Middleweight World/Lineal Champions (160lbs)
Having taken over Mike O’Dowd’s 158/160lbs middleweight title claim on 6 May 1920, Johnny Wilson would defend it against the same man in what would be the first middleweight title fight held under Walker Law. And from thereon in all title bouts would be contested at 160lbs. With Britain and the IBU recognising 160lbs as being the middleweight limit, after the Walker Law was passed that weight was also accepted by the New York State Boxing Commission (NYSAC). The National Boxing Association (NBA), which was formed on 13 January 1921, followed suit. The tough Wilson, a hard-hitting southpaw who had been a pro since October 1912, had beaten some useful men such as KO Sweeney, Art McGirl, Leo Houck, Augie Ratner, Young Fisher, Young Ahearn (2) and Billy Murray, and after beating O’Dowd had defended his claim against Soldier Bartfield, Fisher and Steve Choynski. Wilson’s record showed that in 77 contests he had put together 36 wins, two draws, 14 losses, 24 no-decision contests and one no contest. Prior to losing to Wilson, the clever, wily O’Dowd had picked up Al McCoy’s 158lbs title claim on 14 November 1917 and defended it against Harry Greb, Jackie Clark, Ted Kid Lewis, Soldier Bartfield, Mike Gibbons, Frankie Carbone, Stockyards Tommy Murphy, Augie Ratner, Joe Eagan and Walter Laurette. A pro since January 1913, O’Dowd’s 105-fight record was made up of 46 wins, two draws, three defeats, 53 no-decision contests and one no contest.
Johnny Wilson (17/3/1921 w pts 15 Mike O'Dowd – 31/8/1923)
On 27 July at Dunn Field, Cleveland, Ohio, Wilson ran into trouble against Bryan Downey. After the no-decision contest came to an end when the referee disqualified Downey (154), the Cleveland Boxing Commission refused to accept the decision, declaring Downey the winner by a kayo. This action was eventually supported by the Ohio Boxing Commission on 23 August, who awarded Downey champion status. Although Wilson put his watered down titles on the line against Bryan Downey (nd-drew 12) and KO Jaffe (nd-nc 4), on 4 January 1922, he was barred by the NYSAC from fighting in New York until agreeing to defend his title against Harry Greb, an action that was followed by the NBA, which represented 16 States, banning him 12 days later. Massachusetts also banned Wilson from fighting in their State until July 1922. Eventually, Wilson agreed to meet Greb in New York in a fight that would have world title billing. A veteran of the ring, Greb had taken part in 237 contests, made up of 63 wins, two draws, three defeats, one no contest and 168 of the no-decision variety, often giving away large chunks of weight. A veritable non-stop windmill type of fighter, Greb had beaten title claimants such as Young Ahearn, Frank Mantell, George Chip, Bob Moha, Al McCoy, Eddie McGoorty, Leo Houck, Joe Borrell and Jeff Smith. He had also won and lost the American light heavyweight title to Gene Tunney, defending it twice against Tommy Loughran, and had defeated much bigger men than himself in Bill Brennan, Gunboat Smith, Charley Weinert and Tommy Gibbons. In short, he feared no one.
Harry Greb (31/8/1923 w pts 15 Johnny Wilson – 26/2/1926)
With successful defences against Wilson, Ted Moore and Mickey Walker under his belt, Greb would finally give Tiger Flowers a shot at the world title after the latter had been on the wrong end of a newspaper decision in August 1924. A pro since 1918, Flowers was a fast-moving southpaw who threw plenty of punches, some soft, some heavy, and had taken part in 128 contests, comprising 96 wins, five draws, 12 defeats and 15 no-decision affairs. Men beaten by him included Frank Carbone, George Robinson (2), Dan O’Dowd, Ted Moore (2), Jackie Clark, Lou Bogash (2), Jock Malone and Frank Moody.
Tiger Flowers (26/2/1926 w pts 15 Harry Greb – 3/12/1926)
Having beaten Greb in a return, Flowers’ next defence of the world title would be against the former world welterweight champion, Mickey Walker, who since losing his title in May had beaten Jock Malone. Although hardly justifying an immediate crack at Flowers, Walker, whose record showed 41 wins, nine defeats, 44 no-decision bouts and two no contests, was an exciting fighter who put ‘bums’ on seats.
Mickey Walker (3/12/1926 w pts 10 Tiger Flowers – 19/6/1931)
Further to coming through successful world title defences against Tommy Milligan, Jock Malone and Ace Hudkins, and a lineal affair with the latter, there would be no more fights for Walker at the middleweight limit. Regardless of what was being reported it is certain that Walker saw his future at a higher weight. Suspended in New York since November 1927, it was even reported on 20 January 1930 that Walker was trying to make up with the NYSAC and looking at the possibilities of a defence against the top-ranked Rene De Vos on 14 March, but as in previous attempts to patch up differences that also came to nothing. The next lineal contest at the weight came when Gorilla Jones, the NBA champion, met the IBU representative, Marcel Thil, who was The Ring's leading contender. Ranked at number seven, Jones, whose record showed 79 wins, ten draws, 17 defeats, 12 no-decision affairs and two no contests, had won the vacant NBA title when beating Oddone Piazza on 25 January 1932 and had successfully defended it against Young Terry. The durable Frenchman, who had 78 wins, nine draws and 18 defeats from 105 contests (84 wins and 12 draws from 116 contests in other records due to amateur fights added to his pro record) and was as hard as nails, was a 29-year-old veteran of the ring. Since losing the European title to Mario Bosisio in November 1930, Thil had racked up 15 wins, which included victories over Vince Dundee and Jack Hood, and was an aggressive body puncher.
