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When the action was so great they did it three times: Boxing’s finest trilogies

Sometimes a fight is so great, we simply have to see it again. Sometimes we are treated to an unforgettable tirilogy of fights. Here are ten of the finest in boxing history.

1. Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier
Quite simply, when Ali and Frazier fought – the world watched! Yes, fight two was a disappointment, but the first and final bouts of the series, “The Fight of the century” and, “The Thrilla In Manila” are as mesmerising to watch today as they were when they occurred, well over 40 years ago. We can only dream of seeing a heavyweight fight this great today. Ali and Joe were willing to bear their souls in a bid to decide who was the better man and as a result we fans were treated to boxing that was both brutal and beautiful. Both men’s names will be forever linked. It is almost impossible to think of one of them without the other.

2. Marco Antonio Barrera v Erik Morales
The opening bout of the series was absolutely breathtaking. Neither man was willing to give in and the violent slug-fest that unfolded will never be forgotten. As with the Ali v Frazier trilogy, fight two was something of a letdown. But the third and final installment made up for it. The quality of boxing put on by both Mexican legends was first rate – some even favour fight three to fight one. What almost everyone agrees on though, is that there has never been a better three fight series among the lower weight classes. These fights were fought over three different weight classes, yet despite being heavier men in each subsequent meeting the pace never slowed!

3. Tony Zale v Rocky Graziano
Boxing Illustrated magazine, when looking back at this trilogy, wrote that these fights were not fights, they were wars without survivors! How could anyone dispute such a statement? All three fights were crammed full with savagery and violence – to such an extent that neither fight ever looked remotely like going the distance. Brutal KO’s were the order of the day when Zale and Graziano met. What is a crying shame though, is the fact that only one fight from the trilogy was ever captured on film – the final fight. As a result we can only read about the first two thirds of the most fierce trilogy of fights in middleweight history.

4. Arturo Gatti v Mickey Ward
More than a few experts made the comment that this three fight series was akin to the vicious and wild affairs fight fans were used to back in the 1950’s. The action-packed fights Arturo and Mickey put on actually top most of boxing’s previous match-ups for toe-to-toe slugging and sheer drama. The first fight especially, was utterly mind boggling. Both men gave their all and, as with many of the fighters on this list, their names will always be correlated. Ward wisely retired after the third and final gruelling bout, whereas Gatti fought on.

5. Floyd Patterson v Ingemar Johansson
These fights had it all. Not only were they extremely exciting and full of knockdowns – thirteen in total – but history was made too. In the second fight, the recently deceased Floyd Patterson became the first man in history to regain the heavyweight championship of the world. To have done so after having been painfully KO’d in the first fight was a great achievement. All three fights were terminated by KO, but it is the second bout that is the most famous. Not only did Floyd make history, but he avenged the loss to Ingemar with a KO that is startling to watch. The Swede’s foot can actually be seen twitching as he lays unconscious on the canvas. The left hook Patterson connected with was an absolute thunder bolt!

6. Riddick Bowe v Evander Holyfield
Another heavyweight series, Bowe’’s three fights with ““The Real Deal”” are the best from the big guy’s division in recent years. Fight one had an incredible tenth round in which both men took turns in landing hurtful shots. ““Big Daddy”” had the upper hand in the series’ opener though – only for Evander to extract his revenge (despite the idiotic actions of “fan Man”) in the rematch. Holyfiled almost won the rubber match too, courtesy of a stunning left hook that dropped Bowe at the halfway stage of the bout, only for the younger man to come back to stop him in the eighth round of a very dramatic fight, the only KO of the series.

7. Jeff Harding v Dennis Andries
This choice may surprise some readers, but the tough and gruelling fights that the Australian and the Brit gave us definitely deserve to be included here. Fight one produced an upset when the defending champ Andries was stopped in the twelfth and final round of a fight in the U.S that was fought at a frenetic pace. Dennis then travelled to the new champion’’s country and produced an even bigger shock by KO’’ing the hard as nails Harding in the seventh.

Winning so far from home, and at his advanced age, was a superb effort from Britain’s three time light heavyweight king. The best fight was saved for last though. In the rubber match, fought in the U.K, both men had to dig incredibly deep. Dennis was suffering from real exhaustion in the later rounds and despite hanging on to the final bell he lost the decider on a debatable majority decision. Three of the hardest fought bouts in the history of the 175 pound division had been witnessed in three different countries.

8. Muhammad Ali v Ken Norton
Another appearance by The Greatest. Ali sensationally had his jaw broken by Norton in fight number one, and lost a twelve round non-title fight. How Ali fought on while in such pain is a mystery. And even though the common misconception that Ali’s jaw was broken as early as the second round was corrected when the late Eddie Futch informed us that the damage was actually done much later in the fight, the fact that Ali made it to the final bell was still a very brave act. Muhammad got his revenge in fight two and then the final chapter in the series was fought, this time with the title at stake. Three years after the first match another desperately close fight ensued and though it was highly disputed, Ali got the win. Ken Norton tested Ali in a way no-one besides Joe Frazier ever did.

9. Roberto Duran v Esteban De Jesus
Duran was at his peak when he fought De Jesus at lightweight. Considered unbeatable my some, Roberto was shocked by Esteban in the very first round of fight number one when a sharp left from the Puerto Rican decked him. It wasn’t to be Roberto’s night and he lost the non-title affair on points over ten rounds – his first ever defeat. A rematch was fought two years later, this time with the world title on the line.

Once again Duran was put down in the first round – De Jesus proved it had been no fluke the last time. In this fight, however, Duran showed his greatness and came back to prevail by eleventh round KO. There would have to be a decider though. In 1978, six years after the first bout, Roberto proved his superiority with a twelfth round TKO in his last fight as lightweight champion. Without doubt, he had been pushed to the limit by De Jesus in all three fights.

10. “Sugar” Ray Leonard v Roberto Duran
Shortly after vacating his lightweight title, Roberto Duran challenged Ray Leonard for “Sugar’s” welterweight belt. What followed was the best fight from an eventual three fight series. Duran had rattled Leonard in the build-up to the fight and Ray fought the wrong way. He tried to be macho with “The Hands of Stone” and came off second best, losing in an epic fifteen rounder.

The second fight, held five months later, is one of the most infamous bouts from boxing history. The now legendary words of “no mas” were uttered by Roberto as he announced his surrender to a disbelieving audience in round eight. Leonard had got his revenge. Unfortunately, the rubber match – fought nine years after fight one – was a drag. Both guys were past their best and Leonard won a boring decision. The first and second fights, however, were as great as they were fascinating.