Nineteen Years Ago Today - "Terrible" Terry Norris Dominates "Sugar" Ray Leonard

Norrisby James Slater - Exactly nineteen long years ago this very day, all-time great "Sugar" Ray Leonard suffered the fate of losing in what was his Madison Square Garden debut. Pushing his luck by, A: fighting on at the relatively advanced age of 33, and by B: dropping back down to as low a weight as 154-pounds for the first time in well over six years, Leonard met the much younger "Terrible" Terry Norris, in a WBC light-middleweight title challenge.

Norris, who was a full decade the younger man, was seen by some as a new star of boxing; the man who could maybe even take over from Leonard as the megastar of the lower weight classes. Coming into the February 9th, 1991 fight off the back of five straight victories, including the sensational 1st-round destruction of John "The Beast" Mugabi he'd scored to win his crown, Norris was still only a slight favourite to beat Leonard. Perhaps the reason for this was the fact that Norris, in an earlier 154-pound title challenge, this one for the WBA belt, had been blown away inside two-rounds by Julian Jackson. Leonard may not have been as lethal a one-punch killer as was "The Hawk," but he was a hard hitter nonetheless, and he was so much more experienced than Norris - to say nothing of "Sugar's" undeniable greatness. It was with all this on his mind that the 26-3 Norris entered the ring in New York to face the 36-1-1 living legend..

To the surprise to a good number of fans and even experts, Norris all but dominated Leonard from the opening bell. Shocking "The Sugarman" in the 2nd-round, and again in the 7th-round with hurtful knockdowns (even following up and belting Ray while he was down on the occasion of one of the knockdowns), Norris succeeded in busting Leonard's lip, having him on the brink of a stoppage loss and painfully reminding him how dangerous it can be for any fighter, no matter how great, to stick around in "Dodge City" - as Ray's then trainer Pepe Correa called it - for too long.

In front of a pretty poor live gate (Madison Square Garden was no way close to full for Sugar Ray's debut there unfortunately), the new stud gave the old master a pretty sad-to-watch beating. But then, as legendary British commentary Harry Carpenter said as he was calling the fight for BBC, it was hard to feel too sorry for Leonard because of the courage he was showing in there. Indeed, though his reflexes were faded, and though his punch resistance was too, the five-weight world champion's raw courage was as evident as ever.

Even managing to win a few rounds on the cards, Leonard somehow made it through to the 12th and final round; managing to navigate the danger this last three minutes posed him also. At the end it was nowhere near close on any of the three cards - with one judge scoring for Norris by a whopping margin of 120-104 - but Leonard had at least avoided the ignominy of being KO'd or stopped for what would have been the first time in his long and illustrious career. Norris, a gracious winner, had defended his WBC belt for the second time.

Afterwards, speaking to those fans in attendance who had bothered to turn up, Leonard thanked his supporters and told them this would be his last fight. Sadly, as we all know, it wasn't. Though he had refused to be KO'd or stopped against Norris - who never actually went on to become the huge star some judges felt he would maybe do - Leonard unwisely made the decision to try his luck one more time; against the relatively light-punching Hector Camacho, in March of 1997; some six years after the loss to Norris.

On this occasion, showing us once and for all how little Leonard had left, "Macho" finished the job Norris had pretty much already accomplished, and ended the career of the former Olympic medallist - stopping Ray in the 5th-round in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Leonard, who is in much better shape than is the reportedly almost unintelligible Norris, jokes today of how he bought up the rights to both his final ring appearances, so as to prevent anyone from ever viewing them again. As intelligent and smart a guy as he is, Leonard should never have had the fights with Norris and Camacho in the first place! Despite losing his last two outings, however, Leonard's place in boxing history is secure. So too is Norris' - although not quite as exalted. Wins over Don Curry, Meldrick Taylor and Simon Brown followed for Norris, but it could be argued how the win that took place nineteen years ago today was his finest hour.

"Terrible," overall a three-time 154-pound titlist, fought until late 1998, retiring with a 47-9(31) record.

Article posted on 10.02.2010

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