Marcel Thil (11/6/1932 w disq 11 Gorilla Jones – 23/9/1937)
After successfully defending the lineal title against Len Harvey, Kid Tunero (2), Ignacio Ara (2), Gustave Roth, Carmelo Candel (2), Vilda Jaks and Lou Brouillard (2), and apparently disinterested in meeting Tunero again, Thil was lined up to meet Fred Apostoli at the Polo Grounds, Manhattan, NYC, New York on 23 September on Mike Jacobs’ promotion billed as ‘The Carnival of Champions’. Prior to the fight, in order to protect Freddie Steele, whom the NYSAC recognised as champion, the two men were asked to sign an agreement that the fight would not involve the world title despite the fact that it was contested under championship conditions. Regardless of that, and the fact that the IBU also did not recognise it as a championship contest, as Thil was the lineal champion in my book it would go ahead as a bout involving that title. A rugged, hard-hitting, body-puncher, the second-ranked Apostoli would bring 25 wins and two losses to the ring, having beaten Paul Pirrone, Babe Risko, Lou Brouillard and Solly Krieger (2).
Fred Apostoli (23/9/1937 w rsc 10 Marcel Thil – 2/10/1939)
It was announced at the end of the first week of August 1939 that Apostoli would be defending his lineal title against Ceferino Garcia, having earlier turned back Young Corbett 111. While Apostoli had taken part in seven non-title contests since the Corbett fight, losing to Billy Conn twice and defeating Erich Seelig and Glen Lee, Garcia had only moved up to middleweight at the start of the year after failing to relieve Henry Armstrong of the welterweight crown. A hard-hitting pressure fighter, Garcia certainly warranted his opportunity, having beaten Lloyd Marshall (2), Walter Woods and Bobby Pacho (2) to become the leading contender. With a record of 112 wins, 12 draws and 25 defeats, only Barney Ross and Henry Armstrong had defeated him in his last 26 contests
Ceferino Garcia (2/10/1939 w rsc 7 Fred Apostoli – 23/5/1940)
Following on from two successful lineal title defences against Glen Lee and Henry Armstrong, the third-ranked Ken Overlin, whose 133-fight record showed 108 wins, six draws, 17 defeats and two no contests, would be next for Garcia. A clever box-fighter, Overlin had failed in a crack at Freddie Steele’s title in 1937, but since losing to Teddy Yarosz in March 1939 he had been unbeaten in 18 contests, which included three draws, and numbered Jimmy Webb, Erich Seelig, Allen Matthews and Ben Brown among his victims.
Ken Overlin (23/5/1940 w pts 15 Ceferino Garcia – 9/5/1941)
Having turned back Steve Belloise twice in lineal title defences, Overlin’s next challenger would be Billy Soose, who beat Ernie Vigh (w pts 12 at Madison Square Garden on 7 March 1941) in an official NYSAC eliminator. With a record showing 31 wins and four defeats, he had defeated Babe Risko, Paul Pirrone, Ken Overlin, Tony Zale and Tami Mauriello, along with an earlier victory over Vigh. At the start of his career Soose had been a slugging, come-forward fighter, but after constant injuries to his right hand his left mitt had become his main weapon to great effect.
Billy Soose (9/5/1941 w pts 15 Ken Overlin – 31/10/1941)
Soose relinquished the NYSAC and lineal titles on 31 October without a defence to his name, and with the NYSAC now firmly behind the second-ranked Georgie Abrams, a three-time winner over Billy Soose and the last man to defeat him, saying that they would support the winner of the NBA’s Tony Zale (rated at number one) v Abrams contest as the world champion the match was on. Zale, whose record showed that he had 50 wins, two draws and 15 defeats since starting out in June 1934, had won the NBA title when beating Al Hostak and had successfully defended it against Steve Mamakos and Hostak prior to meeting Abrams. As a hard-punching, all-action fighter Zale had come back from defeats strongly, and although being outpointed by Nate Bolden and Billy Soose since January 1939 he beaten Ben Brown and Fred Apostoli along with other top men in the same time-frame. A smart box-fighter, Abrams had participated in 49 contests, with 43 wins, two draws and four defeats on his tab since turning pro in May 1937. Along the way he had beaten Mamakos, Teddy Yarosz, Lou Brouillard, Soose (3), Ernie Vigh, Cocoa Kid, Izzy Jannazzo and Jimmy Leto, and was unbeaten in his last ten contests after losing on points to Henry Chmielewski in September 1940, a result he quickly reversed.
