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Sugar Ray Leonard talks Marvin Hagler fight

Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler boxing photo and news image

By Sean Jones: Sugar Ray Leonard says that people thought he was insane in moving up to middleweight to take on WBC champion ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. Leonard was 32-years-old at the time, and he’d already captured world titles at 147 and 154. Additionally, Leonard had won a gold medal in the 1976 Olympics.

You can argue that Hagler wasn’t in his prime when Leonard fought him. He had been through consecutive hard fights against Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns and John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi at the time he fought Leonard.

Leonard (36-3-1, 25 KOs) hadn’t fought in three years when he came out of retirement to challenge Hagler (62-3-2, 52 KOs) for his WBC 160-pound title on April 6, 1987. Surprisingly, Leonard defeated Hagler by a 12 round split decision and sent him into retirement.

Hagler subsequently moved to Italy, and never fought again. A lot of boxing fans thought Hagler had done enough to deserve the win due to the late surge he put on in the second half of the contest.

Whether you agree with the decision or not, there’s no mistaking that Hagler landed the heavier, more telling punches. Leonard was doing a lot of shoeshine punching in the last 20 to 30 seconds before the end of each round.

In hindsight, it was smart of Leonard to flurry on Hagler near the end of the rounds because it helped him impress the judges. When you take away the flurries, which did very little, Hagler appeared to get the better of Leonard in the much of time.

Sugar Ray needed to be scared

“I saw the Hagler fight in Vegas against John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi,” said Leonard to DAZN when asked what made him take the fight with Hagler. “And I watched that fight at ringside with some friends. I called my friend and business partner. And I said, ‘Mike, I can beat Hagler.’ He said, ‘Ray, are you drinking?’

“I saw something in him, and they thought I was crazy,” said Leonard of Hagler. “At the time, I was losing my ability to trust myself with alcohol and drugs. I was out there big time. And I was really out there. ‘I was asked, ‘Why would you go from Kevin Howard to a fighter that was a beast in Marvin Hagler?’ And I said, ‘I need to be scared’ and that is true.

“I train harder, and I need to be focused. I didn’t think people were to be so sincere. ‘He’s going to kill you.’ Even my brother said, ‘Where’s your tune-up fight?’ ‘Hagler.’ He said, ‘I know you’re fighting Hagler, but who’s you’re tune-up fight?’ I said, ‘Hagler.’

“They didn’t understand that I was afraid of losing, especially guys like the caliber of Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler, and I would have the right mindset. I would train my butt off,” said Leonard.

Going into the fight, Hagler had been out of the ring for 11 months since his grueling battle against John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi in March 1986. Hagler wore down and stopped the hard-hitting Mugabi, but he took a lot of punishment from the heavy-handed fighter.

The inactivity and the grueling nature of Hagler’s battle against Mugabi didn’t help him when he got in there with Leonard. Hagler needed a tune-up far more than Leonard did at the time.

People thought Hagler would destroy Leonard

“What was the difference between the Ray Leonard that fought Kevin Howard and the Leonard that fought Marvin Hagler three years later?” said Chris Mannix.

“Most people thought I would get killed, and rightly so,” said Leonard. “I said, ‘I’m going to prove them wrong.’ So I had this attitude going into the ring, and it worked,” said Leonard.

“When you got in there with him, what did you notice about him right away. You can’t know someone until you get in the ring with them,” said Mannix to Leonard on the Hagler fight. “What did you notice about him about how he was going to fight you right away.”

“I was looking at him, and with the look on his face, I thought, ‘He’s just as nervous as I am,'” said Leonard about his initial perceptions of Hagler at the start of the fight. “The bell rung, and I’m extremely nervous. I didn’t know what I had in the gym is what I needed in the ring. I went, ‘pop.’ The s*** still works.

“In the first couple of rounds, he said, ‘Fight like a man, b***. Fight like a man.’ I said, ‘No, no, no, but take this, pow.’ I remember this so vividly. I remember every single round.

“When he hit me in the fourth or fifth round, he hit me and knocked me back. He didn’t hurt me, and that’s when he threw his punches. Hagler is heavy-handed. He’s really heavy-handed. He’s like a heavyweight,” said Leonard.

After Leonard’s win over Bruce Finch in 1982, he became a part-time fighter. Leonard took two years off and came back to beat Kevin Howard by a ninth-round knockout in May 1984.

Then after that fight, Leonard was out of the ring for three years before coming back to fight Hagler in 1987. Leonard had fought only twice in the last five years of his career going into the Hagler match.

Leonard wanted to give Hagler a rematch

“You said that you would know if you’re losing,” said Mannix. “Hagler, I’m sure, will take to his grave that he thinks he won that fight. The fact that he believes he won that fight. How did you feel after that fight was over, and that final bell rang? How confident were you that you had won?”

“I felt it was close. I said it was close, and it depends on how you score the fight,” said Leonard. “30 seconds before the end of the rounds, I would throw shoeshine, so that’s what the judges would remember last.”

“That was Hagler’s last fight. Was there talk of a rematch and doing that again? How would that conversation look like?” said Mannix.

“They said, ‘Ray didn’t give Hagler a rematch,'” said Leonard. “That’s not true. I gave an offer of a rematch, and I wanted a rematch. He deserved a rematch. It’s just the fact that he went away to Milan, Italy.

“I like Marvin. He’s a great guy and an incredible champion at middleweight. And he’s always giving me props. He’s that kind of a fighter. I’ve never seen Hagler enter a ring and not be in shape. He’s always dominant,” said Leonard.

It’s hard to believe that Leonard made much of an effort in trying to lure Hagler out of retirement. Hagler wanted a rematch with Leonard, and its one that could have been made had Leonard pushed hard for it.

Donny Lalonde hurt Leonard many times

“I fought [Donny] Lalonde, and he just used one hand,” said Leonard. “He’s not a great fighter, but you know what? He’s a big fighter. He hurt me. I’ve never been hurt so many times. He hit me and hurt me, especially on the inside with those uppercuts.

“He was hurting me bad. I was on the brink of being knocked out. I was that close. On the knockdown [in round four], he got me on the temple. My equilibrium was knocked off, but I composed myself. I backed up, and he kept coming towards me.

“Those were the damaging shots I threw upon him. We were both fighting for the 168 pound super middleweight title. He was a big guy, and his people thought he would be just too much for me. But I felt that the whole atmosphere with the hoopla would be too much for his head.

“He handled it well. What he did wrong was, he was trying to get me out of there. He started swinging with punches, and every time he did, I was able to get close and hit to the body. I relinquished that crown the same night. I’m fast and all that stuff, but fighting a big man. He’s going to hurt you,” said Leonard.

Donny Lalonde was a massive guy with a lot of power in his right hand. He never used his left, but his right-hand was second to one at 175. More than anything, Leonard’s decision to move up to light heavyweight to take on Lalonde was a braver move than him going up to 160 to challenge Hagler. Lalonde dropped Leonard hard in round four, and he had him hurt many times from his heavy shots.


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