In this column, I am a broken record on the subject of what constitutes a legitimate World Champion. Probably half the posts I write include disparagement of various alphabet-soup claims to world title status.
The sport of boxing needs this kind of attention. One of the primary weaknesses of boxing in the modern age has been a complete lack of any mechanism for verifying world title claims. Promoters, broadcast networks, and way too many writers refer to fighters as “world champions” without any regard for what “World Champion” is actually supposed to mean.
To be a true world champion, you have to beat the man who beat the man who beat the man. As a general rule, only lineal world titles are legitimate. If the lineal champion vacates a division through either retirement or moving up in weight, the only way to establish a new, true world champion is to have the two universally recognized top contenders face off.
By this criteria, Terence Crawford entered 2017 as the true world champion at 140 pounds. That alone made him rare. There is only a handful or true world champions in the sport.
During the course of 2017, Crawford went from rare to entirely unique. In May, he battered Felix Diaz–it was yet another dominating performance for Crawford, over a very good fighter.
But the big moment came in August, when Crawford knocked out Julius Indongo. Doing that allowed Crawford to unite all four major alphabet-soup titles–the IBF, WBO, WBA and WBC. Crawford left the ring that night as the undisputed Champion of the World.
To understand the historical significance of that accomplishment, consider this–the last man to unify all four belts was Bernard Hopkins in 2004, when he knocked out Oscar De La Hoya to gather all four belts at middleweight. Aside from B-Hop, nobody has been an undisputed world champion during the era of four major sanctioning bodies.
Crawford has laid out a blueprint for becoming a true boxing superstar–instead of hopping up divisions and collecting belts of dubious merit, he spent the necessary time and pursued the necessary fights to truly clean a division out. When he moves to welterweight next year, the eyes of the sport will be watching with avid attention.