Tony Zale (28/11/1941 w pts 15 Georgie Abrams – 16/7/1947)
Although successfully defending the world title against Rocky Graziano, with a rematch in the offing Zale v Graziano (2) was called off after the latter was suspended in New York on 7 February 1947 for not reporting that he had been offered bribes on three separate occasions, once when up against Al Bummy Davis and twice more prior to taking on Reuben Shank. Graziano, who defeated Davis on 25 May 1945 and pulled out of the Shank fight claiming a back injury just three days before it was due to take place on 27 December 1946, told the NYSAC that he did not report the offers as he thought they were a joke. Regardless, when the NBA decided not to accept the sentence, allowing Graziano free to box in any other State outside of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, a fresh hunt for a new venue was on. Intended to be held at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois on 16 July, it was eventually moved indoors keeping the same date. Coming into the fight, Graziano, who had turned pro in March 1942, had won 45 (34 inside the distance) of 57 fights, drawing five and losing seven. Having lost two in a row to Harold Green towards the end of 1944, Graziano began his rise to fame when knocking out Green to avenge those two defeats, as well as beating Billy Arnold, Solomon Stewart, Freddie Cochrane (2), Al Bummy Davis, Sonny Horne and Marty Servo. Both Cochrane and Servo were reigning world welterweight champions at the time of their meetings with Graziano. Close on 40,000 fans were expected to brave the elements in order to witness a return that promised to be a tear-up right from the opening bell.
Rocky Graziano (16/7/1947 w rsc 6 Tony Zale – 10/6/1948)
Signed up for a return world title match in New York on 21 March 1947, almost before the final punch was delivered both Marcel Cerdan, the European champion, and Jake LaMotta, the outstanding contenders, would have to wait until this one got sorted. Zale v Graziano (2) was called off after the latter was suspended in New York on 7 February 1947 for not reporting that he had been offered bribes on three separate occasions, once when up against Al Bummy Davis and twice more prior to taking on Reuben Shank. Graziano, who defeated Davis on 25 May 1945 and pulled out of the Shank fight claiming a back injury just three days before it was due to take place on 27 December 1946, told the NYSAC that he did not report the offers as he thought they were a joke. Regardless, when the NBA decided not to accept the sentence, allowing Graziano free to box in any other State outside of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, a fresh hunt for a new venue was on. Intended to be held at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois on 16 July, it was eventually moved indoors keeping the same date.
Tony Zale (10/6/1948 w co 3 Rocky Graziano – 21/9/1948)
Having regained the world title, Zale was contracted to defend against the winner of the European title fight between Marcel Cerdan and Cyrille Delannoit within six months. Cerdan, who beat Delannoit (w pts 15 at the Sports Palace, Brussels, Belgium on 10 July), had been knocking on the middleweight door for several years. Always on the move, stalking his opponents and never giving them a moment’s rest, he was a two-fisted fighter with a solid punch in either hand. Prior to meeting Zale, the Frenchman had run up 110 contests with just three defeats, having beaten many good men including Omar Kouidri (six times), Eddie Ran, Cleto Locatelli (2), Gustave Humery (2), Al Baker (2), Saverio Turiello (2), Felix Wouters, Larry Cisneros (2), Joe DiMartino, Edouard Tenet (2), Assane Diouf, Robert Charron, Holman Williams, Georgie Abrams, Harold Green, Anton Raadik, Giovanni Manca and Laverne Roach, just to name a few.
Marcel Cerdan (21/9/1948 w rtd 12 Tony Zale – 16/6/1949)
A veteran of 72 wins in 88 fights, years later Jake LaMotta admitted that he had taken a dive against Billy Fox in order to obtain himself a crack at Cerdan's world middleweight title. Despite losing four times to Sugar Ray Robinson, LaMotta had been the first fighter to beat the great man. Other rated men he had beaten included Henry Chmielewski, Jimmy Edgar (2), California Jackie Wilson, Jimmy Reeves, Fritzie Zivic (3), Coley Welch, George Costner, Bert Lytell, Jose Basora (2), George Kochan (3), Walter Woods, Holman Williams, Anton Raadik, Tommy Bell (3), Tony Janiro, Johnny Colon, Tommy Yarosz, Robert Villemain, O'Neill Bell (2) and Joey DeJohn. As hard as nails, LaMotta was a rugged, cagey fighter, who seemed impervious to punishment and one who could boast that he had never been floored.
Jake LaMotta (16/6/1949 w rtd 10 Marcel Cerdan – 14/2/1951)
Although not supported in Pennsylvania, LaMotta would defend the lineal title against Tiberio Mitri and Laurent Dauthuille before being finally matched against the world welterweight champion, Sugar Ray Robinson in a world title match. Having won the vacant Pennsylvanian version of the title when beating Robert Villemain on 5 June 1950, Robinson had successfully defended it against Jose Basora and Carl Bobo Olson, and was coming to the ring with 121 wins, two draws and just one defeat, at the hands of LaMotta, since turning over in October 1940. Having mopped up the welterweight division, and having already beaten LaMotta four times, the quicksilver Robinson was an odds-on favourite to win.
Sugar Ray Robinson (14/2/1951 w rsc 13 Jake LaMotta – 10/7/1951)
Now ranked at number one, Randy Turpin would be Robinson's first defence. Not given much chance of beating Robinson by the British press, Turpin was considered to be too raw and untested at that level. That aside, the brother of Dick Turpin, the former British and British Empire middleweight champion, had run up 40 wins in 43 fights, reversed two defeats at the hands of Albert Finch and Jean Stock, and had become the British and European champion. Extremely heavy-handed and strong, only nine of his victims had managed to stay the course. Along the way he had defeated Vince Hawkins, Doug Miller, Cyrille Delannoit, Pete Mead, Tommy Yarosz, Billy Brown, Jackie Keough, Luc Van Dam and Jan De Bruin, the last two in European title fights.
