Top 10 Boxing Rivalries of All Time
Boxing is one of the most competitive and physically demanding sports in the world, which has led to some incredible rivalries between various all-time athletes. Due to the violent and personal nature of the sport, boxing rivalries are feuds like no other, pitting two great athletes against each other in head-to-head battles that often end with blood, sweat, and anger. Below are some of the most legendary boxing rivalries in the history of the sport.
What are the biggest boxing rivalries of all time?
- Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
- Sugar Ray Robinson vs Jake LaMotta
- Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez
- Sandy Saddler vs Willie Pep
- Ted Lewis vs Jack Britton
- Arturo Gatti vs Micky Ward
- Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera
- Tony Zale vs. Rocky Graziano
- Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield
- Sam Langford vs Harry Wills
1. Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
Without a doubt, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier are two of the most well-remembered boxers of all time; thus, it makes sense that their infamous, decades-long rivalry is also part of boxing history. Initially close friends, Frazier and Ali worked together in the 1970s to help Ali regain his boxing license, which he had been stripped of for conscientiously objecting to serving in the Vietnam War. As a result of losing his license, Ali (who had gone 29-0 thus far in his career) was no longer considered boxing's heavyweight champion, with the title going to Frazier. Upon his eventual return to boxing, however, Ali immediately set his sights on Frazier's crown, and an intense rivalry was born, one that pitted the former friends against each other.
The two fighters developed intense animosity towards one another, which was emphasized by the media leading up to their matchup. When it came to the fight, Frazier's physicality won out, and he defeated Ali with a famous fifteenth-round knockout, but their rivalry was not over. They fought again three years later, with Ali taking the victory, and then a third time in 1975, a massive final bout called the "Thrilla' in Manila," which Ali won again in 14 rounds. Over the decades that followed, Ali and Frazier had an on-again, off-again friendship that went through periods of bitterness and strife, but the two eventually reconciled before Frazier's death in 2011 and Ali's in 2016. This cemented their storied rivalry as one of both great friendship and great competition.
2. Sugar Ray Robinson vs Jake LaMotta
A rivalry comparable to Ali and Frazier, the feud between Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta is another battle of the boxing ages. In 1943, LaMotta ignited the rivalry by handing Robinson his first-ever defeat in professional boxing. At the time, both Robinson and LaMotta were the most avoided fighters in the ring, and because no one wanted to risk fighting them, they were often forced to fight each other as a result. However, this worked out great for fans, as it led to an intense and exciting rivalry between the two fighters. Robinson was a slippery and smooth fighter who focused on battering his opponents from the outside, while LaMotta, nicknamed "the Raging Bull," put all of his efforts into a brutal, forward-pushing offense.
The two rivals met six times, with Robinson winning five, and their final, most infamous meeting in 1951 became known as "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre." The brutal battle between the then-middleweight champion LaMotta and welterweight champion Robinson lasted 13 rounds and was competitive until Robinson hurt LaMotta in the twelfth round, finally finishing him in Round 13.
3. Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez
The feud between Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, considered one of the great modern rivalries in 21st Century boxing, has persisted since 2004 when the two fighters first met in the ring. Pacquiao had a stellar start in that bout, knocking Marquez down three times in the first round. However, Marquez endured the punishing onslaught and fought on, with the fight ending in a draw. Their next meeting came in 2008 when Marquez was fighting to keep his lineal super featherweight title. Pacquiao won the bout by split decision and became a rising star in the boxing world. By their third meeting in 2011, Pacquiao was a major figure in boxing, but his rival would not go down without a contest. Though Marquez again lost the fight by a majority decision, Pacquiao's victory was hotly debated by boxing fans, many of whom thought Marquez should have the victory. Marquez finally achieved his revenge for the two losses in 2012, when in his fourth fight with Pacquiao, he overcame battered legs and a broken nose to knock Pacquiao out in the sixth round. The rivalry earned notoriety for its exciting fights and the two fighters' similar styles featuring aggressive, front-foot offenses.
