What the Hell Does Undisputed Mean Again?



What the Hell Does Undisputed Mean Again?

What is “undisputed?” What does “undisputed” do? Are there any undisputed socks?

Is anybody listening to me?

Movie references aside, is undisputed a real definition? What I mean, is there an official book somewhere with one definition solidifying the exact meaning? Or is undisputed more of a theory or premise meant to adapt to the era and evolve with the development of our sport?

The debate over what undisputed means did not start this week, but it was reignited following Teofimo Lopez’s unanimous decision victory over Josh Taylor for Taylor’s WBO junior welterweight title.

That victory, combined with comments from Max Kellerman, sparked social media engagement on the concept of undisputed. This was enough for Twitter to take the bait, and soon after, the podcasts got ahold of the topic.

It seems like a no-brainer to fans with pre-four belt era experience, but there really is no accounting for which demographic of fans feel one way and which feel another.

Teofimo Lopez punches Josh Taylor in NY

To be honest, many, many fight fans don't give a hoot about terms like “undisputed,” they just want to see the best fight the best

Examining Frequency Of Usage of UNDISPUTED

The term “undisputed” was used sparsely before the inception of the sanctioning bodies we know today, and although the history of world titles in separate weight classes is murky at times, it was much more definitive with the commencement of the WBC in February of 1963.

It is worth noting that no sanctioning body exists today without the recognition of previously established bodies. In the case of the WBC, it was the NYSAC, European Boxing Union and BBBofC that supported its creation.

The term undisputed did not mean the same thing it does today. Yes, it was used when two fighters were recognized by different bodies as the champ of a specific division, but disputes were often settled rather quickly with only a few notable exceptions.

For the most part, however, a single linear champion was determined by committee with the word “undisputed” holding no more or less weight than being called the word champion. These were simpler times when being undisputed followed a literal meaning because multiple titlists did not happen by design, not like today.

So, what happened? How did we get to where we are today and where even are we? In my research, I found it interesting that time and time again it was either corruption or a lack of oversight that necessitated the next change in regime and brought in a new era of Alphabets each time—ultimately leading to the current sanctioning body landscape.

When It Truly Became Strap Season

Belts began popping up in every region from continent to continent and more and more fighters claimed to be legitimate champs. In fact, it was this kind of disruption following World War 2 that prompted the start of a committee intended to manage the growing popularity of boxing outside the U.S. territory—this committee’s own negligence and lack of control inadvertently helped start the World Boxing Association (WBA)—formally known as the National Boxing Association (NBA).

WBA boxing belts are part of being undisputed

WBA was NBA, back in the day

Two decades later, the United States Boxing Association decided to expand, which lead to the organization changing its name to the International Boxing Federation (IBF).

The IBF recognized Larry Holmes as its first champion in the heavyweight division, but for him to accept the designation he had to surrender his WBC heavyweight title. Holmes’s decision to give up the WBC belt in favor of the IBF established an immediate legitimacy to the newly formed sanctioning body.

With the most important title in sports split into three separate sanctioning bodies, the desire to unify was negotiated and agreed to. This led to the Heavyweight World Series, a series of fights between 1986-1987 with the intention of crowning an undisputed champion. Mike Tyson would go on to become the first undisputed champion of the 3-belt era, and the first undisputed heavyweight champ since Leon Spinks in 1978.

Another “WB” Into the Mix

This brings us to 1988 and the start of the WBO in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The WBO initially played a vital role as the sanctioning body focused more on European champs and non-American contenders.

WBA was the first to recognize WBO champions on the same level as the WBC and IBF. That was in 2001, and by 2004 the WBC opened its rankings to WBO champions. This provided a pathway to the four-belt era, and it was full steam ahead by 2007 when the IBF would finally abide, giving way to the WBO recognizing the other three bodies and thus here we are.

The true beginning of the four-belt era is a bit messy because there was a reluctance from fans and media alike to allow further fragmentation of the world title. Many considered the WBC, IBF, and WBA as the main belts while holding the WBO in the same air as the IBO and IBU.

Regardless of when the “Kool-Aid” was chugged by the mainstream, as of 2023 the consensus says undisputed can only be obtained after holding all four belts.

Firming Up The Definition of Undisputed

So, is that the definition of undisputed by today’s standards?

Seems simple, no? If you can win the full versions of the WBC, IBF, WBA, and WBO then, and only then, can you be called undisputed.

Now, the confusion and debate over the true meaning of undisputed falls on the shoulders of the sanctioning bodies themselves with their need to create secondary versions of a division’s world title. Terms like interim, “super,” and “franchise” have served to confuse a commercial audience and muddy the title picture—allowing room for interpretations that lead to debates.

That is perhaps the reason that many fans believe “undisputed” is now a designation rather than the literal holding of the four major titles.

