Pacquiao vs Marquez: Analyzing the Fight and Boxing's Great Trilogies

Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez may join the all-time great trilogies in boxing history on November 12. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

Sean Mills joins the Bad Left Hook staff today, looking back at some of history's great boxing trilogies, and where Pacquiao vs Marquez may fit in.

Trilogies are special in boxing, or so we are often told. While HBO broadcasters Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant frequently claim that trilogies have a magic quality the truth is mixed. Not all rivals become best friends, not all rivalries settle the score, and not all trilogies are equal.

The November 12th fight between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez is highly anticipated, but not necessarily competitive. Marquez is a 5 to 1 underdog. The age of the fighters, the contested weight, and their recent competition all suggest Pacquiao will win. However, there is still mystery in how this third match will play out. The Pacquiao v. Marquez story is two thirds complete and as the final chapter approaches we can learn what is special about this fight from history.

Tony Zale v. Rocky Graziano
The one that that started it all.

Weight Class: Middleweight

Duration: Fought once a year for three years

Winners:
1946......I. Zale wins by KO
1947......II. Graziano wins by KO
1948......III. Zale wins by KO

Verdict: Zale proved to be too technically sound for the aging puncher.

Background: Two hall-of-fame fighters traded knockdowns and knockouts. Their 3 fights were the archetype for boxing trilogies according to Bert Sugar.

Impact on Legacy: Likely the greatest moments of either man's career was knocking the other out.

Friendship Status: In television interviews years later these two fawned all over each other like long lost brothers. Friendship confirmed.

* * * * *

Muhammad Ali v. Joe Frazier
The trilogy.

Weight Class: Heavyweight

Duration: They fought three times within 5 years.

Winners:
1971......I. Frazier wins by unanimous decision
1974......II. Ali wins by unanimous decision
1975......III. Ali wins by retiring Frazier in the 14th round

Verdict: The loss total is just a number; these two fought each other on rather equal terms. Frazier earning a decision over the rusty Ali, while Ali barely overcame Frazier in their third fight. Ali is the technical winner, but Frazier deserves an asterisk.

Background: They were undefeated Heavyweight champions fighting as 1A and 1B when they first clashed. Now when someone mentions "The Trilogy" this one is the one they are talking about.
Impact on Legacy: While Ali's greatest single moment came against Foreman, his trilogy with Frazier cements both their legends.

Friendship Status: This is interesting. These two were reported to be friends before they fought, then Ali disrespected Frazier through out their rivalry. Eventually, Ali hoped to be friends again, while Frazier still wants nothing to do with Ali. One friend. One enemy.

* * * * *

Erik Morales v. Marco Antonio Barrera
A modern trilogy.

Weight Class: Super Bantamweight, Featherweight, Super Featherweight

Duration: Five years

Winners:
2000......I. Morales wins by split decision
2002......II. Barrera wins unanimously
2004......III. Barrera wins by majority decision

Verdict: Barrera had three tough fights on his hands, but he also delivered more damage.

Background: These two made up half of a fearsome foursome fighting around featherweight at the millennium, the others being Pacquiao and Marquez.

Impact on Legacy: Barrera certainly claims this trilogy on his resume. And, when you combine this with Morales' trilogy with Pacquiao you would be hard pressed to find a better pedigree among any active fighter. This series was crucial for both men.

Friendship Status: Frienemies. While they claim that time has healed all wounds, they don't really seem like pals.

* * * * *

Arturo Gatti v. Micky Ward
The one where you don't have to be an all time great to have an all time great fight.

Weight Class: Light Welterweight

Duration: Three fights within two years with back to back (to back) fights.

Winners:
2002......I. Ward wins by majority decision
2002......II. Gatti wins by unanimous decision
2003......III. Gatti wins by unanimous decision

Verdict: Gatti won the last two fights against a very shop worn fighter who was contemplating retirement. Still, Gatti did win.

Background: These two had guts, chins, and fighting spirit if not world-class talent. Their fights were throwbacks to the legendary ones of the 1950's and they remain a high-water mark for heart.

Impact on Legacy: For these two the trilogy was what puts them in the highlight reels and on people's tongues. This trilogy was their legacy.

Friendship Status: Super friends. After Gatti retired Ward he hired him as his trainer.

* * * * *

Manny Pacquiao v. Juan Manuel Marquez
The perfect mismatch.

Weight Class: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, and Welterweight

Duration: An eight-year trilogy

Winners:
2004......I. A Draw
2008......II. Pacquiao wins a split decision
2011......III. ?

Verdict: The draw was an instant classic. Pacquiao won a close second fight. And, he is heavily favored to win the third. If he wins this, he wins the series hand down.

Background: Marquez and Pacquiao had never quite experienced anything quite like each other in their first fight. This last fight is happening above their natural weight classes, but despite Pacquiao's natural advantages it seems like were destined for a classic. Since they last met, Pacquiao has learned how to box better and Marquez has found strength coach that has convinced him not to drink his own urine.

Impact on Legacy: It's a two way street. Pacquiao's weakest moment was a draw to a great fighter in Marquez. Meanwhile, Marquez can claim to have fought on equal terms with one of the best to ever play the game.

Friendship Status: The business at hand keeps them at arm's length, but you can also see great respect between them in their international press tour. One assumes we are one fight away from Marquez getting a lifetime invitation to Pacquiao's birthday party.

* * * * *

Why so special?

Even though trilogies between world titleholders are rare, this fight is rarer still. As mentioned above, this November 12th fight will complete a story across five weight classes and eight years. It is also unusual that these fighters share a draw. An interesting situation presents itself now. If Marquez beats the odds he will have only matched Pacquiao's single victory. Then they would be contractually obligated to fight an immediate rematch for the exceedingly rare tetralogy. But, the odds still favor Pacquiao and should he prevail he will have a draw he should have won, a victory, and another victory against Marquez. This would make Pacquiao v. Marquez the most competitive one-sided trilogy of all time.

* * * * *

Honorable Mention:

Jake Lamotta v. Sugar Ray Robinson: They actually fought two trilogies, but there isn't any doubt as to whom was the better boxer. Robinson won 5 fights to 1 against a naturally larger man.

Ken Norton v. Muhammad Ali: The one that reminds us when someone's got your number, they can give you trouble no matter who they are.

Sugar Ray Leonard v. Robert Duran: The two faced off for a third time well past their primes for a fight that told us nothing. Not all trilogies should happen.

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