Randy Turpin (10/7/1951 w pts 15 Sugar Ray Robinson – 12/9/1951)
With a rematch clause in place, Turpin was soon on his way to New York to defend the world title against Robinson.
Sugar Ray Robinson (12/9/1951 w rsc 10 Randy Turpin – 19/12/1952)
After successfully defending the world title Carl Bobo Olson and Rocky Graziano and failing gallantly to take the light heavyweight crown from Joey Maxim at the Yankee Stadium, Bronx, NYC, New York on 25 June, Robinson relinquished his middleweight title when announcing his retirement on 19 December. Following that, it was agreed by the NBA and the NYSAC that the winner of a series of eliminating bouts to decide the American championship should fight the victor of a European title bout between Randy Turpin and Charles Humez for the vacant crown. Initially, Carl Bobo Olson, Ernie Durando and Rocky Castellani were decided upon, but the choices created howls of protests regards to the latter two. The immediate response saw several top American fighters demanding admittance to the tournament. Also, the Olson camp argued that as the leading American he should not have to fight an eliminator. Ultimately, Olson backed down. Since losing to Robinson, Olson was unbeaten in nine contests, whipping the likes of Walter Cartier, Jimmy Beau, Robert Villemain, Gene Hairston, Lee Sala, Norman Hayes (2) and Garth Panter. With time now of the essence, the NBA and NYSAC went back to the drawing board and selected Paddy Young to meet Durando, the winner to tangle with Olson. With that settled, on 27 March 1953 Young outscored Durando over 12 rounds at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York. He then went on to meet Olson to decide the American title at the same venue on 19 June 1953, losing on points over 15 rounds. However, while all that was going on the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC), not supported by the EBU, announced that they would recognise the winner of the Turpin v Humez fight as world champion prior to taking on the new American title holder. Having beaten Humez on points, since losing to Robinson the Englishman had won eight contests, beating some good men as well as Don Cockell and Walter Cartier. He would be up against a man who had turned pro at the age of 16 in August 1944, and had lost just six times in 64 fights, two of the defeats coming against Robinson.
Carl Bobo Olson (21/10/1953 w pts 15 Randy Turpin – 9/12/1955)
Having successfully defended the world title against Kid Gavilan, Rocky Castellani and Pierre Langlois, Olson would next meet Sugar Ray Robinson who had returned to the ring in January 1955. After racking up straight wins over Joe Rindone, Ralph Tiger Jones, Johnny Lombardo, Ted Olla, Garth Panter and Castellani, Robinson had quickly become the leading challenger.
Sugar Ray Robinson (9/12/1955 w co 2 Carl Bobo Olson – 2/1/1957)
Further to beating Olson in a world title defence and taking in a non-title bout, it took three months of hard negotiation before Robinson could be induced to meet Gene Fullmer, who had recently eliminated Rocky Castellani (w pts 10 at The Arena, Cleveland, Ohio on 4 January), Ralph Tiger Jones (w pts 10 at the Public Hall, Cleveland, Ohio on 20 April) and Charles Humez (w pts 10 at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York on 25 May) to head The Ring magazine ratings. Fullmer also had wins over Garth Panter, Jackie LaBua, Peter Mueller, Paul Pender, Gil Turner (2), Del Flanagan, Al Andrews and Moses Ward. In 40 contests he had won 37, losing to Turner, Bobby Boyd and Eduardo Lausse. A bruising fighter who kept on coming and would wear opponents down, Fullmer was a difficult man to dislodge.
Gene Fullmer (2/1/1957 w pts 15 Sugar Ray Robinson – 1/5/1957)
With a return match quickly in place, Robinson would get another crack at Fullmer's world title.
Sugar Ray Robinson (1/5/1957 w co 5 Gene Fullmer – 23/9/1957)
Having regained the world title, Carmen Basilio, who had 70 contests behind him and was the reigning world welterweight champion, would be Robinson’s next challenger in a big money fight. A rough, tough fighter, Basilio was not given much of a chance by some experts.
Carmen Basilio (23/9/1957 w pts 15 Sugar Ray Robinson – 25/3/1958)
Now a two-weight world champion, and with a rematch clause in place, Basilio relinquished his welter title on beating Robinson so that a return could be negotiated.
Sugar Ray Robinson (25/3/1958 w pts 15 Carmen Basilio – 22/1/1960)
In 1959, having remained inactive for over a year, and been given a deadline by the NBA to sign for a defence against Basilio by 25 April, Robinson ignored the edict and was stripped on 4 May. With Massachusetts, having recently left the NBA, supporting the NYSAC, there had been talk that Robinson would meet Paul Pender, who barely made the top ten, and this came to fruition in early August when it was announced that the two men would meet for the lineal title on 15 December in Boston. However, with Robinson needing a warm-up fight, not having boxed for more than 18 months, the date was eventually pushed into January 1960. A sharp, accurate puncher, Pender had begun his career in 1949, but brittle hands saw him take time out. Coming back at the tail-end of 1958, the fireman had run up nine wins, including victories over Joe Shaw and Ralph Tiger Jones, before meeting Robinson. His record coming into the fight stood at 35 wins, two draws and five defeats in 42 contests.