In professional golf, a player is considered the “grand slam” champion after winning the four majors: The Open, The Masters, The PGA Championship, and The U.S. Open. This is not a title you defend, but rather an accomplishment meant to separate classes of players.

Is Teofimo Lopez Disputed? Undisputed?

This is how many boxing fans see undisputed today. And with that rationality, there are many incorrectly referring to Teofimo Lopez as the undisputed champion of the 140lb weight class.

Teofimo defeated Vasiliy Lomachenko in October of 2020–click here for a detailed analysis of that win— and that led to the most confusing status in the history of the four-belt era.

WBC instituted the “franchise” status in 2019, which they claim was meant to allow their champions to make the best fights possible, but with Lomachenko and Devin Haney both given champion status at lightweight it made things unclear for Teo.

Teofimo grew frustrated with fans and media refusing to call him undisputed, leading to heated exchanges on social media and podcasts.

There have been 9 undisputed champions in the four-belt era, and one of them was Josh Taylor. Taylor’s undisputed reign began in May 2021 after he unified his IBF and WBA belts with Jose Ramirez’s WBC and WBO titles following a clear UD12 win.

Now, Taylor did not go into his fight with Teo as undisputed champion, and, in fact, the only title on the line was Taylor’s WBO title as he relinquished the other 3 belts, citing high sanctioning fees and a demanding mandatory—points to which are accurate.

Teofimo Lopez Jr. and Josh Taylor embrace after their fight on Saturday. Taylor now faces even more emotional turmoil. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

Josh Taylor spoke up about belt fees, and Errol Spence followed suit. Andre Ward has been on the subject of stiff fees for a long spell, as well. Photo: Mikey Williams, Top Rank Boxing

When asked by Brian Custer on a recent episode of “The Last Stand Podcast” about the difficulties of remaining undisputed and defending the title(s), Taylor responded, ‘It’s impossible.’

For one, you’ve gotta pay all these sanctioning fees as well. When I boxed Ramirez, you know, 12% of my purse was [given] away to sanctioning fees. It’s ridiculous,” Taylor said on the podcast.

So, when Teofimo beat Taylor by unanimous decision on that June 10th night in New York, it was for the WBO belt and nothing more as it relates to straps. However, despite a rocky performance and controversial decision win against Jack Catterall, Taylor remained unbeaten since becoming undisputed, undefeated until Teo and with the lineal title tied to his name.

I have purposely left out any mention of The Ring Magazine title thus far because its origins and place in the sport would only serve to clutter this topic, but it is important for many reasons. For years, fans have confused lineal with who holds The Ring Magazine belt, which is misleading.

Is Lineal the Same As Undisputed?

The lineal champion is best described as “the man that beat the man.” The Ric Flair title if you will. However, it is ultimately the lineage of a specific division traced as far back as that lineage goes.

Lineages break and the subjective nature of boxing calls questions to the legitimacy of such title statuses in the first place. For example, there is no current lineal champ at middleweight with Canelo vacating and moving up to super MW.

The distinction is important between lineal and undisputed. Teofimo beat the lineal champion, not the undisputed one.

I realize that fans of the three major American sports might not understand the distinction beyond the belts because when you win the Cy Young award you are the reigning Cy Young until someone dethrones you. But the kind of distinction between a lineal champion and an undisputed championship can only really be appreciated in boxing.

You see, an undisputed championship and what it means has evolved.

But What Does Undisputed Mean Between the Lines?

It shows the resolve of a fighter as he weaves through the complicated fabric that binds the sport of boxing with the boxing business. Yes, the best fighter in the ring should count more than anything, but you only get that chance when you can maneuver through the political landscape designed by rival promoters, competing networks, and sanctioning bodies with a history of not working together.

The lineal championship is important, but lineages are not held in the same light by fans from different eras. There are many that look down on the Klitschko era despite the dominance. And what about Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s era of lineage which was clear despite never becoming undisputed at welterweight?

Devin Haney (R) retains his undisputed lightweight championship with a unanimous decision over Vasiliy Lomachenko. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Mungia says Devin Haney (R) deserves heavy props for being undisputed. Photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images

Today, however, it is difficult to become undisputed without fighting consistently against quality opposition—the kind of opponent pool not limited to the bias we sometimes see sanctioning bodies give specific promoters.

You can look at the Ryan Garcia and Tank Davis fight as an example of a fighter’s popularity opening the door for a single opportunity that would not otherwise be available to a fighter without a single world title win.

That is not to say that Garcia-Davis should not have happened. The point is Devin Haney deserves a certain amount of credit for jumping from opportunity to opportunity with multiple promoters and networks. This shows a certain willingness to fight the best, and I’m not saying Tank deserves to be punished for remaining on one side of the street, but what Haney has done speaks to something incredibly difficult.

We need to look at undisputed as the true feat it is, as well as what it says about a fighter’s intention to cement a legacy.