There are many definitions of a great rivalry. Sometimes the most intense part of it takes place outside the ring. That would have been the case in Ali-Frazier, had not the in-ring drama been unmatchable. In my own definition, I need there to have been at least 3 fights, and at least one win by each combatant. the lightweight division actually has less of these than one might think. Given the fact that only 5 and 7 pounds separate the division from the others around it, it has often been transitional, especially in modern times. Yet, I take from fairly modern eras for two of my three entries. Also, there is no clear winner, which makes this division even more intriguing. Very few men have dominated it for a very long time. Ike Williams, Roberto Duran.. and even they were not untouchable.
Barney Ross vs. Jimmy McLarnin
The first great trilogy in which cultural differences were really seen at the ticket gates. Ross, a Jewish fighter and McLarnin, of Irish descent packed in the Long Island City Madison Square Garden bowl on 3 occasions. Racial differences had sold tickets before, but two white men from the same country might as well have been from different planets, as far as the fans were concerned. Add to that their differing styles. Bruising, brawling, and a bit past his prime, McLarnin actually had no business beating intelligent Ross, but his heart said otherwise. First Ross wrested the title from McLarnin, before McLarnin got the title away in a close rematch. By the time McLarnin had settled the score at 2 fights to 1, millions of dollars had been spent and made. The lightweights were now a real division indeed.
Greg Haugen vs. Vinny Pazienza
The two biggest trash-talkers in the game, and they were fighting each other? Oh, this was too good to be true. In fact, we didn't even know their personalities, until they truly came out against each other. Haugen went unafraid into Pazienza's home territory, and fought Paz on even terms. The decision went Paz's way, leaving Haugen and many others crying robbery. The rematch was a natural, and Haugen left no doubt, winning an easier UD. In the first two fights, both fought at 135lbs, Paz had slugged with Haugen. In the 3rd and final meeting, at 140, he had finally gotten over his Mancini complex, and got on his toes. Although it was closer than the scorecards indicated, and was not the brawl we'd come to expect, the clear win for Pazienza evened the score, and it gave them both something to gloat and complain about for decades.