What makes a great rivalry?
In today’s day and age, boxing’s best have performed for large sums and gold. When it comes to personal bouts that define what it means to be a fighter, however, is that something that comes easy? The age of social media has reminded us of a time when fists and actions did the talking.
Whether two fighters caused controversy or the fights between them continue to stand the test of time, nothing is as good as a solid scrap. Even if the result is not what many wanted or expected, it made for a moment that will stand the test of time.
Here are some of the top rivalries in boxing history!
Arturo Gatti v. Micky Ward
It is rare when a trilogy fight goes back-to-back-to-back in a year+ span. The battles between Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward helped define a generation of fighting.
Ward, who many know from The Fighter, was coming into his own and ended up having a successful career. Gatti is considered one of the scrappiest fighters out there. Mix those two together and you can create some magic. Ward won the first fight via majority decision after a knockdown in the ninth. It was a hard hit bout and showcased how brutal both can be. The rematch saw Gatti exact revenge, and both realized just how similar they were.
In the third bout, Gatti was saved by the bell in the sixth following a knockdown. Gatti was able to secure his spot with a win, moving on to become WBC Super-Lightweight Champion later. Rewatching the classic fights between the two is always a recommended treat.
Mike Tyson v. Evander Holyfield
The rivalry is most known for the shenanigans within the ring, but it is the tension before and after it that makes it so great.
Two accomplished stars, Tyson and Holyfield were destined to fight one another. Following another controversy that followed him throughout his career, Tyson was released from a prison stint and after a few bouts, finally clashed with Holyfield. Tyson was not able to adjust to any of Holyfield moves in the first bout, and when he threw shots they were either dirty or not concise. Holyfield dominated all aspects of the first bout, and ended up winning via TKO.
The second fight was right after the first one. Tyson ended up biting Holyfield twice on the ear in the third, resulting in a disqualification. The post-fight melee was much more exciting than the fight itself. As tension rose, Tyson has his license rescinded, if only for a little while, and he ended up having a stint in pro wrestling.
The bouts weren’t as great as the ones that are mentioned, but the overall atmosphere surrounding the two made for some moments to remember.
Sugar Ray Robinson v. Jake LaMotta
If you can get a movie, one of the best in the history of entertainment, to highlight your rivalry, you did something right.
Raging Bull, while showing Jake LaMotta at his best and worst, made sure to focus on the rivalry between him and Sugar Ray Robinson. The two fought six times against one another. Although LaMotta only won once, it was how the contests were performed that mattered the most. The blows inside the ring made up for the lack of drama outside of the ring, which it didn’t even need to begin with.
LaMotta rebounded from the first loss against Robinson by giving the latter the first loss of his career in 41 outings. Robinson loved to use his momentum to take down LaMotta, while Jake took every chance he got in order to provide pressure. Using his hard punches towards his momentum, Robinson punished LaMotta during 1951’s “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”, the last bout of their rivalry. In round thirteen, LaMotta took way too much damage than needed but his resiliency kept Robinson going at him.
In a nine-year span, both fighters became champions and true legends within the sport. When they got into the ring together, it was like magic.
“Every single round with Sugar Ray was hard, every fight was close,” LaMotta said, via The Independent. “No foul blows or nothing when we fought. We stood there toe-to-toe and banged away. He was the real greatest.”
Manny Pacquiao v. Juan Manuel Marquez
The idea of multiple bouts between two fighters can end up feeling like its holding on for relevancy, but when it matters it makes you feel alive. That was the case with the Pacquiao-Marquez wars.
Of course, there can’t be any talks of boxing without controversy. The first fight between the two was a draw. Four years later, the two faced off in a rematch which was won by Pacquiao via split decision. Three years after that, Pacquiao once again beat Marquez, this time via majority decision. It may have been the most contested of the fights, which made for a fourth bout all the more appealing.
It only took a year for the bout, which was for the WBO “Champion of the Decade” belt. This was the best fight of the series, with back and forth action and brutal shots. Marquez managed to get a measure of revenge, as he knocked out Pacquiao with a right, the first time he was down since 1999.
The battles weren’t about how the fight went, but the overall status of both fighters. The wars made them grow and they fought during the peak of their celebrated careers.
Muhammad Ali v. Joe Frazier
The blueprint when it comes to boxing’s elite.
The trilogy between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier is the stuff of legend, so much so that ESPN aired the fights on U.S. TV for the first time in over 30 years. Featuring two of the best in their prime (to start things off), Ali and Frazier fed off of one another, resulting in entertainment in and out of the ring. As Ali was getting back into the thick of things following him getting his license suspended, Frazier was on top of the world as WBA, WBC and lineal Heavyweight Champion. The first fight saw Frazier take care of Ali.
The next two bouts were all Ali, with the final taking place in the “Thrilla in Manila”, with Ali winning via TKO. The last fight was both giving it their all towards the end.
Besides fighting, talks of pride, privilege, race and views became the high-point of the rivalry that really can’t be duplicated. The style of both fighters (and the lip of Ali) makes this the top feud to remember for as long as boxing is around.