Paul Pender (22/1/1960 w pts 15 Sugar Ray Robinson – 11/7/1961)
Following successful lineal title defences against Robinson, Carmen Basilio and Terry Downes, Pender’s next challenger would be a return against the exciting all-action British champion, Terry Downes. Having outpointed Joey Giardello in a fight that showed he could box as well as slug it out with the best of them, Downes was looking for revenge over Pender after suffering a badly cut nose in their earlier contest. A solid puncher who never left an opponent alone, and a terrific crowd pleaser, he was aptly known as ‘The Paddington Express’. With 27 wins and seven losses on his record, he had beaten Pat McAteer, Phil Edwards (2) and John Cowboy McCormack, but had lost to Dick Tiger and Spider Webb.
Terry Downes (11/7/1961 w rtd 9 Paul Pender – 7/4/1962)
With a return clause in place, Pender would soon get the opportunity to regain his lineal title from Downes.
Paul Pender (7/4/1962 w pts 15 Terry Downes – 7/5/1963)
After negotiations for a unifying contest with Gene Fullmer broke down, Pender eventually elected to defend his share of the championship against Jose Torres on 2 November. Moved on when Torres picked up a cold the fight was called off within days when Cus D’Amato, Torres manager, failed to come up with the guarantee. Although the NYSAC and EBU withdrew their support of Pender on 9 November, for failing to defend within the stipulated period, the Massachusetts Boxing Commission continued to support him as world champion. On 6 March 1963, the Court of Appeal ordered the NYSAC to continue to recognise Pender, as in their eyes he was not the guilty party. Within days of that decision the NYSAC again vacated the title, stating that Pender had failed to sign articles of agreement with Joey Giambra, a rated boxer who had filed a challenge with the Commission. An article in the July edition of The Ring magazine printed a quote by John Cronin, Pender’s legal adviser, stating that the purported challenge made by Giambra on 24 August 1962 was premature, invalid and ineffectual, and was so regarded and treated by the Commission. Even after the Appellate Court had decided in favour of Pender, the NYSAC failed to meet Pender for the purpose of resolving the matter. When it was announced on 11 April 1963 that Pender would be defending the title against Joey Giardello on 7 June, it quickly fell through due to the promoter being unable to obtain television support for the contest. Following that, with the prospect of more of the same Pender announced his retirement on 7 May. Further to Paul Pender’s retirement, when the top-ranked Dick Tiger, the WBA champion, agreed to meet Gene Fullmer, rated number two, for the third time the world title would be on the line. Having won and drawn for the title against Fullmer previously, Tiger, with 46 wins, three draws and 14 defeats on his slate, was the favourite in a battle between two hardy warriors who asked for no favours and gave none. Tiger had come to the fore when beating Terry Downes in 1957 after having an in-out career up until then, and had gone on to beat Yolande Pompey, Gene Armstrong (3), Joey Giardello, Holly Mims, Florentino Fernandez, Heny Hank and Hank Casey. He had also reversed defeats at the hands of Randy Sandy, Wilf Greaves and Spider Webb. His opponent, Fullmer, had 55 wins, three draws and five losses on his record, and had held the world and NBA titles since starting out in June 1951.
Dick Tiger (10/8/1963 w rtd 7 Gene Fullmer – 7/12/1963)
Tiger’s first defence of the world title would be against Joey Giardello, who had been a pro since 1948 and numbered top fighters such as Ernie Durando (2), Pierre Langlois, Billy Graham (2), Joey Giambra, Harold Green, Gil Turner, Walter Cartier (2), Willie Troy, Ralph Tiger Jones (2), Bobby Boyd, Randy Sandy, Rory Calhoun, Chico Vejar (2), Henry Hank and Sugar Ray Robinson among his victims. A ring stylist who could also bang and roughhouse with the best, he had previously fought a draw with Gene Fullmer for the NBA title, and had won and lost against Tiger. With 91 wins, eight draws, 23 defeats and one no contest in 123 bouts, Giardello had earned his chance.
Joey Giardello (7/12/1963 w pts 15 Dick Tiger – 21/10/1965)
Looking to regain his old world title, Dick Tiger, who had 51 wins, three draws and 16 defeats on his tab, would get his chance to turn the tables on Giardello (who had come through a successful first defence against the dangerous Rubin Carter) after beating Jose Gonzalez, Don Fullmer, Juan Carlos Rivera and Rubin Carter. Even though he had lost a disputed decision to Joey Archer in the same period it made no difference to his number one rating.
Dick Tiger (21/10/1965 w pts 15 Joey Giardello – 25/4/1966)
Although he lost to Don Fullmer in a so-called eliminator, the reigning welterweight champion and former undefeated junior middleweight (Austrian version) title holder, Emile Griffith, would be Tiger’s first challenger. Giving away at least ten pounds against the teak-tough champion, Griffith, who had 49 wins and seven losses on his slate, would have to use his speed to get any kind of result.
Emile Griffith (25/4/1966 w pts 15 Emile Griffith – 17/4/1967)
Following two successful defences of his world title against Joey Archer, Griffith was matched against Nino Benvenuti. Since losing his world junior middleweight title, the highly skilled Benvenuti had made his way up the middleweight ranks as the European champion to become Griffith’s leading challenger, beating Harry Scott, Pascal Di Benedetto, Ferd Hernandez and Milo Calhoun. A former Olympic champion, who boasted 71 wins and just one defeat, he was confident of victory even if the betting was against him.
