Since the Dempsey era, boxing has seen some great fights. While the fights in boxing depend upon skill-set and determination of the fighters, there is no disputing the fact that rivalries add character to the fight.
A one-sided match is pleasant to watch but it is the bitter rivalry between two equal caliber fighters that satisfy the blood-lust of the fight fans.
The 'bad-blood' between the fighters can force fans of the sweet-science(experts and amateurs alike) to choose camps between the two fighters. There is a great amount of pride on the line and great rivalries show us why boxing is all about 'heart'.
There have been many legendary rivalries like Sugar Ray Robinson vs Jake Lamotta, Pacquiao vs Marquez, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Thomas Hearns, Tyson vs Holyfield etc. but here we are talking only about trilogies.
#5 Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales
When Pacquiao and Morales met for the first time Manny Pacquiao was The Ring World featherweight champion and Morales was ranked No. 2. Manny had defeated Barrera to clinch the world featherweight title and Morales was defeated two out of three times by Barrera in one of the most brutal trilogies (also in this list).
So if Morales could defeat Pacquiao, he would regain his lost honor amongst the boxing community.
Pacquiao upto this point, relied heavily on his left hand and was too dependent on his straight left.
Morales being the more experienced fighter took full advantage and by the 12th round, Pacquiao’s face was bloodied with a cut above the right eye. Morales won by unanimous decision.
The rematch happened 10 months later and by that time Pacquiao had only one goal in mind – to develop power in the right hand. In the second fight, Pacquaio gave Morales the beating of his career knocking him down twice.
In a beautiful display of boxing, Pacquiao threw punches from every angle and didn’t stop punching till the fight was stopped in the 10th round.
In their third encounter, both fighters charged into each other like bulls and punches were flying all around.
But soon it became one-sided when Pacquaio knocked down Morales in the first round. Morales was knocked down again in the second and finally, his heart gave away and he quit after getting knocked down for the third time in Round 3.
Pacquiao won two of the 3 bouts of one of the greatest modern-day rivalries and became a household name.
#4 Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran
The 80's was an epic era for middleweight boxing when four all-time greats, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Haggler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, ruled the roost.
Sugar Ray was an intelligent boxer, relying primarily on his speed and beautiful footwork while Duran was aptly called the ‘Hands of stone’.
Going into the fight, Sugar Ray was the favorite due to his technical finesse, but what happened shocked everyone. Duran fought like a man possessed and caught Sugar Ray off-guard many times.
His continuous combinations and incredible stamina put Leonard on the defensive and for the majority of the fight, he was busy clinching and tying Duran’s arms. Duran won by majority decision.
In the second fight, Leonard came prepared and fought in his element- maintaining distance and using his superior footwork.
Duran had no choice but to swing wildly in frustration as Leonard had the advantage in range. Duran was totally outclassed by a technically-superior Leonard, so much that he quit in the eighth round which is infamously known as ‘no mas’, meaning ‘no more’.
Both of these warriors met for one last time in 1989, both past their prime, just to finish the chapter forever.
The third fight was just like the second one and Duran spends most of his time chasing Leonard while he was punching him in and out. It was a classic brawler vs boxer fight and all judges unanimously voted for Leonard after 12 rounds.
#3 Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
Joe Frazier was a small heavyweight with a Tyson-mimicking style, constantly bobbing and weaving, and a left hook that would break the Richter Scale.
Both met for the first time on 1971 when Frazier was the WBC heavyweight champion and Ali was The Ring heavyweight champion.
Although Ali dominated the opening rounds with his swift jabs and crosses, Frazier slowly took control and started pounding Ali with his left hooks.
At Round 15, Ali was put to canvas by a left hook but he got up quickly and finished the fight defending.
The decision unanimously went to Frazier and Ali lost for the first time in his life. For the first time, Ali looked like a mere mortal.
The second fight was termed Super-fight II. Ali was his usual self, back-peddling and utilizing the ring while throwing flurries in between.
