This division was established in 1962, when the Austrian Board of Control recognized a fight between Emile Griffith and Teddy Wright for the "world" championship. The fight, which took place on October 17, was won by Griffith via fifteen round decision. Three days later, the World Boxing Association championship was created when Denny Moyer outpointed Joey Giambra. The World Boxing Council recognized the WBA champion as the true division champion until 1975, when it sanctioned a fight between Miguel de Oliveira and Jose Duran. de Oliveira won the title over fifteen rounds in 1975. The International Boxing Federation crowned its first champion when Mark Medal defeated Earl Hargrove in 1984.
Popular fighters to have held championships in this division were Nino Benvenuti, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Julian Jackson, Roberto Duran, Oscar de la Hoya, Terry Norris, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Mike McCallum. Winky Wright was the first undisputed champion since 1975 when he unified his IBF belts with Sugar Shane Mosley's WBC and WBA belts on March 13, 2004