How Great Was Donny Lalonde?

By James Slater - 03/12/2024 - Comments

In terms of fistic nicknames that are all things ‘Golden,’ Art Aragon might have been the first boxer to have been bestowed with the nickname, “Golden Boy.” Later, and most famously, came Oscar De La Hoya; who was not only Golden in the ring, but also launched a monstrously successful promotional company that goes by the same name. And there have been other fighters to have either taken, or been handed, the golden monicker.

But it could be that Canadian star, Donny Lalonde – who won a world title at light heavyweight, and who also fought at cruiserweight – is the man who is most quickly thought of when then the nickname comes up.

Lalonde, who today celebrates his 64th birthday, was born in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. And Lalonde punched out some impressive ring career.

A fine amateur boxer, the physicality blessed Lalonde had only an 11-4 unpaid career. It’s said (and documented) that the success Lalonde had when sparring the legendary Thomas Hearns persuaded Donny to go pro. And this he did, in 1980. Handsome, athletic, and hungry, Lalonde went pro in Winnipeg, and he romped to a straight four wins. Before he was set back, temporarily, by Wilbert Johnson, who decisioned him over six rounds.

The return fight saw Lalonde win inside two rounds. And the revenge win over “Vampire” saw the 21 year old go on to win his next 14 fights. Another temporary road-bump came in the form of a stoppage loss to Willie Edwards, this in 1985. But after that, Lalonde went on a big win streak, with him winning a dozen on the bounce; included here, wins over Mustafa Hamsho, Eddie Davies – this win seeing Lalonde win the WBC light heavyweight title – and Leslie Stewart.

Lalonde, a genuine star, a good-looker, and a fighter against child abuse, then fought legend Sugar Ray Leonard in a genuine super fight. But Sugar, coming back (again) insisted the fight with Lalonde be contested at 168 pounds; this despite the fact that Donny held the 175 pound belt Leonard wanted. The newly minted super middleweight belt was also on the line in the fight that went down in Vegas, and Leonard, after rising from a fourth round knockdown, won via violent ninth round KO. Bob Dylan, a Lalonde supporter, sat at ringside.

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Lalonde had come thisclose to touching real and absolute gold. But Sugar had had his way. Lalonde recalled the ’88 super fight with Leonard when speaking with this writer:

“As a matter of fact, (trainer/turned commentator) Gil Clancy told me, that if I fought Ray at 175, I’d beat him every time,” Donny told me some years back. “But Gil said that, at 168, Ray beats me. Having said that, I did feel strong at 167 pounds, which I came in at. Ray told me afterwards that, every time I hit him it hurt him. So, yeah, at 175, the fight could have been a whole different story.”

It could have indeed. But Lalonde never got a return go at Sugar, with him instead going up to cruiserweight, where he lost a decision to Bobby Czyz, this in 1992. There was some talk around this time (or thereabouts) of Lalonde fighting an ageing Tommy Hearns, but Lalonde instead signed off courtesy of an honourable effort against Virgil Hill, this in March of 2003, with Donny losing a decision.

In all, only two men stopped Lalonde. Donny added a whole lot of glamour, thrill, excitement – and, yes, gold – to his sport. Lalonde was a very good light heavyweight, and he always gave his all, no matter who he was sharing a ring with.

Today, the ever-youthful Lalonde turns 64!