Beyond The Trilogy: Pacquiao & Marquez Aren’t The First To Go Fourth

by Eric Raskin

The trilogy has become industry standard for boxing’s best rivalries. There’s something so nice and tidy about it: The first fight is good enough to warrant a rematch, the rematch evens the score and opens the door for a rubber match, and then the third fight settles everything. Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward fought three times. So did Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. Ditto Morales and Manny Pacquiao, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Usually, three is the perfect number of fights to give fans the answers they need, and sometimes, three fights against each other are all that these warriors can take.

But the rivalry between Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez hasn’t been so nice and tidy. It hasn’t followed the formula. The first fight was a draw, so right off the bat, the trilogy math was thrown off. Then Pacquiao went on to win the next two fights, giving the series a clear winner – if not for the fact that both decisions were highly controversial and there remain observers who believe Marquez should be 3-0 in the series.

Bottom line: After three fights, nothing has been settled, so Pacquiao and Marquez are entering the rarer territory of a four-fight rivalry. But just because it’s less common to extend beyond the trilogy doesn’t mean it’s unheard of. Some of the greatest rivalries in boxing history required four (or more) fights to play out. Here’s a look at five of the most memorable among them:


Jack Britton vs. Ted “Kid” Lewis

To quote LeBron James, not four, not five, not six … between 1915 and 1921, these welterweight rivals fought 20 times. Britton won four times, Lewis twice, and 14 bouts were no-decisions. Yeah, boxing operated a little bit differently 100 years ago.


Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta

 After Robinson won their first fight, LaMotta won the rematch. As that was Robinson’s first defeat after a 40-0 start, and would hold up as the only loss in his first 131 bouts, Sugar Ray felt the need to avenge it. So he did. Four times. Robinson went 5-1 in their six-fight series, famously winning the middleweight championship in their sixth showdown, better known as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

Sandy Saddler vs. Willie Pep

 Pep is considered maybe the greatest pure boxer in history, but Saddler had his number, winning their first, third, and fourth fights by stoppage, while Pep needed the performance of a lifetime to win a close decision in the second bout. Their final meeting, meanwhile, is famous for being one of the dirtiest fights ever.


Ezzard Charles vs. Jersey Joe Walcott

 All four of their fights were for the heavyweight championship. Making the rivalry particularly unique, Charles won the first two, there seemed no need for a third fight, and then Walcott won it by knockout (and eked out a decision in their fourth fight as well).


Israel Vazquez, Rafael Marquez - Photo Credit: Will Hart, Holly Stein

Israel Vazquez vs. Rafael Marquez

 In a decade loaded with great trilogies, this was arguably the best of them all – until they extended it to a fourth fight in 2010 and sullied the rivalry somewhat. Marquez won an excellent first bout, Vazquez got revenge in an even better second fight, and then in a war to top both of them, Vazquez scored a one-point victory in the rubber match. Unfortunately, Vazquez’s scar tissue wouldn’t cooperate in the fourth fight, and Marquez stopped him on cuts inside three rounds.

Pacquiao-Marquez: Another Classic Modern Trilogy?

By Eric Raskin

We often think of upcoming fights in terms of what’s at stake for each individual boxer. Rarely do we think about them in terms of what’s at stake for the two opponents collectively. But in Pacquiao-Marquez III, if these two rivals can produce a fight as competitive and compelling as their first two bouts, they will have done something truly special together: author arguably the best boxing trilogy of an era absolutely loaded with classic three-fight series.

Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales got the fun started in the year 2000. Then Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward battled similarly spectacularly over 30 epic rounds. In the mid-2000s, Morales engaged Pacquiao in another unforgettable trilogy. And though they technically fought four times, the first three fights of the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez series were as jaw-dropping as any of the aforementioned group. Just how unique has this “golden age of trilogies” been? In the previous three decades combined, there were only two trilogies that would legitimately fit in with those listed above: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield.

Now Pacquiao-Marquez is poised to join that list, and perhaps stand atop it.

As a survivor of one of these legendary series, Ward insists that being a part of something like that serves as a source of everlasting pride.

“Whenever someone says Arturo’s name, they say my name with it. That’s really something,” Ward said. “It makes all the hard training and all the cuts, the stitches, the bruises, it makes it all worthwhile when you’re remembered like this. As bad as it was when I was in there, when I look back now, I’m glad I went through it. Being part of a great fight, that might get you remembered forever. But being part of a great trilogy takes it to another level.”

That’s what Pacquiao and Marquez are working toward together (even if that’s not either man’s primary goal). Through two fights that went the 12-round distance, on the six official judges’ cards combined, Pacquiao leads by a score 679-678. That’s right: One point separates them after 24 rounds.

We can only hope the third chapter of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry will be as competitive as the first two. Some predict Pacquiao will be too big and too strong for “Dinamita” now; others think that Marquez’s style will always cause Pac-Man problems, thus creating another classic triple.

No matter what, this has been the greatest era for trilogies that fight fans have ever seen. And it doesn’t necessarily have to end here. Maybe Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito will go from their December rematch to an eventual rubber match. Maybe if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight once, they’ll go on to fight three times.

As fans, we’re all blessed when a great trilogy comes along. And that extends to ex-fighters who are now in the role of fan.

“I don’t know which of these trilogies is the best. I just know that I like watching them,” Ward said. “You sit back, you watch—and you’re just glad it isn’t you in there.”