For Rahman, an inheritance

WBC heavyweight crown has proud lineage stretching back to days of John L. Sullivan


ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Boxing's fractured heavyweight division has four champions.

They are the World Boxing Council's Hasim Rahman, the International Boxing Federation's Chris Byrd, the World Boxing Association's Nikolay Valuev and the World Boxing Organization's Lamon Brewster.

Of these, Rahman's belt is considered the most accepted - although not necessarily because he is considered to be the best of the lot.

The WBC belt held by Rahman has a lineage that can be traced back through such champions as Lennox Lewis, Larry Holmes, Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis -- all the way back to John L. Sullivan in the late 19th century.

"You have to look at the heavyweight division - and when we say `crown' as an ascension to a lineage, almost as if there's a DNA passing with each change of title," said noted boxing historian Bert Sugar. "When somebody dethrones somebody, they take the crown."

There have been, however, breaks in the chain of succession - such as when a champion retires or is stripped of his title - when other means have been used to determine the successor.

"In the situations when there are given instances where there may be no direct lineage, when it's not obvious - as in this man beat that man - you have to have a relation back," Sugar said. "There are box-offs, there are eliminators, there are tournaments."

The first time the succession was in doubt came with the retirement of unbeaten Jim Jeffries in 1905. Jeffries chose Marvin Hart and Jack Root, two men he considered worthy of his crown, to fight for the title.

Hart won a 12th-round knockout over Root in a bout refereed by Jeffries. In turn, Hart would lose to Tommy Burns, who would lose to Jack Johnson - the first African-American to win a heavyweight title.

"Sill, Jeffries was still considered by many to be the undefeated champion," Sugar said. "But when Jeffries came back to fight Johnson in 1910 and was knocked out in the 15th round, Johnson won not only the fight, but reaffirmed his lineal ascension to the title in a relation-back manner."

When Joe Louis retired in 1949, Ezzard Charles defeated Jersey Joe Walcott - whom Louis had beaten in his last fight - for the title vacated by Louis. Charles won, but was not accepted as the linneal champion until he defeated the comebacking Louis in a title fight. Again, a relation-back situation.

After Ali was stripped of his title for failing to step forward for the draft, he was forced into a 3 1/2 -year exile starting in 1967.

This rsulted in a different succession scenario.

An elimination tournament was held by the WBA, with Jimmy Ellis winning the tournament. Ellis later lost to WBC and New York state champion Joe Frazier, who in turn beat Ali in March 1971 - conferring upon Frazier the mantle of linear champion.

"When Ali was defrocked, Frazier was recognized as the champion," Sugar said. "But that claim was reenforced when Frazier beat Ali."

In a world of splintered championships, the WBC belt, legitimized by Frazier, has come to symbolize that of the linear titlist.

When Riddick Bowe threw the WBC belt into a London trash bin, the belt - and its cache - were picked up by Lennox Lewis, "who became the champion in name and stature," Sugar said.

Lewis' retirement left Vitali Klitschko, the WBC's No. 1 contender and Lewis' last opponent, as the heir apparent.

Klitschko's victory over Corrie Sanders solidified his claim. Klitschko's retirement passed that title on to Rahman - who had split victories with Lewis - as the linear champ.

"Therein lies the fuzzy tale of the heavyweight lineage," Sugar said. "Make of it what you will."


Tracing the world heavyweight title to Hasim Rahman:

Aug. 29, 1885 -- John L. Sullivan W 6 Jake Kilrain, Cincinnati (vacant world title bout fought under Marquess of Queensbury rules)

Sept. 7, 1892 -- James J. Corbett KO 21 John L Sullivan, New Orleans

March, 17, 1897 -- Bob Fitzsimmons KO 14 James J Corbett, Carson City, Nev.

1899 -- Jim Jeffries KO 11 Bob Fitzsimmons, Coney Island, N.Y.

May 13, 1905 -- Jim Jeffries retires (title declared vacant)

July 3, 1905 -- Marvin Hart KO 12 Jack Root, Reno, Nev.

Feb. 23, 1906 -- Tommy Burns W 20 Marvin Hart, Los Angeles

Dec. 26, 1908 -- Jack Johnson KO 14 Tommy Burns, Sydney, Australia

July 4, 1910 -- Jack Johnson KO 15 Jim Jeffries, Reno, Nev.

April 5, 1915 -- Jess Willard KO 26 Jack Johnson, Havana, Cuba

July 4, 1919 -- Jack Dempsey KO 4 Jess Willard, Toledo, Ohio

Sept, 23, 1926 -- Gene Tunney W 10 Jack Dempsey, Philadelphia

July 3, 1928 -- Gene Tunney retires (title declared vacant)

June 12, 1930 -- Max Schmeling W (disq.) 4 Jack Sharkey, New York

June 21 1932 -- Jack Sharkey W 15 Max Schmeling, Long Island, N.Y.

June 29, 1933 -- Primo Carnera KO 6 Jack Sharkey, Long Island, N.Y.

June 14, 1934 -- Max Baer KO 11 Primo Carnera, Long Island, N.Y.

June 13, 1935 -- James J. Braddock W 15 Max Baer, Long Island, N.Y.

June 22, 1937 -- Joe Louis KO 8 James J. Braddock, Chicago

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