Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury can learn lessons from when Lennox Lewis reigned supreme
Mandatory foes and complex contracts hampered Britain's undisputed king
Last Updated: 21/03/20 8:45am
Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury can learn from Lennox Lewis who also encountered persistent challengers and complex negotiations on the road to becoming undisputed.
The British duo of Joshua and Fury hold all the world heavyweight belts, sparking fresh speculation that an undisputed fight could be staged to crown one sole ruler in the top division.
Lewis briefly received that esteemed status, but mandatory title commitments and a contractual clause meant that he soon had to relinquish a title.
When was Britain's last undisputed king?
In 1999, Lewis sealed a unanimous decision win over Evander Holyfield in their Las Vegas rematch, adding the WBA and IBF belts to his WBC title.
Vitali Klitschko held the WBO belt at the time following his knockout win over Britain's Herbie Hide, but the WBO was still striving for recognition as a major governing body and therefore Lewis was declared as 'undisputed' champion after his win.
More world titles, more problems?
By the time all three belts were wrapped around his waist, Lewis was already being targeted by a line of hopeful challengers.
Lewis was immediately ordered to fight John Ruiz, the WBA's no 1 ranked contender, but the Brit also had to fulfil a title defence against WBC mandatory challenger Michael Grant.
David Tua was the leading contender for the IBF and tried to stake his own claim for a title fight.
Challenging times for the champion?
Lewis appeared to have reached a solution as he agreed to face New Yorker Grant, and then offer a title defence to Ruiz.
But the Puerto Rican's promoter Don King challenged Lewis in court, raising a contractual clause that ensured the winner of the Lewis-Holyfield rematch must fight the WBA's No 1 contender.
Lewis went ahead with the Grant fight, but was stripped of the WBA belt in April 2000, and Holyfield quickly regained the vacant title with a points win over Ruiz.
Would Lewis regain his lost title?
The Londoner overpowered Grant inside two rounds to successfully retain his WBC and IBF titles, which remained in his possession for the next two title fights, a stoppage of Francois Botha followed by a points win over Tua.
Ruiz had since claimed the WBA belt with a rematch points win over Evander Holyfield, setting up a third fight, and Lewis plotted his own path to South Africa for a defence of his titles against Hasim Rahman, who pulled off a huge upset win.
Lewis reclaimed his world titles in a second fight with Rahman, but was now focused on a massive showdown against Mike Tyson, rather than collecting more belts.
Lessons to be learned for AJ and Fury?
Unified champion Joshua was also ordered to make mandatory title defences against IBF challenger Kubrat Pulev and WBO challenger Oleksandr Usyk.
Pulev was granted the first world title fight against Joshua at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on June 20, while Usyk will instead face Derek Chisora at The O2 on May 23, both live on Sky Sports Box Office.
But Usyk has expressed a desire to face Joshua next and it remains to be seen whether he will complicate negotiations for an undisputed world title fight against Fury.
A contract clause has already influenced the next move of newly crowned WBC champion Fury, with Wilder enforcing an immediate third fight following last month's stoppage loss in Las Vegas.
Dillian Whyte, the WBC mandatory challenger, will receive his title shot by February 2021, increasing the pressure on Joshua and Fury to agree a bout before the end of the year.