From Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier to Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, most of the great rivals in the sport’s recent history have engaged in at least three memorable bouts. Only the most compelling matchups can attract fans for three meetings, and the sagas often define the fighters’ careers.
It’s tough enough to make one bout between top boxers in this fractured promotional era. But when two elite fighters follow one compelling show with another, they’re sometimes rewarded with a chance at boxing immortality – and hopefully the riches that come with it.
The first two fights of this trilogy have qualified for history. Alvarez and Golovkin fought to a contentious split draw in 2017 even though most ringside observers thought Golovkin deserved the victory. Alvarez handed Golovkin the only loss of his career in the 2018 rematch by a razor-thin majority decision that also infuriated Golovkin.
”I’m glad we are fighting for a third time, because I want to leave no doubt about who is the best,” Alvarez said. ”I know he feels the same way, and that’s what makes the best fights.”
Four years after Alvarez and Golovkin staged their second meeting, they’ll conclude their trilogy in Las Vegas on Saturday night. This high-level rivalry has a chance to join the best, even if it hasn’t featured the knockdowns and blood that characterize most of the others.
Before Alvarez and Golovkin settle the score, here’s a look at some of the greatest trilogies (or more) in the past half-century of boxing, in no particular order:
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier
The gold standard of trilogies, both because of the fighters involved and for the way they fought. Frazier won the first meeting between two unbeaten heavyweight champions in 1971, one of the most anticipated events in sports history. Ali won the rematch by a narrow decision in 1974, and he also won the sensational third matchup – the Thrilla in Manila – when Frazier trainer Eddie Futch stopped the brutal bout after the 14th round.
Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward
Two relentless brawlers with iron chins and inextinguishable wills created a classic rivalry. Their first brawl in May 2002 is still a sensationally barbaric chapter in boxing history and an all-time favorite fight among many fans. Ward won a close majority decision, and Gatti evened the series with a decision six months later. Ward claimed the bruising third bout by majority decision again, and both fighters ended up in hospital trauma units.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran
These two greats clearly brought out the best in each other. Duran won their initial bout in 1980, but Leonard dug deep to become a tougher, harder-hitting version of himself. He demonstrated it in the rematch when he forced Duran to turn his back and quit in the eighth round of the famed ”No mas” fight. The third bout nine years later was an anticlimax, but Leonard cemented his superiority with a decision.
Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales
Two Mexican greats gave their all in three bouts over nearly five years, providing the defining moments of both fighters’ careers. Morales won the all-action first meeting in February 2000 by split decision, infuriating Barrera. Barrera won the more tactical second bout by unanimous decision, infuriating Morales. The third meeting in November 2004 was a razor-thin majority-decision victory for Barrera in another unforgettable slugfest.
Jeff Harding vs. Dennis Andries
An underrated classic trilogy known only to true fight fans. Harding became the first Australian light heavyweight world champion by stopping Andries in the 12th round of a violent first meeting in 1989, but the Brit stopped Harding to reclaim his belt a year later. Harding won the rubber match by majority decision in 1991 in yet another slugfest. This rivalry deserves more acclaim.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez
This one was a tetralogy: The Filipino champion and his Mexican rival met four times over eight years. They fought to a draw in 2004 even though Pacquiao knocked down Marquez three times in the first round. Pacquiao eked out a split decision when they met again in 2008, and Pacquiao’s majority-decision victory in the third match further infuriated Marquez. He ended the rivalry in December 2012 with a spectacular sixth-round knockout that left Pacquiao unconscious, facedown on the canvas.
Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield
Two gifted fighters from a rich era of heavyweight contenders met three times over three years. The first meeting in 1992 was an exemplary heavyweight bout, and Bowe rarely looked better than he did in his decision victory. Holyfield won a close majority decision in a rematch best known for James ”Fan Man” Miller crashing his paraglider into the ring. The third meeting was brutal, with both fighters scoring a knockdown before Bowe became the first man to knock out Holyfield.
Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez
Another tetralogy between two Mexican super bantamweights still remembered fondly by anybody with a taste for heedless violence. Marquez broke Vazquez’s nose in the first round of the first meeting, and Vazquez eventually quit on his stool. Vazquez won the rematch, stopping Marquez in another brutal fight. The third bout occurred less than a year after the first, and Vazquez won by a narrow split decision. Two exhausted, damaged fighters met a fourth time, and Marquez finished Vazquez.
Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder
The most recent trilogy on this list had a wealth of exciting moments between two heavyweights with sharply contrasting strengths and styles. Fury was on his way to a tactical victory in the first meeting in 2018 before Wilder flattened him in the 12th round. Fury improbably rose and survived to the bell for a split draw. Fury dominated the rematch, knocking down Wilder twice before it was stopped in the seventh. Wilder and Fury both scored knockdowns early in the third bout in October 2021, but Fury finished Wilder in the 11th.
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