Written by Tré Berry III | 09/25/2019
(Excerpt from Marvin Hagler Career Piece)
On this date, April 6th, 1987 – undoubtedly the two greatest fighters of the 80’s would come together to deliver us a classic that still gets talked about, and argued to this day. After years, upon years of speculation, retirements, taunts, and dangling the carrot in front of the mule, legendary Hall-of-Famer Sugar Ray Leonard decided to come back after being 3 years removed from the ring due to complications of his eye injury to take on the daunting task of fighting legendary longtime Middleweight World Champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Ray had analyzed Hagler while he was sitting ringside at Hagler’s fight with John Mugabi and noted that Hagler was beginning to slow down a bit, so considering the circumstances, with Hagler’s invincibility starting to fade a little bit, and with Ray’s inactivity, he decided that the time was right to fight the man known as Marvelous.
There was a lot riding on the table for this one, with Hagler’s LINEAL claims, his RING/WBC Middleweight Titles up for grabs, and with bragging rights of the greatest fighter of the 1980’s added to the pot for the winner of this mega match-up.
The WBA Middleweight title was stripped from Hagler for bypassing his assignment with Herol Graham to fight Leonard, and the IBF decided not to sanction this fight, but all in all, we knew that this coming match-up had historical & Undisputed implications attached to it, regardless of what hardware was being defended. Who would prevail? the answers came on this very day, but some questions followed this pivotal, era-defining bout.
SOME LOST PERSPECTIVE – As the opening bell rang, Hagler decided to start the fight right-handed and did so for the first couple of rounds. Many people, frustrated with this tactic would often ask “Why did he do that?” the simple answer is that Hagler typically did it most of his fights to get a gauge of his opponents tactics before he turns around in stances to take advantage of the info he picked up. That seems to have been lost in translation throughout the years in the realm of logic…but the real reason why people raised their eyebrows to that in the first place was that this was the very first time in Hagler’s career that it didn’t result as an effective move, or gave him any advantages, as Ray Leonard came out sharp, peppering the jab and using the big “21×21” foot ring that he successfully negotiated for, using his superior footwork and keeping Marvin Hagler out of arms length.
Hagler would look to find ways to get closer to Ray after a methodical start, slide stepping and jabbing his way in until he found his comfortable range around the 4th round, and that’s where the mega-fight really began to take off and turn into the classic that it ended up being.
Hagler would finally get in close, and as the Sugar man was focused on trying to land flurries inside, Hagler caught him with a short right uppercut while Ray was leaning in during the end of the 5th round and wobbled the legs of Leonard, and Hagler made his presence be known down the stretch while Ray’s back touched the ropes. It was after this round where you got the feeling that the real fight had just started.
After jumping out to a lead early, Ray started to look very vulnerable, as Hagler was starting to zone up and get the jump on Ray’s timing, and began landing heavy leather on Leonard with lumbering uppercuts upstairs, also with hooks both to the head and to the body. Though Ray’s legs were getting a little choppy at that point from the effects of those punches, he continued to fire away, trying to maintain control of the fight, but getting increasingly more difficult to do so in holding his positioning as Hagler started rallying on.
The eighth round was much more the same for Hagler, with him slide-stepping to cut the ring off better than he had started off the fight doing, and tacking on the points while Ray was searching for something to exploit. The 9th round was the stuff of legends, and brought out the best of both Ray and Marvin, as they dug down in spots where they really needed to showcase their intestinal fortitude to stay afloat.
FORTITUDE & THE STUFF OF LEGENDS – In the middle of the round, Hagler landed a couple of thudding body shots that took the mobility of Ray’s legs away, then caught Leonard with a beautiful short left cross on the chin that rocked Leonard, and made him stagger back to the ropes.
Marvin continued to fire away, carefully placing some bombs and flicking out the power jab to keep Ray on the ropes, who appeared to be in big trouble at this point, when all of a sudden, Ray explodes and fired multiple flurry combinations n a gutsy display of epic proportion to get off the ropes, fighting fire with fire and entering the lions den. Marvin continued to land big, while Leonard fought fantastic in spurts, and as the 9th round concluded, Ray looked dead tired going back to his corner, giving all that he had in the moment.
Leonard to the surprise of many got his second wind, and authored up strong outings in the 10th and 11th rounds, the confidence of Leonard grew, as well as the confidence in legendary Head-Trainer Angelo Dundee, and a swell of support swept over the crowd towards Leonard for what he had provided up to this point.
With the historic match about to enter the 12th and final round, the consensus feeling was that this fight was hanging in the balance, and whoever pulled out this stanza may possibly win the fight. Early in the 12th, Marvin landed some heavy shots, while Ray was looking to counter and pick away at spots. Hagler in the middle of the round worked Ray to the ropes and wailed away at his body, and Ray in a fit of guts returned fire with both simultaneously firing off roughly 10-punch combinations to the body for each, sending the crowd into a fit of pure unfettered euphoria.
For the next minute, Ray circled the entire ring without throwing of anything, looking in his corner for instruction, while Hagler kept calling him forward to fight, but Ray wouldn’t bite. By this time, the Ray contingent in the crowd reached a feverish pitch, screaming “Sugar Ray! Sugar Ray! Sugar Ray!”…you got the sense, and rightfully so that the final verdict for Leonard’s sake didn’t matter anymore, as he had put up a historic effort, and doing so while being 3 years out of the ring, which was an unprecedented feat in and of itself.
Ray clowned towards the final bell, while Hagler did the same, and boom, just like that, we had 12 rounds in the books. Angelo Dundee was jubilant about his fighters performance while Ray celebrated with the crowd, and Hagler was very happy about his performance, doing a jitterbug dance while greeting his people center ring. I felt this was one of the hardest fights in boxing history to score, yet every time I revisit it, I come back with the score of 114-114, a draw. The scorecards were read, and 2 Official Judges actually watched the fight, as there were 2 scores of 115-113, one for Marvin Hagler and one for Ray Leonard…however Judge Jose Juan Guerra’s scorecard was pure garbage, as he scored it 118-110 for Leonard. That card proved to be the difference of what was a draw’ish type fight, and Sugar Ray Leonard became the new LINEAL/WBC Middleweight Champion of the World.
The crowd erupted at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, rejoicing at Sugar Ray’s monumental achievement. Hagler was visibly disgusted at the verdict afterwards, citing a robbery, and in utter disbelief during his brief post-fight interview.
Hagler was adamant that he did enough work in the fight and pressed the action, as well as doing the bulk of the damage. When prompted via question if he would ever return to the ring to fight Leonard again, or to return period, he didn’t give a straight answer, and said that he had to think it over. Unfortunately…this was the final time that Marvelous Marvin Hagler would ever stepped inside of a boxing ring as a fighter. The Hall-of-Fame would await his arrival.