While Frazier was pressing forward and throwing hook after hook. After 12 rounds the judges unanimously scored Ali as the winner.
The third and most important fight ‘Thrilla in Manila ’ happened in 1975. The buildup to the fight was epic and Ali known for his verbal antics called Frazier a gorilla.
Both fighters displayed tremendous stamina in the morning heat of the stadium and for the first time, we see Ali throwing hooks and uppercuts frequently, to Frazier.
Ali was hitting him so bad that his mouthpiece (teeth guard) flew off. Finally, before the start of the 15th round, Frazier’s corner conceded defeat and Ali won via technical knockout, thus concluding an epic saga of heavyweight rivalry.
This fight is considered one of the greatest in boxing history along with the first fight between the two.
#2 Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales
Two great fighters, two fights of the year and a bitter rivalry.
Barrera and Morales were the two superstars of Mexican boxing and when the fight between the two was announced in 2000 it almost split the country in half.
Both of these fighters hated each other and were on a mission to beat the other guy no matter what.
The first fight took place in Las Vegas and both fighters came out strong. Barrera was known for being light on his feet and a devastating left hook while Morales was every fight fan's fantasy- the unrelenting and fearless warrior.
It was Goku vs. Vegeta and the public was loving every moment of it. Words cannot do justice to this fight, as at the end of it the public was on their feet.
The fight was a close contest and Morales was declared the winner by a split decision. The Ring magazine declared it the fight of the year.
In the second contest, Barrera was much more strategic, utilizing the ring, timing his punches well. Morales’s eye started swelling mid fight but he kept punching nonetheless. This fight was too close, went the distance but Barrera was unanimously declared the winner.
They met again for the third time in 2004. By that time Morales was super featherweight champion and Barrera had lost to Manny Pacquiao.
Barrera started out strong with left hooks targeting Morales’s ribs and liver, with uncanny precision. Morales was throwing his right hand but missing often. Morales’ nose was broken but he held on.
By the seventh round he made a comeback and by the 10th round, both of the fighters became thirsty for blood.
Every combination was being thrown with intense hatred and neither of them was backing down, Mexican warriors fighting the true ‘Mexican style’.
Barrera got the majority decision and but couldn’t impose his dominance. This was declared as the fight of the year 2004.
#1 Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward
This is the trilogy that truly defines what boxing is at its most fundamental level – gritty, tenacious and relentless.
Mickey Ward, a relatively unknown fighter fought Arturo Gatti. Ward was a southpaw notorious for his body shots and taking a beating (think Rocky Balboa), while Gatti was also a heavy puncher and known for his courage in the ring.
They first fought on 18 May 2002 and Gatti cut above Ward’s eye in the first round by a left hook. In the fourth round, Gatti injured his left hand by hitting waistband of Ward.
While still writhing in pain, Gatti continued fighting but was dropped on the canvas, by a thunderous liver shot in the ninth round.
Gatti still finished the fight but Ward won the bout by Split decision. This fight was declared the Ring Magazine’s ‘fight of the year’ and the ninth round is arguably considered, the ‘greatest round in boxing history’.
Rematch happened in November 2002 and started with fireworks. Gatti was relentlessly charging at Ward, while Ward was much more tactical in his pursuit. G
Gatti dropped Ward in early rounds and by the seventh round, both the fighters were trading shots. In the 10th and final round both stood toe-to-toe, exchanging barrage of punches. Unanimous decision went to Gatti.
In the third and final fight, Gatti broke his hand in the 4th round but was adamant to fight. He was knocked down in the 6th round by Ward but still persisted. The fight again went the distance of 10 rounds and Gatti won by unanimous decision. The fight was named Ring Magazine’s ‘Fight of the Year’.
Gatti vs Ward is the most epic trilogy that exists in modern boxing. Two, relatively unknown fighters giving their all in the ring, standing toe to toe, just to see, when that final bell rings, who is still standing tall.