The trilogy is to prizefighting what Bogey was to Bacall, what Batman was to Robin and what peanut butter is to jam; a pairing so needed and so in demand a curtain call is required if only to appease the demand of the audience as opposed to any great answering of questions. In the old days of our sport, it was a sort of badge of honor. The rubber match was made because a certain pairing had appeal. The explosive chemistry combined all too often with a grudge quotient produced the kind of sparks fans craved, and unlike team sports where the schedule is drawn up long in advance, only fighters of that certain rare ilk make it to the encore, often times leaving the better part of themselves in the ring along the way.
With the recent announcement that Juan Manuel Marquez will be challenging old nemesis and consensus pound-per-pound king Manny Pacquiao later this year in a much anticipated and highly lucrative rubber match, I decided to review the biggest boxing trilogies of the last three decades. I came up with 19 trilogies of varying intrigue and luster through the various weight classes, several of which will no doubt resonate for years to come while others have for the most part been long forgotten. Like some of the time cherished trilogies of old, many of the more recent have lasting impact on the sport, while others are more the product of alphabet politics. For the hardcore fan, many of these will be considered mandatory viewing, for the young fight fan looking to take in all that the sport has to offer, I highly recommend each from #19 all of the way to #1 for a myriad of reasons.
#19 – Ronald Wright vs. Bronco McKart
I’m not going to make more of this trilogy than what it really was; a useful, somewhat fun series between two fighters of measurably different talent occurring at varying points in their respective careers. Both men were tallish southpaws and natural light middleweights and both were game fighters possessing heart and character. None of their encounters were exciting wars, yet there was an aspect of fun to them. Chalk it up to sanctioning body shenanigans more than any great need to see these two settle a score.
The first bout occurred in May 1996. ‘Winky’ edged a determined and peaking McKart via split 12-round decision to take the WBO light middleweight title. In their rematch over four years later, McKart hit a glass ceiling of sorts, giving it his all while being soundly out-boxed by the still-in-development D.C. native in an IBF light middleweight title eliminator. Two years later in 2002, playing the Coyote to Wright’s Road Runner, McKart was disqualified in the 8th round of their rubber match after being thoroughly outclassed from the opening bell. ‘Winky’ successfully retained his IBF light middleweight title for the 2nd time after McKart had five points deducted for low blows up until the moment the referee issued the disqualification.
#18 – Steve Molitor vs.Takalani Ndlovu
As with the previous trilogy on this list and the one after it, this series is more the product of sanctioning body tomfoolery than any great hue and cry to see two equally matched blood and guts warriors fight to the death for ring supremacy. These two met for the first time in July 2007 with Molitor successfully defending his newly won IBF super bantamweight diadem for the 1st time with a comprehensive 9th round TKO of South Africa’s Takalani Ndlovu. Losing his title in late 2008 unification bid to Celestino Caballero, ‘The Canadian Kid’ slowly worked his way back in the ratings and into the ring for the vacant IBF title against old foe Ndlovu in March 2010. Boxing smartly behind a busy right jab, Molitor looked sluggish early before pulling away late on the cards to edge the intent Ndlovu by unanimous decision.
With no place to go and a need to stay busy, Molitor stepped to the IBF’s mandate and traveled to South Africa in March 2011 to defend against the man he had already beaten decisively twice. Despite the long odds against him, ‘Panther’ made his 3rd kick at the can count, out-boxing and outworking ‘The Canadian Kid’ to take a
wide 12-round unanimous decision win when it was widely expected he would lose by rote. Considering the IBF’s current limited pool of super bantamweight contenders, can a fourth encounter between these two be far off? Only the IBF knows for sure
#17 – Bernard Hopkins vs. Robert Allen
So often labeled as a boring ring general, Bernard Hopkins’ career has often been punctuated by unexpected drama. Looking to make the 8th defense of his IBF middleweight championship, Hopkins’ found himself troubled early by mandatory challenger Robert Allen, then a twice beaten southpaw and ex-Marine of particular talent and hunger. Their August 1998 clash came to a screeching and dramatic sudden halt when referee Mills Lane inadvertently pushed the defending champion through the ropes while trying to break-up one of the many clinches. The bout was ruled a No Contest when it was discovered that Hopkins’ had badly injured his ankle. ‘Armed and Dangerous’ had earned a reprieve, a rematch and the right to keep his moniker intact. The chance at another payday didn’t hurt either.
