As we get ready for the Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber trilogy at UFC 199, let's think about some of the other fighters who have paved the way for The Trilogy.
Fighting is about winning the war, not necessarily the battle. Legacies are about endurance and longevity, not flashes of greatness. So it's something special when two people fight one time. Two times is amazing. And three times is epic.
There's a reason why we have a world series and an NBA Championship. Someone might be able to win one game against the Golden State Warriors, but win the series? Good luck. We don't know what you are made of until the clock is ticking and the end is near.
In MMA and boxing it's the championship rounds or the willingness to step inside the cage/ring against someone who knocked you out the last time you fought. Can one fighter prove he's better by simply saying, "I don't care if you beat me; I am going to fight you again and again and again until I beat you." And most of the time the guy who lost the first fight figures out a way to win the rematch, or in these cases, the trilogies.
This weekend we will see Cruz vs. Faber III, in a rematch that is fueled by major bad blood. Faber won the first fight in the WEC by guillotine choke. Cruz won the rematch by unanimous decision. Now the two will settle the score and, like last time, it is for the UFC bantamweight championship. Faber has a pattern of choking in big fights, but wants to prove that he is an A-Lister against the champ. Cruz, though, is out to prove he is the GOAT. His only loss was to Faber.
Let's look at some cage and ring warriors who have fought for it all, THREE TIMES, against the same opponent.
8. Arturo Gatti vs. Mickey Ward (Gatti 2-1)
These three fights are so amazing, you'd almost think they were taking place on a Hollywood set. People just don't fight like that for real.
Gatti vs. Ward is a full-on, mutual assault, where two guys displayed skill, conditioning and heart. These two left it all inside the ring and when it was all said and done, three fights later, they were never the same.
Listen to Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley call this amazing first fight and you'll know why they had to fight three times.
7. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture (Liddell 2-1)
The UFC can thank Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture for helping to lift the sport into the mainstream. It took guys like them to lay it all on the line so that the masses could take an interest.
The bottom line is that the mainstream public back in the early 2000s didn't understand MMA. They weren't thrilled with fights that went to the ground. But throw Liddell and Couture in the cage against each other and you have mayhem and fisticuffs.
Couture was supposed to walk right through Liddell in the first fight, but that didn't happen. Liddell walked into a right hand and Couture knocked him out, giving the UFC and MMA the first of three fights that became sports-bar classics.
Liddell evened the score and then some in the next two fights, but the two became the equivalent of Hulk Hogan and Randy Macho Man Savage when the fights were over. Their names were synonymous with the UFC and MMA. More than a decade later, a retired Liddell still wants to fight Jon Jones and Couture went on to fight Brock Lesnar in one of MMA's biggest and most important fights ever. Trilogies turn stars into legends.
6. Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz (Ortiz 3-0)
Don't remember Ken Shamrock as the guy who couldn't beat Kimbo Slice. Let's remember Shamrock as "The World's Most Dangerous Man" who waged war in the 1990s and beyond, as one of the UFC's first pioneers. And Tito Ortiz, well, he's still fighting for Bellator, even though his best days are behind him.
When you talk about feuds and guys hating each other's guts, this fight is right there at the top of the list. Ortiz and Shamrock may have been a tougher, manlier version of Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier. No one here threw any shoes. These guys just wanted to taste each other's blood.
Ortiz won all three fights by TKO or knockout, but the rivalry was so strong and the fights so intense that it feels like Shamrock won at least one of them. When fighters go at it for three fights, the public rarely remembers who won, they only remember that they fought. Ortiz and Shamrock are MMA gods, warriors of another era, guys who made the sport better for enduring through three classic fights.
5. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran (Leonard 2-1)
Two of the three "Sugar" Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran fights are classics. The third one was merely a moneymaker.
Olympic gold medalist Leonard was the America's golden boy coming out of the 1976 Olympics. He was the undefeated WBC champion when he stepped inside the ring against Panamanian Roberto Duran. Guess what happened? Leonard, meet Randy Couture.
