British boxing writer Colin Hart has been around the sport for decades, and he has sat at ringside at some of the biggest fights in history – Muhammad Ali-George Foreman, many of the fights fought by The Four Kings, and many, many more. Yet when it comes to who pulled off the biggest and greatest fighting achievement of the 20th century, Hart points firmly to one man: Sugar Ray Leonard.
Writing in his regular column for ‘The Sun,‘ Hart says Leonard’s upset win over Marvin Hagler in April of 1987 deserves the honor of greatest boxing achievement of the century. Not only that, but Hart says what Sugar Ray did in upsetting Hagler “surpassed anything Muhammad Ali ever did.”
Now that’s quite a bold statement.
Ali of course pulled off a number of miracles during his ring career: his wins over Sonny Liston and George Foreman at the very top of the pile. Ali was given next to no chance in either fight, yet “The Greatest” shocked the world. Leonard did the same against Hagler, yet to this day you will have no trouble finding many a passionate fight fan willing to argue with you all day in an effort to convince you Hagler actually won the ’87 Super-Fight.
Ali of course stopped Foreman in The Rumble In The Jungle, his eighth-round KO win leaving no doubt. Hart, though, recalls how people feared for Leonard’s health, along with his sanity, ahead of the Hagler fight.
“Almost to a man the boxing world believed Leonard had taken leave of his senses and expressed their horror after he announced he wanted to challenge Hagler,” Hart writes. “Their genuine fear for his health and safety was understandable. Sugar Ray, forced to retire after retina surgery, had fought just once in five years. Yet the former world welterweight champion wanted to move up to take on Hagler, arguably the greatest of all world middleweight champions who had been unbeaten for 11 years with 12 title defences behind him.”
Hart, who was at ringside for the fight in Las Vegas, writes how “I could feel the unbearable tension emanating from the 15,000 crowd as they waited for the opening bell.” And of course, fans in attendance witnessed a masterful display of cunning, boxing skill and nerve from Leonard. It was indeed a stunning victory, if a controversial one (that split decision awarded to Leonard is arguably THE most debated, argued about, screamed about decision in all of boxing!)
But Leonard, as great as his win was, as great as his achievement was, fought a past his best Hagler, a somewhat worn out warrior. Indeed, Sugar Ray had bided his time before deciding it was time to fight Marvin. Ali, on the other hand, faced a primed and peaking (and utterly terrifying) Foreman. If people feared for Leonard’s health ahead of the Hagler fight, they feared for Ali’s very life ahead of the Foreman fight. Yet Ali, showing even more cunning, boxing skill and nerve than Leonard would show some 13 years later, took out a genuine monster of a heavyweight who would never again be stopped in over 30 future fights.
Both Ali and Leonard are recognised as truly special, once-in-a-lifetime fighters. But Ali stands alone as THE greatest fighter not only of the 20th century, but of all time. Or maybe you agree with Hart?