Boxing Triangle Theory

Styles Make Fights

    The triangle theory is based on the famous boxing axiom that styles make fights. In other words, boxer B may have a better record than boxer A, but if boxer A’s style is difficult for boxer B, then boxer A may win the fight. This can result in a triangle in which boxer A defeats boxer B, boxer B beats boxer C but boxer C defeats boxer A. This theory is articulated in the movie “Rocky,” in which heavyweight champion Apollo Creed wants to fight the unknown Rocky Balboa. Creed’s trainer advises against the fight because he believes that a tough left-handed fighter such as Rocky may be difficult for Creed to defeat, even though Creed seems more skilled.


    One of boxing’s best known triangles of the 21st century began when Miguel Cotto fought tactically to gain a close decision against Shane Mosley in a welterweight title fight in 2007. Antonio Margarito then gained the welterweight crown by scoring an 11-round TKO over Cotto in 2008, as Margarito’s aggressive, relentless style wore Cotto down. Mosley was understandably an underdog when he faced Margarito in 2009, but Mosley used his speed to take charge early and eventually knock Margarito out in the ninth round. In 2011, Cotto bent the triangle a bit when he defeated Margarito in a rematch.


    You’ll find some other notable cases in which boxing’s triangle theory is generally supported. For example, Muhammad Ali knocked out George Foreman in eight rounds to win the world heavyweight championship in 1974. Foreman battered Joe Frazier twice, knocking Frazier out in two rounds in 1973 and in five rounds in 1976. By straightforward logic, Ali should have defeated Frazier easily. On the contrary, the classic three-fight Ali-Frazier series included three close fights, beginning with Frazier outscoring Ali in a 15-round classic in 1971. Ali won a 12-round decision in 1974 and then a 14-round TKO in 1975.

Counter Argument

    Probably the best argument against the triangle theory is the small sample size, as a single bout may not be representative of two boxer’s skills. In the Ali-Frazier-Foreman triangle, it’s safe to assert that Ali and Frazier were fairly evenly matched, as all three fights were close. It’s also plain that Foreman was superior to Frazier because he KO’d “Smokin’ Joe” early both times. But it’s less clear that Ali was superior to Foreman in the 1970s, when Foreman was in his prime. Ali used his now-famous “rope-a-dope” strategy, in which he fought defensively and allowed Foreman to wear himself out throwing punches at Ali’s protective shell. Ali then counterattacked a fatigued Foreman to score the KO. It’s unknown whether Ali could’ve repeated the triumph a second time.

About the Author

M.L. Rose has worked as a print and online journalist for more than 20 years. He has contributed to a variety of national and local publications, specializing in sports writing. Rose holds a B.A. in communications.