When Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez square off for the third time they will finish off the best trilogy of the last 25 years.
To be one of the greats of all time, they will have to do something truly special. Here are six of the most action-packed trilogies Pacquiao and Marquez have to look up to.
Muhammad Ali’s battles with Ken Norton are only overlooked because of Ali’s long resume of historic fights. Make no mistake, this trilogy was one of the all time greats.
Norton had a lot of the same qualities that made Joe Frazier such a perfect foil for Ali: An unstoppable motor, a ton of desire and an unconventional style. Norton was taller than Frazier and followed a stiff jab to be the only man to ever beat Ali from the outside.
In Norton’s upset victory he broke Ali’s jaw. Displaying why he is truly “The Greatest” Ali managed to keep fighting in spite of the unbearable pain and made it all the way to the end only to lose via decision.
Ali would come back with more respect for Norton and in better shape. The improved conditioning proved to be the difference as Ali came back to win the next two fights, though Norton certainly made him work for the narrow decisions.
Norton continues to be one of the most overlooked heavyweights in boxing history. In almost any other era, Norton would have been “The Man” in the division. As it was, Norton took a back seat to Ali, Frazier, and George Foreman. On March 31, 1973 he defeated The Greatest, and the sports world could no longer ignore the former marine.
On June 20, 1980 Roberto Duran shocked the world by defeating undefeated superstar Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight that drew comparisons to the "Thrilla in Manilla." This time, the brawler beat the boxer.
Duran relentlessly punished Leonard for fighting in close with him. Even though Leonard came up short on the scorecards he gained more respect in the the boxing world. Leonard was dismissed by some as flashy and entertaining, but soft. It was believed he could not take the pounding of a true war. Against Duran, he took everything one of the most powerful punchers in the division could deliver, and kept trading leather.
The second fight, "The Brawl in Montreal" produced one of the most bizarre endings on record. With 16 seconds left in the eighth round, Duran quit. There are three theories as to why he did it: He was hurt, he was frustrated by Leonard, or he was fed up with Leonard's trash-talking antics.
Also known as the "No mas" fight, the origin can be traced to commentator Howard Cosell, not Duran. What Duran allegedly told referee Octavio Meyran was, "Yo no boxeo con el payaso," or "I'm not boxing with that fool."
The third fight was a bit of a letdown, as Leonard one in a lopsided unanimous decision. Regardless, this trilogy is one of for the history books.
Individually I would never refer to Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe as a poor man’s Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. That would be a discredit to two exceptional heavyweights. As a trilogy, though, that is exactly what they were.
Bowe and Holyfield did not have nearly the historical significance of Ali-Frazier (then again, what fights did?) but the contrasting styles were there as were damn near the fireworks. Holyfield takes the Frazier role, with his heart and chin representing his best attributes as much as any physical skill. Bowe played the Ali role as the bigger, more skilled fighter.
Bowe would have been best suited to stay exclusively on the outside, but was not afraid to mix it up with Holyfield. When the two clashed in the middle of the ring, absolute bombs were being dropped with the fighters alternating who absorbed the most damage.
All three fights were incredible and took on a life of their own. As if the fights were not enough, fans were also given one of the most bizarre and memorable moments all of sports: The Fan Man, which incidentally paved the way for my favorite Simpsons parody of all time (skip to 3:50 in the video).
Bowe took the first fight in Ring Magazine's "Fight of the Year." Bowe traded leather with Holyfield in the center of the ring, ignoring the obvious tactic and helping to create the action-packed trilogy. Holyfield took the second in a majority decision. The 21 minute "Fan Man" delay seemed to help Holyfield get a second wind as he came back to earn the decision. In the third fight, Bowe's power finally proved to be too much as he knocked Holyfield down twice in the eighth round before being rewarded with a technical knockout.
When Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward first stepped into the ring, fans knew they were getting a war. The three fights that followed were closest to resemble something out of Rocky: No defense, just offense and heart.
Gatti gave Chuck Whepner (aka the Real Rocky) a run for his nickname “The Bleeder,” while Ward just kept coming forward, absorbing punch after punch.
After Mickey Ward was named the upset victor, the question was not if they were going to have a rematch, but when. The rematch did not disappoint, as Gatti took a hard-fought unanimous decision, and the grudge match was scheduled next.
Gatti took that one as well, and Ward retired knowing he would never have another fight of that magnitude. Gatti hung around for a few years, but the trilogy would prove to be his enduring legacy as well, at least up until the point of his mysterious death.
To back up this selection I would like to invoke the Star Wars defense: While there are six films, they get separated into two separate trilogies, and Star Wars fans will cite the first trilogy as the best.
The same is true for Jake LaMotta and ‘Sugar’ Ray Robinson. On February fifth, 1943 LaMotta was the first man to put Robinson on the canvas, knocking Robinson through the ropes. LaMotta won that fight in a unanimous decision, handing Robinson his first professional loss. LaMotta's win sandwiched two losses via decision. In LaMotta-Robinson III, LaMotta again floored Robinson for a nine-count that almost ended it.
Think of it as the middleweight version of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali: One super-skilled boxer taking on a powerful brawler willing to go through hell to land hooks to the body and head. As with Ali, the boxer took the majority of the points to win two out of three, but the brawler scored the more damaging and legendary punches.
The Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali wars remain quite simply the greatest trilogy in boxing history. With the recent passing of Joe Frazier fans are left to again contemplate the importance of those fights.
The third fight, the “Thrilla in Manila” is often the most glamorized of the three fights. It had the catchy nickname and was the rubber match of these two living legends now beginning to show their age.
Muhammad Ali dominated the first few rounds, and it seemed like his prediction of a Joe Frazier knockout may finally come true. Ali unleashed his entire arsenal in the first few rounds, but Frazier stood there asking for more. Ali would tire and Frazier's clubbing body shots began to take their toll.
By round 12 Frazier's pace was slowing and Ali was showing enough spurts of energy to again seize momentum. In Round 13 Frazier's left eye was swollen shut. He would not have cared except his right eye had been blind for years. Sightless, Frazier would continue to bore in, sense the body and swing for it. By the 14th round Eddie Futch could not let his man go back out and threw in the towel with Frazier pleading for one more round.
Their first bout, dubbed “The Fight of the Century” is one of the few events to actually live up to its billing. Never again will we see two undefeated heavyweight champions go head to head in the prime of their careers. Muhammad Ali won two out of three fights and thus the trilogy, but it could be Frazier’s performance in the first bout that lives on. Never have such styles, both in and out of the ring complemented each other so perfectly.
Frazier wore down Ali for 14 rounds, absorbing jab after jab before unleashing the most legendary punch in fighting history. The scene continues to replay itself in slow motion: Frazier leaping with that hook to reach the taller opponent, followed by Ali crashing majestically towards the canvas. The hook heard ‘round the world will be the lasting image of the late Joe Frazier; a man with indomitable will power defeating a much more talented opponent.
Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez have a hell of a legacy to live up to.