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Boxing’s Greatest Rivalries

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder will square off for a third time tonight in Las Vegas. The two heavyweights are expected to put on a slugfest, with Wilder searching for revenge after his TKO loss in their second encounter. In anticipation of tonight’s fight, here are our seven greatest rivalries in boxing history: 

7 – ALEXIS ARGÜELLO VS AARON PRYOR: Their first fight in November 1982 was named “Fight of the Decade” by Ring Magazine. The match was for the WBA junior welterweight title, and the veteran Arguello was attempting to secure his fourth world crown. It was Pryor, however, who won the fight via 14th-round TKO after unleashing a flurry of uninterrupted punches. Until then, both warriors went toe to toe throughout the action-packed bout, trading punch for punch. The rematch was held less than a year later, with Pryor prevailing via KO in the 10th. Both fighters temporarily retired after the second fight and would become good friends. 

6 – SUGAR RAY LEONARD VS ROBERTO DURAN: Hollywood couldn’t come up with a better pairing than these two fighters. Leonard was the young, flashy American golden child with a million-dollar smile. Duran was the grizzled, sneering veteran armed with the legendary “Hands of Stone.” Their first lightweight bout – dubbed “The Brawl in Montreal” – was held in June 1980. It was a bruising slugfest, and Duran won via unanimous decision. The rematch was held just five months later in Las Vegas, and this time Leonard put his speed and boxing ability to use, outclassing the Panamanian and keeping his distance. Frustrated, Duran infamously quit in the eighth round, waving off the fight with a dejected, “No mas.” The two would meet for a third time, this time in 1089, and Leonard easily outpointed his rival in a forgettable encounter.  

5 – MICKEY WARD VS ARTURO GATTI: For no-stop action, few boxing trilogies can match the wars fought between Ward and Gatti. Their first fight was held in May 2002, and Ward bested Gatti via majority decision. Both men required care at a trauma center after the bout. Six months later, Gatti won the rematch, again by decision. Said Gatti afterward, “I used to wonder what would happen if I fought my twin. Now I know.” The combatants hooked up again in June of the following year, with Gatti winning by unanimous decision. Overall, this rivalry featured it all, with knockdowns, momentum shifts, gutty comebacks and wild flurries adding up to 30 rounds of boxing at its finest. Their first and third bouts were named “Fight of the Year.” 

4 – MARCO ANTONIO BARRERA VS ERIK MORALES: This rivalry featured two of Mexico’s most revered fighters. Barrera was known as the “Baby-Faced Assassin,” while Morales was dubbed “El Terrible.” Unlike Ward-Gatti, these rivals had no love for each other, which made their battles even more heated. Their three fights (February 2000, June 2002 and November 2004) stretched over three different weight divisions: super bantamweight, featherweight and super featherweight. All three went the distance, with Morales winning the first clash by controversial decision, Barrera taking the rematch via another disputed decision and Barrera claiming the rubber match by unanimous decision. The two later patched up their differences after they retired. 

3 – MANNY PACQUIAO VS JUAN MANUEL MÁRQUEZ: This rivalry featured two proud fighters with elite ring skills. The popular Pacquiao was an aggressive, relentless boxer, while Márquez was an exceptional counter-puncher and technician. They fought four times over a span of eight years. The first fight, held May 2004, started with a bang as “Pac-Man” knocked down Márquez three times in the opening round. Márquez came back strong, however, and many believe he did enough to win the bout, which ended in a draw. The next two chapters of their rivalry also ended in controversy, with Pacquiao winning both fights by disputed decisions. Their fourth and final clash ended in shocking fashion, with Barrera knocking out Pacquiao with a brutal shot to the head with just one second left in the sixth round. 

2 – SUGAR RAY ROBINSON VS JAKE LAMOTTA: This incredible rivalry spanned six fights and almost seven years. Robinson is still considered by many to be, pound for pound, the greatest fighter in boxing history. LaMotta, meanwhile, was the “Raging Bull” – a hard-living brawler who loved to bully his opponents. Their first clash occurred on October 1942, with Robinson taking a unanimous decision. The first rematch told a different story, with LaMotta sending his opponent to the canvas in the eighth round en route to a unanimous decision victory. It was Robinson’s first-ever loss as a professional. Robinson took the next three fights via decision. Their sixth and final battle took place on Feb. 14, 1951 in Chicago. In what would become known as the “Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,” Robinson pummeled LaMotta throughout the fight, rendering the “Raging Bull” unable to defend himself. The bout was mercifully stopped in the 13th round. 

1 – MUHAMMAD ALI VS JOE FRAZIER: The fight game’s most famous rivalry of all time. Ali and Frazier were such a contrast in styles and personalities: Ali was flamboyant, charismatic and a true showman in the ring. Frazier, meanwhile, was a no-nonsense and unorthodox slugger with a lethal left hook. Billed as “The Fight of the Century,”their first fight took place in Madison Square Garden in March of 1971. Both men were undefeated and vying for the WBC/WBA heavyweight titles. Frazier emerged victorious after knocking Ali down in the 15th round en route to a unanimous decision win. Three years later, in 1974, Ali won the rematch via a unanimous but close decision. Finally, there was their epic third fight – the “Thrilla in Manila” – held on Oct. 1, 1975 in the Philippines. After 14 brutal, grueling rounds, Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch threw in the towel to prevent any more harm to his fighter. Ali fell to his knees in relief. He would later say that fight was the closest he felt to dying. 


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