The WBA has announced that it won't recognize the winner of today's Wladimir Klitschko-Ruslan Chagaev clash as its champion. Despite Chagaev's status with the WBA as "champion in recess" it appears that Nicolay Valuev will remain their champ.
Chagaev defeated Valuev two years ago and a rematch has been slated since. It hasn't happened due to Chagaev's health problems (achilles tendon, Hepatitis B) but came within a day of happening in late May. But doctors in Finland wouldn't certify Chagaev as posing no risk of transmitting Hepatitis B, so the fight was off. Meanwhile David Haye pulled out of his contest with Klitschko, and Chagaev became the replacement.
Still, the WBA won't recognize the winner. The interesting question is, what will they do if he wins? Probably keep his as Champion in Recess and have him fight Valuev, somewhere other than Finland. If he loses, Valuev may become their champ, or they still might fight.
The WBA is clearly the most convoluted of the alphabet belts at this time. Their rankings are mind-boggling, in some ways; first they have two champions. Then, Kali Meehan the top challenger? Evander Holyfield just outside the top ten? John Ruiz #3, after all these years?
Ring Magazine is going to recognize the champ, giving them their first champ in years. Klitschko is #1, Chagaev #3. Klitschko and Chagaev are #1 and #2 in the Sportsratings Heavyweight Top 100, and the winner will be #1 after today. I'm assuming that the IBF and WBO would recognize Chagaev as their champion if he wins, and the IBO formula would certainly move Chagaev up to #1 as well. But who is the linear champion?
Who is the linear (lineal) heavyweight champion?
It's always a tough question as to what to do when the lineage is broken, and furthermore, when a retired champ comes back. We've had both of those cases in the last five years.
First, Lennox Lewis, the undisputed lineal champion, retired. Lewis inherited the title from Rahman, who upset Lewis to get it. Before that, the line goes back in time: Briggs, Foreman, Moorer, Holyfield, Bowe, Holyfield, Douglas, Tyson, Spinks, Holmes, Ali, L. Spinks, Ali, Foreman, Frazier, Ali, Liston, Patterson, Johanssen, Patterson.
That entire line was unbroken, with the new fighter beating the previous champ. Rocky Marciano's retirement broke the lineage, like Lennox Lewis's retirement did. An agreement was formed as to who should fight for the title (Patterson and Moore) and the winner started the line again.
The same thing happened when Lewis retired. It was agreed, by most, that Vitali Klitschko, who narrowly lost to Lewis, and Corrie Sanders (who beat Wladimir Klitschko convincingly) would fight for the WBO crown and that this would re-establish the line. So far, nothing that hasn't happened before in boxing history.
But after Klitschko won and made a few defenses, he also retired. This was problematic for the lineage! A new champ—one who hadn't expressly "earned" the lineal title—was retiring. This was similar to Gerald Ford's presidency. Ford, never even elected Vice President, took over as President when Nixon resigned. There wasn't even agreement on who the two top fighters were to re-establish the line.
For some reason, the ex-champ's brother seemed a good replacement. So now it wasn't "the man who beat the man" but "the brother of the man who almost beat the man." Either his fight with undefeated Sam Peter, or his subsequent win over highly-ranked Chris Byrd, established him as the lineal champ.
But then there was another wrench thrown into the works. Vitali came out of retirement. This had happened many times before: John Sullivan was mostly retired when he fought and lost to James Corbett; James Jeffries passed the title to Jack Johnson; Joe Louis re-emerged and ultimately passed on the title to Marciano via Ezzard Charles and Jersey Joe Walcott; and Ali twice did the same, first losing to Joe Frazier, and then un-retiring to lose to Larry Holmes.
Each time, the budding "lineage" was replaced by "the real thing", i.e the concept of "the man who beat the man" became more important than whatever occurred in the previous few years with the interloping champ. So what does that say about today?
It says that, for consistency's sake, Vitali Klitschko is the true lineal heavyweight champion, not Wladimir. Complicating matters is that he will never fight his brother, so the only way for Wlad to claim that title is for Vitali to lose, and Wlad to beat that man.
So people talking about resolving the Ring situation in terms of the Lineal champion are mistaken. The Ring tends to honor the "man who beat the man" concept, but what they do when a fighter retires, and when a fighter retires and re-emerges, is different than what's been done historically to track the lineal championship.