4. Sandy Saddler vs Willie Pep
In the 1940s, Willie Pep was a boxer well-known as one of the greatest living defensive fighters, and when he first met his soon-to-be rival Sandy Saddler in 1948, he had been the featherweight champion for six straight years. Few fans expected Pep to lose the bout, but Saddler, a lanky and powerful fighter known for being one of the roughest featherweights of all time, stunned the boxing world by knocking out Pep in four rounds. After the stunning loss, Pep returned to the ring in 1949 and won back his title with a vengeance, and the two rivals faced each other again in 1950, with Pep outboxing Saddler, who had to stop the match due to a separated shoulder. The feuding fighters met for a fourth and final time in 1951, in a brutal and dirty fight that was ranked the sixth-dirtiest boxing match in history years later. Saddler defeated Pep in this pivotal match, earning a TKO in Round 9.
5. Ted Lewis vs Jack Britton
One of the oldest and most active boxing rivalries in the sport, the Lewis-Britton rivalry is notable for the sheer number of times the two fighters met. Between 1915 and 1921, Ted Lewis and Jack Britton met an astonishing 20 times in the ring, including three bouts in 1915 alone. Though they both lived in an era where boxers were much more active and willing to fight often, the number of bouts in which they met was still considered out of the ordinary. Both Lewis and Britton were considered pound-for-pound stars in their day, and over the course of their rivalry, they often exchanged the welterweight championship title between them. The absence of firm records, and the nature of boxing as a somewhat-illegal sport in the early 1900s, makes it difficult to determine who had the edge in the rivalry, but some sources credit Britton as having a 9-7-4 supremacy over Lewis. Britton also won his final bout with Lewis in 1921, though he lost his title a year later to another welterweight boxer, Mickey Walker.
6. Arturo Gatti vs Micky Ward
The rivalry between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward is one of the many unforgettable matchups in boxing, but this competition is known for the great friendship between the two boxers who participated in it rather than animosity. Both Gatti and Ward were known for the heart and soul of their boxing, going to great lengths to win and leaving it all in the ring. The two fighters met three times in the ring for a total of 30 rounds, and their bouts are remembered for their incredible power and excitement. In their first-ever matchup, both Gatti and Ward walked away bloody, with their blows cutting deeply over the course of ten rounds. Ward earned the victory in the match by a split decision, with Gatti losing out because of a crucial illegal low blow he landed in the fourth round. Gatti went on to get his revenge by beating Ward twice in the final two bouts of Ward's career, but rather than ending their rivalry on a sour note, the two fighters went on to cement their friendship, as Gatti hired Ward to be his trainer for the final fight of his own career.
7. Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera
A rivalry that emerged at the turn of the 21st Century, Morales vs. Barrera was a feud that captured the hearts of fans across the country of Mexico, from which both men hailed. Between 2000 and 2004, Morales and Barrera met three times, first in February of 2000, with Morales winning an all-out war of a match by split decision to become both the WBC and WBO super bantamweight champion. However, vengeance came for Barrera in their next matchup, which he won by unanimous decision in 2002, earning the WBC featherweight title. The two fighters engaged in a rubber match in 2004, with Barrera winning yet again by majority decision and thus becoming the WBC Super Featherweight champion. In the years that followed their explosive, nonstop rivalry, both Barrera and Morales were overshadowed by the rise of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry, which quickly took center stage in the boxing world. However, both Barrera and Morales are well-remembered as being part of a rivalry that brought the love of boxing in Mexico to the forefront of international boxing.
