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What does it mean to be the undisputed champion in boxing? How is undisputed different than unified?

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Currently, boxing is on a run of marquee fights. 

About 10 days ago, former undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and former four-division champion Roy Jones Jr. went to a draw. This past Saturday, unified welterweight titleholder Errol Spence Jr. defeated Danny Garcia by unanimous decision. On Saturday, three-belt titlist Anthony Joshua takes on Kubrat Pulev. 

A Joshua win over Pulev makes the fight between the IBF, WBA (super), and WBO champion and WBC titleholder Tyson Fury for the undisputed heavyweight crown on the docket for 2021. 

Putting all of those titles and terms together certainly can be a mouthful. What does unified and undisputed champion mean? What are the differences between the two?

What does it mean to be 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

Current unified champions include: 

  • Heavyweight: Anthony Joshua — IBF, WBA (super), WBO
  • Welterweight: Errol Spence Jr. — IBF, WBC
  • Light heavyweight: Artur Beterbiev — IBF, WBC 
  • Junior middleweight: Jermell Charlo — IBF, WBA (super), 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 does it mean to be an undisputed champion?

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

Since the four-belt era began in 2004, there hasn't been an undisputed heavyweight champion. The last undisputed champion in the heavyweight division was Lennox Lewis back in November 1999, when he defeated Evander Holyfield in their rematch. At the time, there were three major belts (WBC, WBA, IBF).

During the four-belt era, there have been four undisputed champions in men's boxing: Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight), Bernard Hopkins (middleweight), Jermain Taylor (middleweight) and Terence Crawford (junior welterweight). 

On the women's side, there have been four undisputed champions, with three currently holding all four belts:

  • Lightweight: Katie Taylor 
  • Weltweight: Jessica McCaskill  
  • Middleweight: Claressa Shields

Previously, Cecilia Brækhus held all four 147-pound titles before losing them to McCaskill in August.

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