Six months after the abbreviated inglorious result of their first encounter, a motivated Hopkins underlined his stance as World middleweight champion, beating up Allen for six prolonged rounds, ultimately playing ‘The Executioner’, dispatching him in the 7th. Five years later, at an ancient-for-the-ring age, Hopkins successfully defended his middleweight title for the 18th time, in the process preserving a career-high payday later that year in a mega-showdown against Oscar de la Hoya, with a clinical dissection of Allen in their mandated rubber match. Fighting in a much lower gear, and with an enhanced bag of defensive tricks, the polished Hopkins slowly worked Allen into both physical and mental defeat long before the final bell, ending an unnecessary but interesting trilogy.
#16 – Joel Casamayor vs. Diego Corrales
These two held a genuine disdain for each other. Casamayor, a talented southpaw, fled Cuba in the 90’s. Fighting out of Florida, he was the former WBA World super featherweight champion. Corrales, a long and lean orthodox destroyer out of Las Vegas was the former IBF super featherweight champion.
They met for the first time in October 2003 in an IBF super featherweight eliminator that quickly became a dramatic encounter with Casamayor hitting the canvas once and Corrales down twice. ‘El Cepillo’ was awarded a 6th round TKO when it was ruled that the cuts inside of Corrales’ mouth were too severe for him to continue. In the rematch five months later, ‘Chico’ evened the score, rising from the deck in the 10th to clinch the vacant WBO super featherweight title with a hard fought 12-round split decision.
Three years after their initial encounter in October 2006 these two proud warriors clashed for the 3rd and final time. Failing to make the weight limit of 135lbs, Corrales lost a controversial split 12-round decision in a somewhat anti-climactic affair for Casamayor’s WBC lightweight strap, a title he could not officially win given his inability to make the required poundage.
#15 – Manny Pacquiao vs. Erik Morales
When these two first met in March 2005, it looked to be a terrific match-up between two fiercely proud multi-division former world champions, each with a huge national following, the hopes and dreams of their respective homeland resting squarely on their shoulders. Nobody figured it would turn into a trilogy; it was supposed to go just one fight given the momentum at play in 2005. Standing a shade over 5’5, the explosive punching Filipino southpaw was expected to end the winning streak of the 5’8 Morales, a thinking man’s version of a Mexican warrior.
The first encounter upset the applecart with Mexico taking the lead when Morales tapped his considerable boxing skills and experience to edge the wild Filipino for a well deserved 12-round unanimous decision. In the rematch ten months later, Manny Pacquiao evened the score for both himself and The Philippines, becoming the first fighter to stop ‘El Terrible’, taking the vacant WBC International title via 10th round TKO. Ten months after that the rubber match was made, with Pacquiao stopping Morales emphatically via 3rd round knockout.
#14 – Israel Vazquez vs. Oscar Larios
If only every other country produced so many proud warriors like Mexico. Even the less celebrated rivalries have something dramatic to offer. Standing just a hair over 5’4, Israel Vazquez was at a height and reach disadvantage to the longer 5’7 Oscar Larios, but if anything they matched up well, as these two had some colorful history through the years.
They first met in April 1997, with Larios at the time a stellar 20-0 and Vazquez the winner of eleven out of twelve. ‘Magnifico’ was magnificent and up to the task, stopping Larios cold in the 1st round. Years later in 2002, and fighting for the interim WBC super bantamweight title, Larios evened matters up, stopping Vazquez via TKO in the 12th round of a terrific encounter. Three years after that, and having knuckled down hard on Larios, Vazquez proved a good study, taking ‘Chololo’s’ WBC super bantamweight title, flooring him in the 1st and forcing a TKO stoppage in the 3rd.