What are the greatest trilogies in boxing history?

10 min read
Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder 3 GettyImages

When it comes to trilogies, I'll say this: If a fight warrants even a second fight, it's a testament to how competitive the first fight was and the state of boxing during that time.

When the second fight is most of the time a split, they have to break a tie. It's telling a tale that these two fighters have particular styles that meshed so well with each other that we can watch these guys fight again, and again, and again. Hence, you know, (Manny) Pacquiao- (Juan Manuel) Marquez because the matches are made perfectly.

That being said, with Canelo-GGG III taking place this weekend, live on DAZN, I thought it would be great to revisit boxing’s best trilogies:

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales I, Feb. 19, 2000; Split-decision win for Morales

Barrera-Morales II, June 22, 2002; Barrera by unanimous decision

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales III, Nov. 27, 2004; Barrera by majority decision

Those fights all took place in Vegas. Right now, I'm sitting next to my window at the Park MGM and I can see the MGM Grand and I can see the Mandalay Bay, which are the two venues that hosted their three fights.

When I think about that fight, Morrales was undefeated coming into that fight and just a killer and it lived up to the hype. That’s why it warranted a rematch and that rematch became a pay-per-view fight because if we’re giving fans this type of fight, we need to make more profit. It was maybe not as exciting as the first one. It was more tactical—Barrera said ‘I’m going not going in there fighting Morrales’s type of fight.’ He outboxed Morrales and won that fight and then came back and won the third.

That’s why I love these type of fights. They’re so competitive and close that you never know how many times they could share the ring. When it’s a blowout, we don’t get these fights.  These guys are tethered together in history. That first fight set it off which is essentially why I’m here in Vegas because of GGG and Canelo and how important it is for this era in boxing.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier I, March 8, 1971; Unanimous decision win for Frazier

Ali-Frazier II, Jan. 28, 1974; Ali by UD

Al-Frazier III, Oct. 1, 1975; Trainer asked ref to stop bout giving win to Ali

As great as Muhammad Ali was, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier came and showed the world, ‘Hey, he’s not invincible. He’s only a man.’ Credit to Frazier for not being affected by Ali’s words or antics. Joe was an iceman that day (in defeating Ali on March 8, 1971), but Ali was able to show who he is and how great he is coming back to get those Ws.

I liked the way the third fight ended — Frazier couldn’t finish that fight. So, it was kind of an exclamation fight for Ali. He looked vulnerable in their first fight and winning the second fight only tied it up. But winning the third one the way he did, putting the nail in the coffin, that was an exclamation point. Not only did Ali beat him but he said ‘Ok, he cannot compete with me no more.’

Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez I, May 8, 2004; Draw

Pacquiao-Marquez II, March 15, 2008; Pacquiao by split decision

Pacquiao-Marquez III, Nov. 12, 2011; Pacquiao by majority decision

Pacquiao-Marquez IV, Dec. 8, 2012; Marquez by sixth-round KO

This was more than a trilogy. They fought four times. In my opinion, that’s another classic, perfect matchup. Even three fights weren’t enough! We couldn’t get enough with three fights with these two guys who are etched in history side-by-side with each other.

Pacquiao was going down to be one of the greatest of all time, the most decorated professional fighter ever in terms of different weight divisions and so on. He has two Hall of Fame careers in my opinion—when he was in a low weight class and then moving up to 147 (pounds) for another Hall of Fame career.

So, we can’t compare Marquez’s career to Pacquiao’s but during that time in those fights, Marquez always had —I don’t want to say his number — but his style would have always been difficult for Pacquiao. I thought Marquez won the third fight. I thought the decision (for Pacquiao in their trilogy) was unjust. I remember being in New York City, watching the fight in a bar, and even casual boxing fans felt like Marquez won the fight.

So, I was so happy when they had a fourth fight and we all saw what happened in that one with Marquez solidifying that (with a knockout). The first two fights were very entertaining fights. I could watch those guys fight any day! I could watch them fight again and again and again!

And as far as the knockout when Marquez knocked Pacquiao out (in their fourth fight), that was a very pivotal moment in Pacquiao’s career because he accomplished so much after that. Marquez is who he is in the sport of boxing in terms of legacy, how he’s respected and the times that he got to show his greatness because of Manny Pacquiao. He needed him.

Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield I, Nov. 13, 1992; Unanimous decision win for Bowe

Bowe-Holyfield II, Nov. 6, 1993; Holyfield by majority decision

Bowe-Holyfield III, Nov. 4, 1995; Bowe by eighth-round TKO

Bowe-Holyfield I is my favorite heavyweight fight of all time. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, so I was a big “Big Daddy” Bowe fan. If I’m not mistaken, Holyfield was a favorite in that fight coming in and Bowe was a young, upcoming heavyweight who had established himself enough to deserve a title shot. But the Riddick Bowe that fought Holyfield for the first time was virtually unbeatable. That guy right there would beat any heavyweight in history. He was a man possessed that night. He could do it all: Box, slug, punch, take a punch. Nobody would’ve beat Riddick Bowe on that night. That night a heavyweight star was born. He fought a great Holyfield and beat him.

We wanted to see it again. We wanted to give Holyfield, being the warrior he is, the opportunity to win the titles back which he did (by majority decision). “Fan Man.” Unfortunately that’s what stands out most in that second fight. It’s funny, it’s crazy, it’s bizarre with a guy coming in with a parachute, disrupting the fight. They both had to deal with that delay.

