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9 Epic Boxing Rivals Who Actually Traded Fists (That Mayweather Needs To Be Reminded Of)

Mayweather could learn a lesson or two from history's greatest boxing rivals about how NOT to duck the best challengers.
by Raul Maningat | Feb 11, 2015
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There’s no arguing that Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s respective careers saw the kind of success that can rival Michael Jordan's reign in basketball and Leonardo DiCaprio's track record when it comes to snagging the world's top supermodels. However, a bout between these larger-than-life boxers can’t seem to be made, telling us how much we miss the time when getting the top guys of the sport to face each other wasn’t as difficult as getting the attention of a Clash Of Clans junkie.

Before it became all about social media posturing and pay-per-view positioning, marquee fighters who became rivals often sorted their differences inside the ring, sealing their reputations as true warriors.

Manny has apparently done his share to deserve that very distinction but some of his contemporaries are still on the wayside. (Can we say, Floyd?) Well, for now, all we can do is reminisce the good old days of the sweet science and wish for better things to come. To hit two birds with one stone, we decided to compile boxing’s most iconic fights featuring the sport’s most high profiled rivalries, hoping it wills the Pacquiao-Mayweather showdown to finally happen.

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Check these historic encounters out (and tweet these to Mayweather) while you’re at it! 

1)   Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix "Tito" Trinidad
(September 18, 1999)

The Set-Up: By 1999, WBC welterweight champ Oscar De La Hoya was the star of all stars but wasn’t as lauded by the boxing critics as much as his fellow welterweight titleholder Felix Trinidad. On the contrary, the young Puerto Rican KO artist was doing the same thing in the ring as the electrifying De La Hoya but had yet to garner the mass appreciation that the Golden Boy had. Perhaps it was the gap in their looks? The two courageous young men understood though that they needed to take on each other for them to fill the voids in their careers.

The Fight: De La Hoya-Trinidad was called the "Fight of The Millennium." The superfight was so huge that it set the record for the most pay-per-view buys by non-heavyweights. It wouldn’t be broken until eight years later.

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In the fight, Oscar gave his foe a boxing lesson until he was advised by his corner to play it safe in the championship rounds. De La Hoya started to ride his bike, clueless that he was throwing the most important fight of his career while Trinidad continued to move forward like a zombie that throws punches. Felix mounted a comeback and was awarded a controversial split decision. The match may have lacked the ferocious action that was expected but it was compensated for by the drama of Trinidad’s come-from-behind win and the failure of De La Hoya’s strategy late in the battle.      

Video via TboneNYC10

2)   Roy Jones Jr. vs. Bernard Hopkins I (May 22, 1993)  

The Set-Up: In 1993, Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr. were the two hottest prospects in the middleweight division, ranked first and second by the IBF respectively. The silver medalist Olympian, Jones, was a mega-talent that had a habit of knocking out people standing in his way. B-Hop was a straight-A student of the fight game on the verge of becoming a complete boxer. They could’ve avoided each other and sought an easier route towards the title but they weren't the type to back down from any challenge.

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The Fight: It was the first title-fight for the 22-1 B-Hop and the unscathed Jones (22-0). It turned out to be an intense tactical match-up between Roy’s uncanny speed and power versus The Executioner’s technical maneuverings. In the end, the Pensacola fighter’s immense athletic gifts overcame the fundamentally sound approach of Philly’s Hopkins, getting the nod from all the judges, 116-112.

The soon to be rulers of the boxing realm would fight again 17 years later, but they were already entering The Expendables cast's age bracket. The rematch was not quite as fierce as a couple of young future all-time greats battling for recognition.

Video via Max Kapone

3)   Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran I        

The Set-Up: Roberto Duran is generally considered as the best 135-pounder of all time. Joe Frazier once said that Duran’s aggression in the ring reminds him of the psycho killer Charles Manson.

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After cleaning the lightweight category, Roberto needed to look for bigger things, prompting him to face boxing’s biggest star in Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. The WBC welterweight champion Leonard had scored impressive wins using his mastery of slick boxing but had yet to face someone in the caliber of Duran. He was relatively an untested superstar, eager to prove his hype correct.

