) in a division. 

It’s a rare feat that has only been accomplished by eight fighters in the four-belt era, four men and four women. 

Undisputed men’s boxing champions

  • Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight) 
  • Bernard Hopkins (middleweight)
  • Jermain Taylor (middleweight)
  • Terence Crawford (junior welterweight)

Undisputed women’s boxing champions

  • Claressa Shields (middleweight)
  • Cecilia Braekhus (welterweight)
  • Jessica McCaskill (welterweight)
  • Katie Taylor (lightweight)

It’s possible that we see three new undisputed champions crowned in 2021 with Taylor-Ramirez in the junior welterweight division, WBC, WBO and WBA (Super) champion Canelo Alvarez targeting a fall showdown with IBF titleholder Caleb Plant to determine the first undisputed super middleweight champion and a potential undisputed heavyweight clash between WBC champion Tyson Fury and WBA (Super), IBF and WBO champ Anthony Joshua later this year. 

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