8. Tony Zale vs Rocky Graziano
Another dynamic rivalry from the 1940s, the feud between Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano, was memorable for the unyielding stamina and endurance of its two fighters. An Indiana-born boxer who gained fame in Chicago, Tony Zale was known to fans as "the Man of Steel." Graziano, a young brawler from the Eastside of New York City, was simply called "the Rock." For most of the 1940s, Tony Zale had enjoyed a long reign as middleweight champion, and he maintained his title when he first met Graziano in the ring in 1946, knocking him out in the sixth round. However, the action-packed nature of this first bout promised a rematch, which occurred the following year, in 1947. In that fight, after being floored in the third round, Graziano astonishingly got up to fight on, forcing a stoppage in Round 6 after he hit Zale with 30 unanswered punches to win the middleweight title. Zale, undeterred, fought Graziano a third time in 1948, winning his title back with a third-round knockout. However, only three months later, all hope of the rivalry resuming ended when Zale lost his title again, this time to Marcel Cerdan, who forced Zale to quit on his stool in Round 11 of their matchup. This was Zale's last-ever boxing match.
9. Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield
Undoubtedly one of the most savage boxing rivalries, the brutal feud between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield was a modern struggle that saw absolute carnage in the ring. The two fighters first met long before their professional bouts, in preparation for the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California. Holyfield was accepted into the games and would go on to win a bronze medal, while Tyson was not selected. Both fighters, however, became professional heavyweight champions in the 1990s. Near the end of that decade, Tyson and Holyfield met in two exciting but gruesome matches, the second of which is infamous in the boxing world.
The two brawlers first met in 1996, with Holyfield defeating Tyson in an 11-round upset to win the WBA heavyweight crown. Only six months later, their second matchup became infamously known as "the Bite Fight." During the match, Tyson suffered a cut above his right eye, after which he infamously went in close and bit off a chunk of Holyfield's left ear. Holyfield was allowed to continue despite his bleeding, and Tyson was deducted two points. However, soon afterward, a desperate Tyson bit Holyfield's other ear and was disqualified from the match. Though an in-ring scuffle broke out while Holyfield was taken to the hospital, the two fighters eventually settled their disagreements after retiring. However, the memory of their infamous fight lives on.
10. Sam Langford vs Harry Wills
Another great rivalry of the early 1900s, the long competition between Sam Langford and Harry Wills, went on even longer than the infamous streak of Ted Lewis and Jack Britton. Overall, Langford and Wills faced each other a total of 22 times. Wills, in particular, was a great boxer and is often referred to as one of the finest heavyweights to never earn a chance at the national title, as the existence of segregation in the United States forced him to chase what was known as "The World Colored Heavyweight Championship." Nonetheless, Wills found a great opponent in Sam Langford, who fought for the same title, and many of their 22 bouts ended with no decision. At the end of their historic and staggering rivalry, Wills had six wins, Langford had two, and an astonishing 14 of their fights ended in no decision, proving just how competitive both fighters truly were.
What is the greatest boxing rivalry in history?
The greatest boxing rivalry in history is the rivalry that existed between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Both young, powerful heavyweights of the Vietnam Era, Ali and Frazier had a contentious relationship that stemmed from Ali's loss of his boxing license for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. When they finally met in the ring, the two fighters dazzled fans with three massive bouts, which ended in the infamous 1975 "Thrilla' in Manila," which is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxing matches of all time.
What is the oldest boxing rivalry?
One of the oldest boxing rivalries is between Ted Lewis and Jack Britton. Extending from 1915-1921, the rivalry comprised an astonishing 20 matches, many more than was usual even in those days. The two fighters exchanged the welterweight championship title between them all throughout their storied rivalry. Britton won his final bout with Lewis in 1921.
What is the biggest heavyweight boxing rivalry of all time?
The rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier is typically labeled as the biggest heavyweight rivalry of all time. The long feud between these two boxers has remained a source of memory and legend for many decades after their retirements. Additionally, the rocky friendship and animosity between them have led to a number of books and memoirs over the years. Another boxing rivalry that could be considered the biggest heavyweight rivalry of all time is the feud between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, which was notable for its savagery, including the infamous "Bite Fight" where Tyson bit pieces out of both of Holyfield's ears.