Nino Benvenuti (17/4/1967 w pts 15 Emile Griffith – 29/9/1967)
On winning the world title, the former WBA/WBC junior middleweight title holder was quickly signed up under an unofficial return clause agreement.
Emile Griffith (29/9/1967 w pts 15 Nino Benvenuti – 4/3/1968)
Although return clauses were banned in New York, according to reports a handshake pact between the two men would see a third contest take place between them.
Nino Benvenuti (4/3/1968 w pts 15 Emile Griffith – 7/11/1970)
After successfully defending the world title against Don Fullmer, Fraser Scott, Luis Rodriguez and Tom Bethea, the next man would be Carlos Monzon, the South American champion, whose career had mainly been confined to the Argentine. With just three losses in 80 contests, beating men of the calibre of Jorge Fernandez (2), Tito Marshall (2), Bethea and Eddie Pace, and drawing with Bennie Briscoe, he had proved to have a wide range of powerful and accurate punches from either hand.
Carlos Monzon (7/11/1970 w co 12 Nino Benvenuti – 29/8/1977)
Having successfully defended the world title against Benvenuti, Emile Griffith (2), Denny Moyer, Jean-Claude Bouttier (2), Tom Bogs, Bennie Briscoe, Jose Napoles and Rodrigo Valdez (2), and the lineal title when beating Tony Mundine and Tony Licata, Monzon retired as undefeated champion on 29 August when the WBC forced him to vacate their portion of the title after he failed to agree terms for a championship contest against Valdez. And, when Bennie Briscoe, supported by the WBA, was matched against the WBC backed Valdez, with neither body seeing the need for eliminators it should be recognised as involving the world title. A classy box-fighter, Valdez had beaten Briscoe on points over 12 rounds for the North American title at the Omnisports Stadium, Noumea, New Caledonia on 1 September 1973, but the verdict had been disputed. However, it was certainly not one-sided when Valdez knocked Briscoe out inside seven rounds in defence of his WBC title on 25 May 1974. With 59 wins and two draws from 67 contests, Valdez was rated at number one by The Ring magazine, while Briscoe sat at number four. Having turned pro in 1963 the experienced Valdez had lost just twice, to Carlos Monzon, in his last 31 contests, which included wins over Bobby Cassidy and Carlos Marks, Vinnie Curto, Gratien Tonna and Bennie Briscoe (2). Briscoe, with 58 wins, five draws, 14 defeats and one no contest on his tab, had beaten Charley Scott, Percy Manning (2), George Benton, Jimmy Lester, Jose Gonzalez (2), Vicente Rondon, Tito Marshall, Joe Shaw, Tom Bethea, Carlos Marks, Luis Vinales, Art Hernandez, Willie Warren, Tony Mundine, Stanley Hayward and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. Having reversed several of his 14 defeats, he was a dangerous opponent, being a durable and solid puncher with both hands, especially to the body.
Rodrigo Valdez (5/11/1977 w pts 15 Bennie Briscoe – 22/4/1978)
Valdez’s first defence of the world title would be against Hugo Corro, the unranked South American champion who had never fought outside South America. A skilled operator with a solid jab and sound defensive skills, Corro had a record showing 43 wins, one draw and two defeats.
Hugo Corro (22/4/1978 w pts 15 Rodrigo Valdez – 30/6/1979)
After successfully defending the world title against Ronnie Harris and Valdez, Vito Antuofermo would be next for Corro. Having beaten Bennie Briscoe and Willie Warren earlier in the year, the tough, body-punching Antuofermo deserved a shot at the title, but had to wait as the match was postponed several times after Corro’s badly damaged ankle, which happened in training, failed to respond to treatment. With 44 wins, one draw and three defeats on his record, other men Antuofermo had beaten included Danny McAloon, Denny Moyer, Emile Griffith, Ramon Mendez, Vinnie Curto and Eckhard Dagge.
Vito Antuofermo (30/6/1979 w pts 15 Hugo Corro – 16/3/1980)
Having drawn with Marvin Hagler in his first world title defence, even though there was a lot of activity to promote a return with Hagler immediately following the fight, the WBC stated that Antuofermo’s next defence had to be against Alan Minter. Minter had lost six of 43 fights, all through cuts, but had battled on to win British and European titles before relinquishing them to concentrate on a world title challenge. Three British title wins over Kevin Finnegan proved his class while other men cast aside included Frank Reiche, Tony Licata, Sugar Ray Seales, Emile Griffith, Gratien Tonna, Rudy Robles and Monty Betham. A hard-punching southpaw with good skills to match, he also had to overcome the shock of Angelo Jacopucci passing away following their contest for the vacant European title.
Alan Minter (16/3/1980 w pts 15 Vito Antuofermo – 27/9/1980)
Further to successfully defending the world title against Antuofermo, Minter was matched to meet the heavy-handed southpaw, Marvin Hagler. The American was being given another crack at the world title despite failing to overcome Vito Antuofermo on 30 November 1979 when coming out with a draw. A 12-round knockout win over Mike Colbert two years earlier counted for little even though it was billed as a world title bout by Massachusetts. Since starting out in May 1973, Hagler’s record stood at 49 (40 inside the distance) wins, two draws and two defeats, against Bobby Watts and Willie Munroe who were both beaten in returns. Other top men beaten by Hagler included Sugar Ray Seales (2), Kevin Finnegan (2), Bennie Briscoe and Norberto Cabrera.
