The sport of boxing has given the sports world some of the greatest stories in history. A cinematic sport unlike any other, stories of heartbreak, revenge, tragedy, and redemption have unfolded over time, providing drama that is simply unparalleled.
Many of boxing’s best stories have come in the sport’s best trilogies. When a great fight takes place, fans clamor for a rematch. If the loser of the first fight comes back and gets his revenge, fans want the rubber match. Who really is the best? Here’s a look at some of the best boxing trilogies of all time.
- Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield
- Muhammad Ali vs. Ken Norton
- Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales
- Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran
Floyd Patterson vs. Ingemar Johansson
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johannson engaged in a classic rivalry for the heavyweight championship of the world. Their first fight took place at Yankee Stadium in June 1959 and Johansson shocked the world, knocking Patterson down seven times over the span of three minutes, winning the fight in the third round via TKO, making the Swede just the fifth man born outside the U.S. to win the title.
Patterson came back the following year and returned the favor, knocking Johannson out in the fifth round of the rematch at the Polo Grounds in New York City. The third fight was the longest in the trilogy but still only went to the sixth round with Patterson once again emerging victorious. The two losses to Patterson were the only defeats of Johannson’s career.
Emile Griffith vs. Benny Paret
This is easily the most tragic trilogy in history. Emile Griffith and Benny Paret first fought for the welterweight title in April 1961 in Miami Beach, with Griffith coming out on top with a 13th-round knockout, winning his first title. Paret avenged the loss that September with a very controversial split-decision victory at Madison Square Garden.
The trilogy fight was one of the most brutal fights in history and ended tragically. At the weigh-in before the fight took place, Paret is said to have taunted Griffith about his sexuality as many believed he was a closet homosexual. Paret continued to use the homophobic slurs during the fight itself, enraging Emile Griffith. In the 12th round, Griffith pummeled Paret in the corner, knocking him unconscious but still hitting him afterward until the referee stopped it. Paret fell into a coma and died 10 days later.
Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward
In a trilogy that took place after the events of the Mark Wahlberg movie, The Fighter, Micky Ward took on Arturo Gatti in one of the best trilogies in the history of the sport. Neither was a household name at the time but the two engaged in an epic rivalry that resulted in one of boxing’s great trilogies.
Over the span of 13 months in 2002-2003, Gatti and Ward had three epic 10-round battles that all went to the scorecards. Ward won the first, which was named the 2002 Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine. Gatti won the rematch via unanimous decision, the same result that would occur in the third bout, also named the Fight of the Year in 2003. The back-and-forth battles were amazing to watch as neither would give up, despite both taking a large amount of punishment.
Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales
This rivalry between two of Mexico’s top fighters spanned more than four years and three weight classes in the early 2000s, giving fight fans three epic battles. In February 2000, Erik Morales defeated Marco Antonio Barrera in Ring Magazine‘s Fight of the Year, winning a controversial split-decision to retain his WBC super bantamweight title, a decision that could have gone either way.
In June 2002, this time with the featherweight crown on the line, Barrera handed Morales his first professional loss in 42 fights, winning by unanimous decision, another unpopular decision as Barrera was the only fighter who went down in the fight. The third fight took place in November 2004, this one for the super featherweight title. In yet another brawl, Barrera once again came out on top via decision in what most believe to be the best fight of the trilogy. It was no secret that these two hated one another and it certainly showed. Defense was pretty much absent in all three fights as the two slugged it out each time, resulting in one of the great trilogies in history.
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
It would be difficult for just about anyone to say that Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier isn’t the best boxing trilogy of all time. Their first bout, dubbed the “Fight of the Century”, was just Ali’s third fight back after being out of the sport for more than three years and he was attempting to regain the heavyweight crown he never lost. Both Ali and Frazier came in undefeated at Madison Square Garden on March 8, 1971, but only “Smokin’ Joe” would leave that way. In the Fight of the Year, Frazier shocked the world, outdueling Ali in a 15-round classic.
In January 1974, Ali won the rematch, which would set up the classic “Rumble in the Jungle” bout with George Foreman. Nearly a year later, on October 1, 1975, the third and final fight between Ali and Frazier, the “Thrilla in Manila” took place in the Phillippines and Ali emerged victorious once again, battering Joe Frazier for 14 rounds. Frazier’s corner would not let their fighter come out for the final round as he’d been beaten and bloodied all night long. Already a legend, the final fight with Joe Frazier cemented the legacy of Muhammad Ali as a true icon.