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Great Welterweight Rivalries

ONE OF boxing's original eight weight classes, the welterweight division has long provided the sport with many memorable contests. Through the decades the 147-pounders have provided ring fans with countless outstanding performances. In some cases, as you'll see, the division produced thrilling multi-fight rivalries that remain an indelible part of boxing lore.

Jack Britton-Ted (Kid) Lewis

Two men dominated the welterweight division from 1915 to 1922 -- Jack Britton of Boston and Britain's Ted (Kid) Lewis. They fought each other 20 times for a total of 224 rounds and traded the title back and forth four times. The majority of their fights were No Decision bouts. In those during which a verdict was rendered, Britton won four, Lewis won three and there was one draw.

In their first meeting, Aug. 31, 1915, Lewis, whose real name was Gershon Mendeloff, defeated Britton to gain universal recognition of the welterweight title. Lewis made five successful title defenses before Britton regained the title via 20-round decision April 24, 1916 in New Orleans. Britton then made three title defenses (two against Lewis) before Lewis took back the title, again over 20 rounds, June 25, 1917 in Dayton, Ohio. Lewis then held onto the crown for one defense before Britton knocked him out in nine rounds in March 17, 1919 in Canton, Ohio. It was the only one of their title fights that did not last the distance.

They would fight twice more. Later in 1919 they went eight rounds in another No Decision fight and in 1921 Britton closed the series with a 15-round decision.

Barney Ross-Jimmy McLarnin
One of the most celebrated boxing trilogies took place between Hall-of-Famers Barney Ross and Jimmy McLarnin. They battled three times for a total of 45 rounds within one year. Each contest was close. The first two were decided via split decision and the third by a disputed verdict.

In an era that accentuated ethnic rivalries, a considerable amount of attention was paid to this Irish-Jewish rivalry. McLarnin, whose nickname was "The Baby-Faced Assassin," had a string of victories over top Jewish fighters, including Al Singer and Benny Leonard.

Their first meeting took place on May 28, 1934 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Long Island City, N.Y. McLarnin entered the ring as welterweight champ while Ross was the reigning lightweight and junior welterweight titleholder. Each fighter knocked the other down in round nine and Ross won his third title via split decision. The scores for Ross were 13-1-1 and 12-2-1. Meanwhile, the judge who voted for McLarnin had it 9-1-5. Four months later, at the same venue, it was McLarnin who regained the crown with a split decision.

The final meeting took place at the Polo Grounds on May 28, 1935, exactly one year after their first meeting. As in their previous encounters, the battle was fast-paced and Ross was awarded the decision. The referee, former heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey, somehow managed to score seven of the 15 rounds even.

Emile Griffith-Benny Paret
The trilogy between Emile Griffith and Benny Paret was fierce and there was real animus between the two fighters, and unfortunately, it ended in tragedy. In their first meeting -- April 1, 1961 -- Griffith captured the welterweight title with a 13th-round knockout. They met again six months later and this time Paret took back his belt with a narrow split decision.

Paret, from Cuba, failed in a bid to capture the middleweight crown before returning to the 147-pound ranks to meet Griffith a third time. This meeting took place on March 24, 1962 at Madison Square Garden. At the weigh-in Paret made derisive remarks about Griffith and questioned the New Yorker's manhood.

The foes were quite familiar with each other and wasted little time mixing it up. Paret nearly ended the fight in round six, when Griffith was saved by the bell after absorbing a multi-punch combination. Nothing could save Paret from what was about to happen in the 12th round.

Griffith backed Paret into a corner and had him in trouble after landing a series of hooks and uppercuts. Paret was hanging defenseless on the ropes as referee Ruby Goldstein hesitated, allowing Griffith to prolong the attack.

Perhaps part of Goldstein's lack of action was due to the fact that Paret often feigned injury, hoping to catch overanxious opponents on the way in. But this wasn't an act and by the time Goldstein intervened, Paret was slumping to the canvas. Paret never regained consciousness. He lapsed into a coma and died 10 days after the fight.

