The Evander Holyfield- Riddick Bowe Trilogy

Bowe (right) won a unanimous decision over Holyfield in their first bout in 1992. Al Bello/Getty Images

Look up the word "three" in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations" and you'll find it comes in more varieties than Baskin-Robbins ever thought of -- from "three blind mice" to "Fiddler's three," from "three men in a tub" to "three bags full" and from "three on a match" to "three sheets to the wind."

But nowhere in its thousand or so pages will you find a reference to another "three", those little three-act dramas between two fighters known as "trilogies" -- including those great ones between Ali & Frazier, Zale & Graziano, Ross & McLarnin, Patterson & Johansson, Ali & Norton, et cetera, etc, etc...

To all of the above and many more you can add one of the most exciting trilogies to come down boxing's long road in many years, Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe.

It's hardly carrying blarney off its feet to say that the three times these two had forgathered they treated the boxing world to three of the most two-sided bouts in boxing history, rock-'em-sock-'em fights which were not only throwback fights to some of the great trilogies of yesteryear but also each a "Fight of the Year."

In the first fight, the two battled as if getting hit was a charge against their honor, almost in an if-you-hit-me-again-and-I-find-out-about-it-you're-in-trouble fashion, giving us one of the greatest rounds in boxing history, the tenth. Any efforts at defense had about as much effect as a fig leaf at a nudists' convention. It got so one ringside
observer commented: "If these guys were lawyers they could say, "the defense rests."

Bowe handed Evander his first defeat and won the heavyweight title in that first battle-slash-war, but one week short of a year later, Evander would return the favor, winning back the heavyweight championship and administering the first loss to Bowe in a bout which produced enough ebbs and flows to thrill even the most hardened of boxing fans -- including one of the weirdest happenings in all of boxing history: the unexpected intrusion of the "Fan Man."

Having made each of the previous 24 rounds three-minutes of high drama, the third of their all-out wars surpassed even their first two with each knocking the other down for the first time in their careers.

Together the two etched their names into the record books for having given us one of the greatest "threesomes" of all time. And, in the process earned them a lasting place in boxing history -- if not in Bartlett's.

1. Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier (1971, 1974, 1975)
2. Tony Zale-Rocky Graziano (1946, 1947, 1948)
3. Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield (1992, 1993, 1995)
4. Barney Ross-Jimmy McLarnin (1934, 1934, 1934)
5. Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson (1959, 1960, 1961)
6. Emile Griffith-Benny "Kid" Paret (1961,1961, 1962)

7. Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton (1973, 1973, 1976)
8. Battling Nelson-Joe Gans (1906, 1908, 1908)
9. Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward (2002, 2002, 2003)
10. Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales (2000, 2002, 2004)

Boxing historian Bert Sugar is host of ESPN Classic's "Ringside" and a contributor to ESPN.com.