Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar De La Hoya; Great and All-Time Great

Sugar Ray LeonardBy Michael Herron (M.I.C.): Since winning gold in the 92 Olympics, Oscar De La Hoya has continually been compared to Hall of Famer Sugar Ray Leonard. Like Leonard, Oscar emerged from the Olympics with the promise of success and the weight of the boxing world on his shoulders. After turning professional, they both lived up to the promise by becoming multi-division champions. In addition, their charisma and talent, coupled with their willingness to fight the best of their era, attracted massive interest in the sport. In terms of fame, glamour, and financial success, Oscar has equaled and even surpassed Leonard; but in terms of establishing a winning legacy, he doesn’t quite measure up.

Leonard and De La Hoya’s careers are more alike than initially perceived. They both have fought similar opponents and taken on similar challenges. This analysis will parallel these challenges and analyze how each fared when the pressure was up and the stakes were high.

Leonard vs. Duran; De La Hoya vs. Mosley: Both Roberto Duran and Sugar Shane Mosley were moving up from lightweight to challenge the welterweight champion. Both fights were sensational brawls were Leonard and Oscar came up short. In the rematches however, Leonard humiliates Duran forcing him to declare "No Mas" but Oscar, though fighting valiantly, loses to Mosley again.

Leonard vs. Benitez; De La Hoya vs. Whitaker: Leonard challenged welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez, the best defensive fighter of his era. He eventually solves his defense and stops him in the final round. Oscar fought the best defensive fighter of his era, welterweight champion Pernell Whitaker. He struggles for the majority of the fight, not quite able to penetrate Whitaker’s defense; but wins a highly disputed decision that many still debate to this day.

Leonard vs. Kalule; De La Hoya vs. Quartey: Leonard and De La Hoya each faced strong opposition in Ayub Kalule and Ike Quartey. Both Kalule and Quartey are tough, African born southpaws with good stamina, exceptional strength and technique, and each is known for their excellent jab. Leonard in his debut at junior middleweight defeated Kalule by 9th round stoppage becoming the new champion. De La Hoya and Quartey waged a fierce battle that saw Oscar outlast Quartey for a split decision victory. Though an exciting fight, it ended in controversy with many believing that Quartey had done enough to get the nod.

Leonard vs. Hearns; De La Hoya vs. Trinidad: Leonard and Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns wage war in what is considered one of the greatest welterweight fights of all time. They both control the action at different times but Hearns has the clear advantage. Leonard, with one eye swollen shut, shows amazing heart and determination, stopping Hearns in the 14th round. De La Hoya vs. Felix “Tito” Trinidad is billed as the fight of the century, the clash that would ultimately rival Leonard vs. Hearns, but it fails miserably. Oscar boxes cautiously against Tito controlling the pace, but instead of dropping the hammer like Leonard does, he retreated in the final rounds and loss the decision. This contest marks the beginning of inquiries regarding Oscar’s stamina and ability to close fights.

Leonard vs. Hagler; De La Hoya vs. Hopkins: Leonard vs. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler is an amazing contest and one of the best fights of the decade. Leonard, coming out of a 3 year retirement, moves up to middleweight to challenge one of the baddest men in boxing. The fight itself is a sensational match of boxer vs. brawler. Leonard beats Hagler to the punch, uses excellent defense, establishes effective ring generalship, and when forced, stands and trades with Hagler. He wins an exciting and well deserved split decision. De La Hoya, in a similar contest, moves up in weight to challenge the long-time middleweight king Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins. This fight was to be a reimaging of Leonard’s historic achievement vs. Hagler. After many uneventful exchanges, however, De La Hoya suffers his first knockout loss via body shot during the ninth round of a lackluster affair.

Leonard vs. Lalonde; De La Hoya vs. Sturm: Nearing the end of his career, Leonard entered the newly formed super-middleweight division to challenge Light Heavyweight title-holder Donny Lalonde. Ray is knocked down and busted up in the fight; but once again he shows tremendous heart, finds a way to overpower his larger foe, and KOs Lalonde claiming his title. De La Hoya faced a similar challenge when he opted to test the waters at middleweight. He chose to face the lightly regarded WBO middleweight champion Felix Sturm. Oscar is seemingly defeated in convincing fashion, but is given a unanimous decision that many agree was undeserved. Politics and rumors suggest that the verdict was rendered in order to protect a pre-scheduled mega-fight between De La Hoya and Hopkins.

Leonard vs. Norris; De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, Jr.: Leonard, at the final stage of his career, wanted to challenge himself and face “Terrible” Terry Norris, one of the best pound for pound fighters of the new era. The chance to defeat a top tier opponent from the new era would further enhance his legacy. Unfortunately, he was not able to turn back the clock and he was beaten badly by the younger Norris; but like a true champion, he endured 12 rounds on heart alone. This fight signaled the end of an amazing career for Sugar Ray Leonard.

De La Hoya encountered the same circumstances when he challenged Floyd Mayweather, Jr. With this fight, De La Hoya had a chance to accomplish something Leonard could not; and that is knock a younger, faster, stronger, top pound for pound fighter off his perch. The event was among the most watched and highest grossing in boxing history. To his dismay, De La Hoya, like Leonard before him, was out-boxed, out-maneuvered, and ultimately failed against the younger champion.

Leonard vs. Camacho; De La Hoya vs. Forbes: Ironically, there is even a parallel to be drawn between Leonard vs. Camacho and the upcoming De La Hoya vs. Forbes contest. As former lightweight champions, Stevie Forbes and Hector Camacho are considered low-risk tune-ups for the two boxing icons. Leonard, clearly pass his prime and inactive for several years, suffered the worse and perhaps the most embarrassing defeat of his career. Fortunately, it has not damaged his legacy. Incredibly, De La Hoya will be faced with the same situation when he fights Forbes! Though not as far pass his prime as Leonard when facing Camacho, De La Hoya would be wise to not take Forbes lightly; a loss in a fight of this magnitude could be the most embarrassing defeat of his career as well.

In comparing these two legends, it is clear that Sugar Ray Leonard’s overall achievements and victories in the ring have secured him the coveted “All-Time Great” status. When the stage was set, the lights were bright, and the stakes were high, he delivered triumphantly until the bitter end. De La Hoya, to his credit, chose to traverse the same path. His failures on the biggest stage, however, have held him back incessantly. For now, he is a “great” fighter with “all-time great” ambition.

In spite of this, where Leonard failed, Oscar can still succeed. De La Hoya has engineered another opportunity to extend his career. If he is successful he can do what Leonard did not; defeat his tune-up and secure a rematch with his young nemesis. If De La Hoya is able to get by Forbes and face Floyd Mayweather, Jr. again, maybe he will finally get that “all-time great” victory that has eluded him his entire career. For Oscar, that would be “great!”

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Article posted on 15.03.2008

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