Marvin Hagler (27/9/1980 w rsc 3 Alan Minter – 6/4/1987)
Following successful defences of the world title against Fulgencio Obelmejias (2), Vito Antuofermo, Mustafa Hamsho (2), Caveman Lee, Tony Sibson, Wilford Skypion, Roberto Duran, Juan Domingo Roldan, Thomas Hearns and John Mugabi, Hagler signed for a lineal title defence against Sugar Ray Leonard, having forfeited WBA recognition on 21 March 1987 for failing to meet Herol Graham within the stipulated period. Coming into the contest with Hagler, the charismatic Leonard had already proved to be an outstanding box-fighter. With 33 wins to his credit, and his only defeat against Roberto Duran avenged, this would be his first foray among the middleweights, having previously been the undefeated world welterweight champion and undefeated WBA junior middleweight champion.
Sugar Ray Leonard (6/4/1987 w pts 15 Marvin Hagler – 27/6/1987)
After opposing Hagler v Leonard in the first place, it being a WBC promotion, the IBF stated that they were vacating their portion of the title immediately because they could not lend their support to Leonard. following that, Leonard announced on 27 June that he was giving up the WBC and lineal titles in order to take a long break from boxing. The next time the lineal title was up for grabs came after the top-ranked Sumbu Kalambay forfeited WBA recognition on 3 March 1989 when failing to sign for defence against Herol Graham, the British champion, and deciding to meet Michael Nunn, rated at number two, for the latter’s IBF title instead. Kalambay, who was on 46 wins, one draw and three defeats, had won the vacant WBA title when beating Iran Barkley and had defended it against Mike McCallum, Robbie Sims and Doug DeWitt. Victories over Buster Drayton, Irving Hines and Herol Graham had earned him the crack at Barkley. The smooth southpaw, Nunn, who was unbeaten after 32 contests, had taken the IBF title from Frank Tate and defended it against Juan Domingo Roldan having defeated Alex Ramos, Kevin Watts and Curtis Parker along the way.
Michael Nunn (25/3/1989 w co 1 Sumbu Kalambay – 10/5/1991)
Having successfully defended the lineal title against Iran Barkley, Marlon Starling and Donald Curry, Nunn’s next defence would be against James Toney, who was unbeaten on 25 wins and a draw with Sanderline Williams which he had avenged. Strong and durable, and a clever boxer who had a solid shot in either hand, he also numbered Ron Amundsen and Merqui Sosa among his victims.
James Toney (10/5/1991 w rsc 11 Michael Nunn – 13/2/1993)
Further to successful defences of the lineal title against Reggie Johnson, Francesco Dell'Aquila, Mike McCallum (2), Dave Tiberi and Glenn Wolfe, and having had difficulty making the weight, Toney relinquished the IBF version of the title when becoming that body’s super middleweight champion on 13 February 1993. At the same time the lineal title automatically became vacant. It was only when the fourth-ranked Jorge Castro was matched to defend his WBA title against the second-ranked John David Jackson (bearing in mind that the top-ranked Gerald McClellan was effectively up at super middle) the contest should also be seen as involving the lineal title. Castro had won the vacant WBA title from Reggie Johnson and had successfully defended it against Alex Ramos, while Jackson, a southpaw, had earlier forfeited the same title. Castro, who had earned a reputation as a durable, hard-hitting fighter as 66 inside-the-distance victories would testify, had packed a good many fights into a career that started in February 1987. With the proud record of never being stopped, only Roy Jones and Terry Norris outpointing him in his last 44 contests, Castro came to the ring with 95 wins, two draws and four defeats, while Jackson, a former undefeated WBO junior middleweight champion, had 32 wins and one no contest to his name.
Jorge Castro (10/12/1994 w rsc 9 John David Jackson – 19/12/1995)
After successfully defending the lineal title against Anthony Andrews and Reggie Johnson, the OPBF champion, Shinji Takehara, would be Castro’s next challenger. Unbeaten in 23 contests, with 18 inside-the-distance wins to his name, he was not only a dangerous opponent but one who was looking to become the first Japanese fighter to hold a world middleweight title.
Shinji Takehara (19/12/1995 w pts 12 Jorge Castro – 24/6/1996)
Takehara’s first defence of the lineal title would be against the big-punching William Joppy who was unbeaten in 22 fights, 17 of them ending inside the distance, since turning pro in February 1993.
William Joppy (24/6/1996 w rsc 9 Shinji Takehara – 23/8/1997)
After turning back Ray McElroy and Peter Venancio in lineal title clashes, the next man up for Joppy would be the Dominican Republic’s Julio Cesar Green, who had 21 (15 inside the distance) wins and two defeats on his record. An aggressive, hard-punching fighter, Green had beaten William Bo James and Lonnie Beasley before losing to Carl Daniels for the vacant WBA junior middleweight title and moving up to middle immediately after.
Julio Cesar Green (23/8/1997 w pts 12 William Joppy – 31/1/1998)
After much dissent over the decision, it was no surprise that Green and Joppy were quickly signed up for a rematch.
William Joppy (31/1/1998 w pts 12 Julio Cesar Green – 12/5/2001)
Following successful lineal title defences against Roberto Duran, Green, Rito Ruvalcaba, Hacine Cherifi and Jonathan Reid, Felix Trinidad, a former undefeated IBF/WBC welterweight champion and current IBF/WBA junior middleweight title holder, would be Joppy’s next challenger in what was a semi-final leg of Don King’s unification tournament. With 39 (32 inside the distance) wins since turning pro, this would be the unbeaten Trinidad’s first contest at middleweight.