But that’s why we had that trilogy and Bowe pretty much dominated that third fight in my opinion. That might have been Bowe’s last great performance.

Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward I, May 18, 2002; Majority decision win for Ward

Gatti-Ward II, Nov. 23, 2002; Gatti by unanimous decision

Gatti-Ward III, June 7, 2003; Gatti by UD

When you think of the greatest fights you’ve ever watched, you think of the first fight of the trilogy. Any conversation you have with anybody who has watched boxing in the last 20, 30 years, I’ve yet to speak to anyone who doesn’t have their first fight in their Top 3 of all time. In most cases, it’s their first (pick). It’s the most entertaining, barbaric fight that most people had ever watched.

Gatti was a guy that as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, New York, training in Gleason's Gym, I've watched Gatti train. He used to train with Mike McCallum who they’d call “The Bodysnatcher.” When Gatti came from Canada and trained with him, Gatti was such a devastating body puncher that McCallum would call him “The Babysnatcher.” He showed how great of a body puncher he was in those three fights.

Those fights were important because it also gave a guy like Micky Ward, who was a club fighter so to speak — a guy that was just going to go out there and put it all on the line and not be concerned with getting hit — a chance. Gatti was already building his legacy but that (first) fight was important for Ward.

Gatti-Ward are synonymous with one another but without Arturo Gatti, Ward wouldn’t have gotten the respect that he deserved and he wouldn’t have made the money that he deserved in those next two fights had it not been for that first fight.

So, these trilogies as brutal as they are, they put these fighters in position to earn, to make money. They put each other in position to make three pay days. The first fight left people salivating for more.

“Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran, June 20, 1980; Unanimous decision win for Duran

Leonard-Duran II, Nov. 25, 1980; Leonard by eighth-round TKO

Leonard-Duran III, Dec. 7, 1989; Leonard by UD

Look, Duran is probably the most important person in “Sugar” Ray’s career. Roberto Duran, in my opinion, is the best lightweight of all time. What Duran was able to do in that first fight, staying on Leonard, it was that classic boxer-puncher/stalker fighting a guy on his feet moving around too much. Leonard being a pretty boy Olympian, he showed that he was a dog and warrior even in that loss (during their first fight). But that fight woke a monster up in Ray Leonard.

When he went back and watched that fight and saw the mistakes he made, he wanted to prove to the world that he’s not a pretty boy that moves around. It turned something on with Leonard and we all saw what happened with the infamous “No Mas” fight in the rematch.

The story behind that is that Ray was strategic in asking for a rematch because he had heard or saw that Duran was out drinking party and overweight. He knew he would have to struggle to make weight. You can use that at the end of the day, but these guys got to get in the ring and fight. Leonard just had a different game plan and he was able to learn from his mistakes. This is classic learning from your mistakes and coming back the next time and doing something different.

In the last fight, (Duran) just couldn’t touch him. Duran motivated Leonard to turn it up a few notches and gears and probably learn some things about himself that he didn’t even know in that first fight.

Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury I, Dec. 1, 2018; Split draw

Fury-Wilder II, Feb. 22, 2020; Fury by seventh-round TKO

Fury-Wilder III; Oct. 9, 2021; Fury by 11 th -round KO

I wasn’t a big Fury fan prior to their first fight. I’ll be honest. I didn’t think he can entertain the people the way a prizefighter getting paid the money he is paid should. But that fight, Tyson made a believer out of me. Tyson showed me that he was much more than a guy that can just clinch and hold and be crafty and tricky. He can fight, bang and most of all, get up from being practically knocked out and finish the fight strong and land big shots.

A lot of people felt Fury won that first fight. You can argue it depending on how you score rounds. The two knockdowns are very important and pull it closer in that fight to make it a draw. But most people felt like (Fury) really outboxed him when it comes to rounds. This was his redemption to show people like ‘Yo, I could entertain you, I could get up off the canvas, I can fight one of the most devastating punchers in history and stand to that power.’ Credit to Wilder as well for getting frustrated with a guy who he’s never been in the ring with, that size who could move like that and can box like that and still stay confident to line him up for that shot. And Wilder was able to line him up twice!

It ended in a draw, so there was no way that the fight wasn’t going to happen again. With the rematch, there’s a lot of controversy attached to that second fight. Wilder felt like he was cheated with the gloves and feels his own trainer betrayed him — a lot of allegations that have yet to be proven. That second fight loss was rough for him.

He used that motivate him enough to do it again for a third time. I was there live. We knew what Fury can do. We knew what he did in the second fight, stopping him. Leading up to the trilogy, he told the media, ‘I am going to take it to Wilder’ and he did so. He was a man of his word when it came to that. But that fight showed the world that Deontay Wilder is one of the bravest warriors that the boxing world has ever seen.

Fighting a guy of that size and being hurt the way he was and the fact that he said that he wants to go out on his shield … he proved in that third fight that he would rather die in that ring than give up.

He was down and got up and still put Fury down! Two times in that fight! Trusting in his power, believing that ‘he can’t take my power and I’m going to stay in the pocket as dangerous as it is and I’m going to land a shot and hurt this guy’ which he did! He didn’t get the win, he got stopped in that fight but I feel like he won the heart of millions because of his bravery. Yes, it solidified how great Fury is but is also solidified how much of a warrior Deontay Wilder is.

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