At least since John L. Sullivan, in the late 19th century, there have been world boxing champions. The first of today's organizations to award a world title was the World Boxing Association, known as the National Boxing Association when it sanctioned its first title fight in 1921 between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier for the heavyweight championship.
When a champion, for reasons beyond his control such as an illness or injury, is unable to defend his title within the normal mandatory time, the sanctioning bodies may order an interim title bout and award the winner an interim championship. The WBA and WBC may change the status of their inactive champions to Champion in Recess.
The World Boxing Association (WBA) was founded in 1921 as the National Boxing Association (NBA)—a national regulating body of the United States. On August 23, 1962, the NBA became the WBA, which today has its head office in Panama. According to WBA championship rules, when a champion holds a title of one of the other three major sanctioning bodies in an equivalent weight class, the boxer is granted special recognition: he is called the unified champion and is given more time between mandatory title defences. The WBA Championships Committee and President may designate a champion as a Super Champion in exceptional circumstances. The WBA title is vacated if it is one of the titles the respective boxer holds. When a WBA champion makes between five and ten successful defences, he may be granted the WBA "Super" title upon discretion of a vote of the WBA's board of governors.
The World Boxing Council (WBC) was founded in Mexico City, Mexico on February 14, 1963 in order to establish an international regulating body. The WBC established many of today's safety measures in boxing, such as the standing eight-count, a limit of 12 rounds instead of 15, and additional weight classes. To read about the WBC's Diamond and Emeritus Champions, please see the separate article about the WBC.
The International Boxing Federation (IBF) originated in September 1976 as the United States Boxing Association (USBA) when American members of the WBA withdrew in order to legitimize boxing in the United States with "unbiased" ratings. In April 1983, the organization established an international division that was known as the United States Boxing Association-International (USBA-I). In May 1984, the New Jersey-based USBA-I was renamed and became the IBF.
The Ring is a respected boxing magazine that was founded in 1922, upon which it first began awarding world championship belts. It maintains its own version of lineal championships in each weight class. Title belts ceased to be awarded in the 1990s, but the practice was resumed in 2002. From 2002 onwards, a championship system was created with the intention to "reward fighters who, by satisfying rigid criteria, can justify a claim as the true and only world champion in a given weight class."The Ring claims to be more authoritative and open than that of the sanctioning bodies with regards to rankings, with a page devoted to full explanations for ranking changes. A fighter pays no sanctioning fees to defend or fight for the title at stake, contrary to practices of the sanctioning bodies. There are currently three ways that a fighter can win The Ring's title:
Defeat the reigning champion
Win a bout between The Ring's #1 and #2 contenders
If the #1 and #2 contenders chose not to fight each other, if either of them fights the #3, #4 or #5 contender, the winner may be awarded The Ring title belt if the Editorial Board deems the contenders worthy.