Duran, one of the greatest boxers of all-time, outfought Leonard. He out-hustled him. He punched harder than him. Leonard underestimated him. Duran destroyed the golden boy, took his title and and his manhood in one night. But as true champions do, Leonard came back and boy did he avenge that loss.
In the rematch Leonard made Duran voice the infamous words "no mas," forcing the referee to stop the fight. Was Duran frustrated with Leonard's showboating? Did Duran cut weight too fast and simply gassed out? Did he have diarrhea from weight-cutting attempts and had to go the bathroom, as was also rumored? Leonard won the rematch because Duran quit.
Duran would eventually get it back and be remembered as a legend. Leonard went on to upset the great "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler. And when Leonard and Duran fought a third time, nine years after the first fight, it was nothing more than a showcase of Leonard's boxing skills. At least Duran, however, didn't quit.
4. Evander Holyfied vs. Riddick Bowe (Bowe 2-1)
Riddick Bowe had the unfortunate circumstance of fighting during the same era as Evander Holyfield. Bowe could have been the greatest heavyweight of all time had he stayed in shape and never had to fight Holyfield.
Holyfield was a light heavyweight who moved up to heavyweight to take on the big guys and he made a career out of knocking those bigger guys out. And if he didn't knock you out, he would just fight you for 12 rounds.
Bowe won the undisputed heavyweight championship from Holyfield in the first fight, outboxing and smashing him with big right hands. He won the fight by unanimous decision, but Holyfield impressed so much that a rematch was in order.
Here's why Holyfied will be remembered as the "Real Deal":
3. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier (Ali 2-1)
Two of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought three times, making household names out of both fighters and embedding their names into boxing history.
Ali in 1971 was already a cultural icon. Everyone expected him to take Frazier's title. Both fighters were undefeated at the time, but Frazier had other plans. He won a unanimous decision over Ali in a 15-round classic. Ali could never catch Frazier, who used his smaller stature to bob and weave and stay out of Ali's reach.
Ali complained about the decision, but decided to end the controversy by fighting again. This time Ali was champion after knocking out George Foreman, who had knocked out Frazier. Ali won by decision and in the trilogy, known as the "Thrilla in the Manilla," Ali knocked Frazier out in the 14th round.
2. Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez (Melendez 2-1)
Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson earned each other's respect over three classic fights in Strikeforce. There's a special bond you create with someone when you fight them for 15 MMA rounds. Like Gatti and Ward, these two didn't try to win on points, or dance around to protect a decision victory. Instead they fought hard and battled through when they were hurt.
Melendez lost the title to Thompson, a solid wrestler and kickboxer, in the first fight, but it may have been the best thing that every happened to Melendez. He got better after the fight. He improved his conditioning. He developed his defense. So when the two fought again, it was still a war, but Melendez was in better shape and knew how to avoid unnecessary punishment.
Melendez in fights two and three was the best Melendez MMA has ever seen. The guy who fought Thomson would have knocked out Benson Henderson in the UFC. Melendez won both rematches (the third was really close) and you won't ever hear these two utter a bad word about each other.
1. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva (Silva 2-1)
For Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, the third time is the charm.
There's something special about a guy who gets knocked out twice and still wants to fight the guy who put him on his back. That's what happened to Jackson in two fights in the famed PRIDE Fighting Championship.
Silva in his prime held massive punching power in both hands. He also wasn't much on technique. He fought like a backyard brawl broke out. Jackson was a more refined athlete, with stand-up and wrestling skills.
In the first fight Silva landed a Muay Thai knee and proceeded to knock Jackson out with kicks. Fight No. 2 ended the same way, with Silva kneeing Jackson into darkness, knocking him out cold. But by the time UFC 92 came around, Jackson had figured out the Silva puzzle, avoided the Muay Thai clinch, and landed a left hook to Silva's jaw. Jackson pulled off the victory and the sweetest form of revenge.