From The Tragedy To The Defining: Boxing’s Greatest Trilogies

Tom Dunstan

Throughout boxing’s history it has produced some of the sporting worlds greatest achievements. We’ve seen triumphs over age and ability, we’ve seen fighters escape from crippling poverty and we’ve seen plenty of revenge dished out, boxing really is a cinematic sport, and like most movies, the best stories can be found in the trilogies; boxing is no different.

Federer and Nadal, Messi and Ronaldo, Senna and Prost, Nicklaus and Palmer, for some of sports most accomplished stars, no matter how much they achieve individually, their names will always be associated with their greatest advisory. In boxing, they say that each fighter is seeking their perfect dance partner, an opponent whose style perfectly complements your own, occasionally in boxing we are lucky enough to find such a duo, and when they have found each other, their stories have offered some of the sports most iconic and memorable stories.

Of course, like any list it is all subjective, so we have narrowed it down to a select few based on their historical stature, the stories they told and most importantly, the excitement that they offered.

The Defining – Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward

This trilogy is the perfect example of how a fighter finding their perfect dance partner can help elevate both of them.

In the early 2000’s Arturo Gatti had become a fan favourite with boxing fans, despite being a former world titlist, Gatti had stolen the hearts of boxing fans not for his in-ring brilliance but for his constant ability to battle back from adversary. As for Ward, he was an 18 year veteran of the game who always found himself unable to step up among the A-list fighters, but Ward was enjoying a career upswing in his final years.

Despite the 14-year age gap, many expected the bout to be a fiery encounter, both men had a similar style and possessed knock out power. But, nobody could anticipate just how explosive it would have been.

The first contest saw a sensational super-welterweight battle and both men demonstrated the heart that would go on to make them legends. Although it was a close first fight, Ward’s body shots and a ninth-round knock down helped ‘Irish’ to a majority decision and the pair were applauded by the boxing world for their superhuman efforts.

The second bout told a very different story tho, this time Gatti who was admittedly the more talented fighter put on a sharp and smart performance to take a wide unanimous decision.

Their finale came in 2003, both men had the gained the attention of the boxing world and they guaranteed that the third contest would live up to the expectation, they weren’t wrong. Although Gatti looked to be almost in cruise control to start with, even shattering Wards eardrum in the third, the Irishman showed his grit and mounted a comeback after Gatti broke his hand during the fight. Despite the broken hand, Gatti took a second consecutive unanimous decision.

Thanks to the trilogy, both men were able to leave a legacy in the sport, for Gatti, he moved on to big payday pay per views with the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr and Carlos Baldomir and for Ward, well his story is the inspiration behind the Hollywood movie, The Fighter.

The Tragedy – Emile Griffith vs. Benny Paret

This series will never be remembered for the two closely fought contests prior to 1962, this series deserves its place in history as a daunting realisation of just how dangerous this sport can be.

Before their first bout in April 1961, both men had gained a reputation as two of the best welterweights on the planet, Griffith was the first fighter born in the U.S. Virgin Islands to become world champion and he possessed all the power, while Paret was a Cuban based fighter who was adored for his resilience and his ability to take a punch, it was the perfect mixture of styles and the perfect story.

As for the first bout, Griffith railed back after being behind on the scorecards and unfortunately for Paret, he simply wasn’t as big a puncher as Griffith. Knocking ‘The Kid’ out in the 13th round, Griffth became the new welterweight champion and a rematch was almost but a certainty.

Like every great boxing trilogy, one man proves that in boxing, anything can happen. Six months after his KO defeat, the resilient Cuban managed to stay the distance and picked up an extremely controversial decision, many to this day feel Griffith earned another victory and that should have been the last the two saw of each other.

But, being the warriors and national heroes they were, both men were determined to prove they were the better man and on March 24th, 1962, boxing saw its most tragic evening.

After a 12th round onslaught by Griffith saw Parot take 20 unanswered shots, many after he was deemed to be unconscious, the referee finally intervened, but it was too late. After being rushed to a local hospital, Benny ‘The Kid’ Paret died in hospital 10 days later after the injuries he had suffered during the final fight.

With a TV audience witnessing an in ring death for the first time, boxing’s credibility as a sport was brought into question and the sport was taken off air for the next decade.

The Rivalry – Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales

Now, this was a trilogy, three greats fights, two great warriors and one great country.

Mexico has gained a reputation for producing some of boxing’s most lethal fighters, but Mexico has never seen a rivalry quite like Barrera vs. Morales. The pair were two national rivals whose well-documented hatred for each other was only going to offer fireworks.

Barrera, the WBO super bantamweight champion, was still trying to redefine his career after suffering two consecutive defeats to Junior Jones, he was however able to claim back his title as he defeated Richie Wenton in 1998. At the same time Barrera was losing to Jones, Morales had just won the WBC super bantamweight title when he knocked out Daniel Zaragoza and extended his undefeated streak, Morales had also gone onto defend his crown eight times. Finally, their paths were going to cross.

The first contest took place on February 19th, 2000, entering the contest, Morales was the big favourite with the bookies and everyone assume he would add Barrera’s WBO belt with relative ease, although Morales did leave with the decision, it was at the end of twelve breathtaking, pulsating, hard-fought rounds that many felt that Barrera was hard done by despite being involved in the fight of the year. A controversial ending only added to the rivalry and a rematch was only a matter of when not if.

The rematch two years later had the same controversial ending, but the second time around, Barrera got the nod. This time Morales was still the WBC featherweight champion but his arch nemesis walked away with the gold. Both men had earned a controversial win but were seeking a more substantial bragging right.

To this day, the final chapter in their rivalry is considered the greatest of them all. This time the fight was at super-featherweight, both men left any form of defense at home, it was just two warriors pounding away with proficiency as well as power, the hatred between the two felt with every punch. It was another to close to call encounter that saw Barrera winning on a majority decision.

The One – Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier

In any discussion about timeless trilogies in boxing, Ali vs Frazer stands alone as the most iconic. Two names that are inseparable in the history books, their most iconic night will possibly be remembered as the sports greatest ever event.

The fight itself was four years in the making, after becoming the heavyweight champion in 1964 Ali had defended it successfully until boxing officials stripped him of the championship for refusing his conscription into the Vietnam War in 1967.

Four years later, Ali was back and in just his third fight since returning from the enforced exile, he challenged the man who had claimed his crown during his absence. Although the fight was dubbed the Fight of the Century, there was no fairytale ending for Ali, after Frazier knocked him down in the 15th and final round, he marched onto a unanimous decision, handing Ali his first-ever loss.

For both men, although they moved onto a new challenge, the destain was still deeply felt and a rematch continued to be whispered about.

That rematch came another three years later, this time the circumstances had changed, Frazer had dropped his belt to Foreman and Ali was coming off another famous trilogy with Ken Norton. The rematch will always be noted as the most lackluster of the three bouts, but Ali was able to gain revenge for his defeat and equally the score to 1-1.

Although the second test might not have packed a punch, the rubber match set the stage for heavyweight boxings greatest night. In the Filipino heat, both men went to war, it was a brutal affair that cemented their legacy. Despite Frazier’s insistence that he should be allowed to continue, his trainer Eddie Futch had seen enough in the 14th round and Ali had won the ‘The Thriller In Manila’.

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