The Fight: Dubbed as the "Brawl in Montreal," the actual match lived up to the billing. The nine to five favorite Leonard chose to fight Duran, the natural slugger, toe-to-toe, thrilling the fight fans out of their seats. And even though going straight into the Panamanian great’s wheelhouse gave him his first pro defeat, Sugar Ray was able to open the eyes of the boxing public to the kind of a fighter he really is. He wasn’t only skilled, he was tough, had a lot of heart, and balls the size of Floyd’s big head.   

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Video via Jeff Jackson

4)   Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera I (February 19, 2000)

The Set-Up: Aside from being born to become two of the finest and most beloved Mexican pugilists ever, Marco Antonio Barerra and Erik Morales were also destined to hate each other to the max. Raised by a well-to-do family, Mexico city’s Baby-Faced Assassin was the antithesis to El Terrible, a certified alumnus of the school of hard knocks. Hailing from mala-telenovela langit at lupa backgrounds may have been the main reason why Barrera and Morales does these kinds of things during press conferences.

The Fight: On February 19, 2000, the most celebrated episode in the very famous Barrera-Morales trilogy was fought. Their first installment was named Fight of the Year, it was also considered by many as the best fight of all-time. Besides being armed with first-class skills, it was the seething anger inside Barrera and Morales that got them to perform at such a high level. The extreme hatred pushed to them to dish out and at the same time withstand brutal punishment.

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Both men connected with tons of bone-crunching shots for 12 rounds, resulting in a hairline split decision that went to Morales. Although their third bout would also be recognized as Fight of the Year in 2004, it didn’t have the explosive, Dragon Ball Z-super-fast exchanges that made the original stood out. 

Video via HBO's channel


5)   Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns I (September 16, 1981)  

The Set-Up: In 1981, the two best welterweights were the WBA champ Tommy “Hitman” Hearns and WBC titlist Sugar Ray Leonard. There were no more challenges left in the weight class for both guys but to unify the belts. And as expected, Leonard and Hearns stepped up to the plate, each eager to prove that “he’s the man.”

The Fight: "The Showdown" had the 147-pound standouts putting on one of the greatest displays of skill and toughness in welterweight history. The Hitman built a significant lead with his lethal jabs and straight rights, injuring Leonard’s left eye in the process.

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With the fight slipping away, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist rallied strong, catching Hearns with deadly combinations. In the 13th round, Leonard was able to corner his opponent from which he unleashed a barrage that rendered the Detroit slugger helpless. Adjudged by Ring Magazine as the Fight of the Year, the victory solidified Sugar Ray's claim as the number one fighter of his era.  

Video via Greatest Boxers

6)   Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta V
(September 26, 1945)

The Set-Up: We need to go back six-and-a-half decades ago for this one. Sugar Ray Robinson, the best pound for pound boxer of all-time, and Jake LaMotta, one of the toughest S.O.B.’s to ever set foot in the ring, scrapped not once, not twice, not even thrice, but a staggering six times. Robinson has the 5-1 advantage but all their collisions were as competitive as two irate fighting cocks ready to tear each other into little chicken nuggets.

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The Fight: Although LaMotta’s sole win came in the first return bout and Robinson was able to finish the Raging Bull off in their sixth and last outing, the fifth Robinson-LaMotta bout was by far their most hotly contested square-off. That night in 1945, in front of 14,755 patrons, LaMotta gave the versatile Robinson all sorts of problems with his relentless pressure and excellent in-fighting. Boxing’s original Sugar Ray was a master of switching styles though. He was able to adjust, holding his own en route to escaping with a very tight split decision win.

Video via sweetfights

7)   Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe I
(November 13, 1992)

The Set-Up: Evander and Riddick’s initial clash came at a time when both of their records were unblemished. When the two monsters met, Holyfield was the undisputed champion, and the rightful contender to his crown was “Big Daddy” Bowe.

Evander was an undersized heavyweight but had a compact muscular physique making him more than capable to hang with much larger opposition. Meanwhile, Riddick was a towering figure who possessed an unlikely blend of size, strength, and speed. Big Daddy, however, was notorious for being a lazy worker in the gym but he whipped himself into best shape of his life for his fight with the Real Deal. All these factors catapulted the resulting trilogy into widely being considered as the greatest in the division since Ali-Frazier.

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The Fight: For starters, it was Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year. The Real Deal and Big Daddy pummeled each other for 12 rounds with shots that looked like wrecking balls destroying high rise buildings. Just take a look at this round, if you think we’re pulling your leg:

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