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Buncey’s BOXXER Bulletin: Undisputed – The Four Belt Club

In this week’s column, presented by RDX Sports, veteran columnist Steve Bunce looks at the list of undisputed world champions in the four-belt era, as Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez prepare to make history by fighting for the undisputed light-welterweight title in Las Vegas on Saturday.

Boxing’s most elite club was unofficially formed in 1988. That was the year the WBO began sanctioning world title fights, alongside the WBA (1962), WBC (1963) and IBF (1983). 

Ignore any boxer who boasts of having won a unified version of the world title if they won their belt after 1988 – only four have ever genuinely done so: Bernard Hopkins, Jermain Taylor, Terence Crawford and Oleksandr Usyk. 

They are the truly unified four, marvels in our business.

A fifth name will be added to the list this coming Saturday night in Las Vegas, where Josh Taylor and Jose Carlos Ramirez will square off with all four of the light-welterweight titles on the line. Both fighters are undefeated and clearly the best of their division. 

This is a true world championship fight – Saturday night marks only the seventh time in history that all four of the world titles will be on the line in one fight. 

Fights of such purity are rare in a business which operates along such fractured lines, where there are currently 75 so-called world champions across 17 weight divisions, none of them holding all four belts.

The women’s game is smaller and things are easier to arrange, so this is less of an issue there. But the men’s business has so many people pulling so many strings that it is often a wonder any real fights get made at all!

Bernard Hopkins became the first fighter to unify all four belts when he stopped Oscar De La Hoya in 2004. He made one successful defense – outpointing Battersea’s eccentric Howard Eastman – before losing a shock points decision to Jermain Taylor in his next outing.

Taylor never defended the four belts together – he lost one of them without a punch even being thrown, having been forced to vacate the IBF title – but he still goes on the list.

Jermain Taylor dethroned Bernard Hopkins to become undisputed middleweight king / Credit: Getty Images

Terence Crawford unified the four belts when he knocked out Julius Indongo in 2017 for the light-welterweight version. Indongo had been 22-0 before Crawford ruined him. Crawford never made a defence and moved to welterweight for his next fight. 

Sadly, Crawford has not repeated the same desire to unify at welterweight and he has so far shared 35 months as world champion with Errol Spence. It is one of boxing’s most disgraceful situations, a snub to fans and common sense. It would be one of the greatest Lost Fights if it never happens.

And then there is the mighty Ukrainian, Oleksandr Usyk. He won his belts the hard way, a very hard way; he beat a Polish boxer in Poland, a Latvian in Latvia and a Russian in Russia. Nobody can compete with a record like that.

Usyk then made one defence, on the road again, when he stopped Tony Bellew in Manchester in late 2018. Usyk is waiting for a contract to sign for his fight for the world heavyweight title.

Oleksandr Usyk won and defended all four belts at cruiserweight, before moving up to heavyweight / Credit: Sputnik

That’s it, six fights, four champions in 33 years. It is impressive and too often ignored.

In July, there is a plan for the light-middleweight division to be finally unified when Jermell Charlo puts his WBC, WBA and IBF titles on the line against WBO champion, Brian Carlos Castaño.

The Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury fight was for all of the four belts, Saúl Canelo Alvarez wants to become the first Mexican to hold all four and there are several other boxers at the moment with four-belt fever. 

And there will be the usual talk and promises and denials and lies.

Meanwhile, Taylor and Ramirez are fighting for a little bit of history on Saturday night, make no mistake.

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