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 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.