Felix Trinidad (12/5/2001 w rsc 5 William Joppy – 29/9/2001)
The IBF and WBC champion, Bernard Hopkins, with 39 wins, two defeats and two draws, one of them being technical, would be Trinidad’s first lineal title challenger. A pro since 1988, Hopkins had proved to be a sound box-fighter who knew how to win difficult contests, having won the vacant IBF title when defeating Segundo Mercedo on 29 April 1995 following their drawn first fight. He had gone on to successfully defend the IBF title against Steve Frank, Joe Lipsey, William Bo James, John David Jackson, Glen Johnson, Andrew Council, Simon Brown, Robert Allen (2), Antwun Echols (2), Syd Vanderpool and Keith Holmes, picking up the latter’s WBC title at the same time.
Bernard Hopkins (29/9/2001 w rsc 12 Felix Trinidad – 16/7/2005)
Further to successful lineal title defences against Carl Daniels, Morrade Hakkar, William Joppy and Robert Allen, and world title defences against Oscar De La Hoya and Howard Eastman, the next man up for Hopkins would be Jermain Taylor, who had beaten Alex Bunema, Raul Marquez and Joppy on his rise through the ranks. A former American amateur champion, and a bronze medallist from the 2000 Olympics, Taylor was unbeaten with 23 (17 inside the distance) wins since turning over.
Jermain Taylor (16/7/2005 w pts 12 Bernard Hopkins – 29/9/2007)
Having taken the world title from Hopkins, Taylor relinquished the IBF title on 11 October due to contractual problems before successfully defending the lineal crown against Hopkins, Ronald Wright, Kassim Ouma and Cory Spinks before taking on the strong, hard-hitting Kelly Pavlik, who was unbeaten in 31 (26 inside the distance) contests. With wins over Ross Thompson, Fulgencio Zuniga, Bronco McKart and Edison Miranda, the 6’2” Pavlik had earned the opportunity to gain revenge over the man who had beaten him in the 2000 Olympic trials while both were still in the amateur ranks.
Kelly Pavlik (29/9/2007 w rsc 7 Jermain Taylor – 17/4/2010)
On winning the lineal title, Pavlik made successful defences against Gary Lockett, Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Angel Espino before meeting Sergio Martinez, the WBC junior middleweight champion. With a record of 44 wins, two draws and two defeats, and struggling to make 154lbs, the clever southpaw felt that it was time to move up.
Sergio Martinez (17/4/2010 w pts 12 Kelly Pavlik – 7/6/2014)
Further to successful lineal title defences against Paul Williams, Serhiy Dzinziruk, Darren Barker, Matthew Macklin, Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr and Martin Murray, Martinez’s next defence would come against Miguel Cotto, who had lost just four times in 42 contests. As a former undefeated WBO junior welterweight champion, a former WBA/WBO welterweight champion and a former WBA junior middleweight champion, Cotto was looking to become a four-weight champion.
Miguel Cotto (7/6/2014 w rtd 9 Sergio Martinez – 21/11/2015)
Following a successful lineal title defence against Daniel Geale, Cotto's next challenger would be Saul Alvarez, the former WBC junior middleweight champion. An excellent counter-puncher who hit hard and moved well, Alvarez had only lost once in 47 contests and that was to the incomparable Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Having come back strongly from that defeat, beating Alfredo Angulo, Erislandy Lara and James Kirkland, he was looking to become a two-weight world champion.
Saul Alvarez (21/11/2015 w pts 12 Miguel Cotto – 18/4/2018)
Having successfully defended the lineal title against Amir Khan and Gennady Golovkin (draw), Alvarez was stripped of his recognition on 18 April 2018 due to him being temporarily banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission for drug usage, and as the holder of the IBF, WBA and WBC titles Golovkin should be seen as the lineal champion on that date. Golovkin had been handed the WBA title on 1 November 2012 after Daniel Geale had been stripped for deciding to defend against Anthony Mundine instead of meeting him. Further to that, Golovkin successfully defended the WBA belt against Gabriel Rosado, Nobuhiro Ishida, Matthew Macklin, Curtis Stevens, Osumanu Adama, Geale, Martin Murray and Willie Monroe Jnr. He then beat David Lemieux, thus taking over the latter’s IBF title to go with his WBA crown, before successfully defending both titles against Dominic Wade. Having been handed the WBC title on 18 May 2016 after Alvarez relinquished, Golovkin next put all three titles on the line against Kell Brook and Daniel Jacobs. Of all of those defences only Jacobs heard the final bell. Turning pro in 2006 after winning a gold medal in the 2003 World Championships and a silver medal in the 2004 Olympic Games, the Kazakh had run up 37 (32 inside the distance) wins plus the draw against Alvarez.
Gennady Golovkin (18/4/2018 Appointed Champion – 15/9/2018)
After successfully defending the lineal title when defeating Vanes Martirosyan, Golovkin, who had already agreed to meet Saul Alvarez in a return, forfeited the IBF title on 7 June when refusing to meet the mandatory challenger, Sergey Derevyanchenko.
Saul Alvarez (15/9/2018 w pts 12 Gennady Golovkin –