No world titles will be on the line when Tyson Fury faces Tom Schwarz live on ESPN+ on Saturday night, but Fury argues that he doesn’t need titles to be called a champion.
That’s because Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) is recognised by some as the heavyweight division’s lineal champion. Supporters say he doesn’t require belts to prove he is top of the pile because he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko for three world titles (WBA, IBF and WBO) in November 2015 … and hasn’t lost since.
Put simply, Fury is still “the man who beat ‘the man.'” As a result, the British fighter is once more this week being marketed by promoters and broadcasters as the lineal champion when he faces the German fighter Schwarz (24-0, 16 KOs), 25, in a nontitle bout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I am no challenger to no man, I am the lineal heavyweight champion of the world; that means I am the best of the best,” Fury, 30, said before he fought WBC champion Deontay Wilder, 33, in December.
Part of Fury’s argument is that he is the direct link back through boxing history, connecting all the leading heavyweight champions of their eras.
His case is that he is the rightful successor to previous lineal champions, to the likes of: Wladimir Klitschko (2009-2015), Lennox Lewis (1998-2001, 2001-2004), Evander Holyfield (1990-1992, 1993-1994), Mike Tyson (1988-1990), Larry Holmes (1980-1985), Muhammad Ali (1964-1967, 1974-1978, 1978-1979), George Foreman (1973-1974, 1994-1997), Joe Frazier (1970-1973), Sonny Liston (1962-1964), Floyd Patterson (1956-1959, 1960-1962), Rocky Marciano (1952-1956), Joe Louis (1937-1949), Gene Tunney (1926-1928), Jack Dempsey (1919-1923) and Jack Johnson (1908-1915).
Some others reigned as lineal king for less than a year, such as Hasim Rahman, Shannon Briggs, Michael Moorer, Riddick Bowe and James Buster Douglas in the past two decades. Others retired (Tunney, Louis, Marciano, Lewis), or had their boxing licence suspended (Ali), so a new lineal champion then had to be declared without him beating the predecessor.
Fury counts himself a part of a history that goes back a long time, given that the lineal championship can be traced back to the late 1800s and bareknuckle king John L. Sullivan, who dominated heavyweight fisticuffs long before the world governing bodies confused things.
“The rankings, to me, are unimportant,” Fury said. “I’m the lineal champion. I’ve got the status going back 100 years. I’m very unconcerned with rankings, and Tom Schwarz is even ranked above me [by the WBO].”
Wilder, who has ruled as WBC titleholder since January 2015, is at the top of the ESPN rankings, while some independent rankings have installed WBA-IBF-WBO champion Andy Ruiz Jr. as their new world heavyweight No. 1 after his stunning defeat of Anthony Joshua earlier this month.
Fury, 30, came close to beating Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) after he controlled most of their contest and got up from a heavy knockdown in the last round, an achievement made more remarkable by the fact that it followed two and a half painful years out of the ring.
But above all that time in the wilderness is what generates debate around Fury’s lineal champion claim. Since he gave up one of his titles, was stripped of the other two and failed a drugs test, should he still be considered lineal champion?
Sceptics also point out that the Manchester-born heavyweight had 31 months out of the ring before he returned to action. After such a hiatus, when others have recorded great wins like Joshua did over Klitschko in April 2017, can Fury still be regarded as the best?
On the other hand, even if he hasn’t held a title since October 2016, Fury never lost. Even in exile, and even at his lowest point, he never stopped believing he was No. 1.
In truth, Fury’s best way to silence the doubters once and for all and reaffirm his claim that he is the true lineal champion is to become world heavyweight champion once more. To do that, he needs a rematch with Wilder, and one is already pencilled in for next year.
But first, and for now more importantly, Schwarz stands in his way.