Re-establishing linearity in the heavyweight division
In 1905, after Jim Jeffries retired, Jack Root and Marvin Hart fought for the vacant title. Hart had a win over Jack Johnson (although disputed by some), over Ruhlin and Fergusson. Root had wins over Gardiner (although he lost to him also), Marvin Hart a few years earlier, a green Flynn and McCoy.
In 1930, after Tunney retied, Max Schmeling and Jack Sharkey fought for the vacant title. Sharkey was somewhat inconsistent but had wins over Stribling and Loughran coming into the fight, and Schmeling had one win over Uzcudun.
In 1956, after Marciano retired, Archie Moore and Floyd Patterson fought for the vacant championship. Moore had several good wins coming into this fight (Valdes 2x, Baker), Patterson had only one SD over Tommy Jackson and the other time he stepped up he lost to Maxim, although some dispute the decision.
It is fair to say Lewis will not make a comeback. He was offered a shitload amount of money to fight Vitali Klitschko but didn't take it. He, in fact, recently posted a video at his Myspace page in which he expressed again that he wouldn't come back.
I would say the current top5 looks like this:
1. Wladimir Klitschko (IBF champ)
2. Ruslan Chagaev (WBA champ)
3. Sultan Ibragimov (WBO champ)
4. Oleg Maskaev (WBC champ)
5. Samuel Peter
Next october, the number 2 & 3 will face off in the first heavyweight unification match since 1999.
Chagaev has notable wins over Valuev (WBA), Ruiz and Virchis.
S. Ibragimov has notable wins over Whitaker and Briggs (WBO).
Both of their resumes are comparable to the fighters given above who have fought for the vacant title in the past.
Historically, one fight between two top contenders has been enough to re-establish the true champion. This is exactly that, and it is a unification match which is rather seldom.
Since there is not much difference between this situation and the ones in history, i have no problem recognising the winner of Chagaev-Ibragimov as THE champ.
The only thing that itches is that the one whose resumes and ability is clearly a step above the rest, Klitschko, is not involved.
If you don't recognise the winner of this fight as the champ, say Klitschko beats Brewster and fights the winner of this fight; would you consider the winner of that fight to be the true champion of the world?