The Welter Wars

Sugar Ray Robinson W 15 Kid Gavilan - This showdown between future Hall-of-Famers took place July 11, 1948 at Philadelphia's Municipal Stadium. Robinson asserted his dominance over the second half of the bout as Gavilan painfully realized his tenure as champion would have to wait until Robinson left for the middleweight division. Gavilan fought well early in the bout and managed to stagger Robinson in round eight. The championship rounds, though, belonged to Sugar Ray, who captured a unanimous decision.

Carmen Basilio KO 12, Tony DeMarco - This matchup pitted two of the division's best punchers and anticipation clearly lived up to the hype as it was named Fight of the Year for 1955 by Ring magazine. The bout took place on June 10th at Syracuse's War Memorial Auditorium, a fitting venue for a fight of such action. The pace was frenetic and by the eighth round, DeMarco was cut above the left eye and Basilio was bleeding from above both eyes and his upper lip. But it was DeMarco who began to tire first. Basilio scored knockdowns in the 10th and 12th rounds and was awarded the crown when the referee halted the action in the 12th.

Robert Duran W 15 Sugar Ray Leonard - "The Brawl in Montreal" was one of those few fights that transcended boxing. It was a welterweight version of Ali vs. Frazier. The matchup between Leonard, the welterweight champ and Olympic hero, and Duran, the savage lightweight king, captured the imagination of even the most casual sports fan. Leonard played the role of the smooth boxer while Duran carried the reputation as a devastating puncher. They clashed on June 20, 1980 before 46,317 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Duran took control of the action early and drew Leonard into a slugfest. The fighter's often battled toe-to-toe, which clearly benefited the Panamanian challenger. When it ended, Duran won the title with a close (146-144, 145-144 and 148-147) unanimous decision. Leonard wouldn't make the same mistake again. When they met in a rematch later that year, Leonard's slick boxing ability and a comfortable 24-foot ring frustrated Duran into submission. The proud champion uttered the words "No Mas" in round eight.

Leonard TKO 14 Thomas Hearns - Perhaps the glory days of the welterweight division came in the early '80s when the 147-pound ranks included the likes of Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Wilfred Benitez and Pipino Cuevas. The showdown between Leonard (WBC champ) and Hearns (WBA) took place on September 16, 1981 and would determine the first undisputed welterweight king since Jose Napoles. Again, Leonard was matched against a hard-hitting foe and again Leonard opted to brawl. After a slow start, Leonard wobbled Hearns in rounds six and seven and was consumed with scoring a knockout. Meanwhile, Hearns utilized his long left jab and was building a steady lead on the scorecards. In round 13, Leonard fought his way past Hearns' jab and scored a knockdown. The following round, a furious flurry left Hearns draped along the ropes and referee Davey Pearl stopped the contest. The rematch took place eight years and 21 pounds later. Although floored twice, Leonard retained his WBC super middleweight title with a controversial draw against Hearns in 1989.

Pernell Whitaker D 12 Julio Cesar Chavez - This was the fight that would confirm Whitaker's greatness or place Chavez in the elite company of only three other men to have won titles in four divisions. The fight ended in a disappointing draw, but one thing was certain at the conclusion -- Whitaker put on one of the finest boxing exhibitions of his era. The two champions squared off before 57,000 (mostly Mexican) fans on September 10, 1993 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Whitaker was the WBC's welterweight champion while Chavez held the WBC super lightweight crown. The southpaw Whitaker relied on a sharp right jab and quick right-left combinations to score. More telling, though, was the way he sidestepped Chavez' attack. The gifted Whitaker remained an elusive target and played the perfect matador to Chavez' bullish attack. The majority draw was one of the most controversial decisions of the decade. The official scoring was 115-115, 115-115 and 115-113, Whitaker. At least 14 members of the ringside press scored the bout for Whitaker.