Leonard vs. Hagler: The Fight – And Debate Over Who Won – That Never Gets Old

By James Slater - 04/06/2024 - Comments

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada – April 6th 1987.

You know what happened. Today of course marks the anniversary, the 37th anniversary, of the massive, and massively debated, Super Fight: Sugar Ray Leonard Vs. Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Arguably the most argued-over 12 rounds in boxing history. Who really won is a question that was first asked just minutes after Leonard’s hand had been raised courtesy of a 12 round split decision triumph.

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And it will never stop being asked.

Hagler was a huge betting favourite along with being the pick to win in the minds of everyone save for one or two experts who were picking Sugar Ray to somehow pull it off. Hagler was the middleweight king and he was coming off crushing stoppage wins over Thomas Hearns and, last time out, in a punishing affair for both warriors, John Mugabi.

You know the story of how former welterweight king Leonard had attended the Mugabi fight and had told his ringside companion, actor Michael J. Fox, how he knew he could take Hagler. Fox pointed out how the former champ who had not boxed in over two years had downed quite a few beers. But Leonard really believed it, he had the know-how and the tools to defeat Marvelous.

But Leonard’s surgically repaired eye proved to be one huge talking point. Leonard had been forced to retire from the sport due to retinal damage, this seemingly ending any and all possibility of a fight with Hagler (and didn’t Sugar Ray rub it in, inviting Hagler to a big event, the middleweight champ thought to officially announce the fight in 1982, with Leonard instead dropping the bombshell and announcing his retirement).

Now, in the summer of 1986, Leonard was doing the rounds, telling everyone he would fight Hagler and he would beat him. Hagler made Leonard wait a while, but of course Hagler could not refuse the challenge – or the colossal payday. And on the fight was. April of 1987 came around and Hagler, at age 32, was a proud 62-2-2(52). Leonard was two years younger and he was 33-1(24). Leonard has boxed just once in a little over five years.

The fight was great to watch, the flash from Leonard, the constant stoic attack from Hagler. But the defending champ famously came out orthodox, not southpaw, and Leonard was able to bank those early, crucial sessions. Leonard, with his super-fast hands, his showboating, and his tactic of coming on strong at the end of a round, was winning, or stealing, the fight.

Hagler had a strong ninth round and he poured it on as he had Leonard stunned. But Leonard escaped and he came back well in the 10th and the 11th rounds. Leonard, exhausted, gave the final round away by moving but not sticking, with the dogged Hagler still in pursuit. Both men felt they had won at the final bell. It was close on two cards, as it should have been, yet one infamous card had Leonard winning big, as in 118-110 big. This disgraceful card may well have been a key factor in fight fans believing Hagler had been robbed. On that card, for sure, Hagler was so badly mistreated. But this had been one heck of a close fight, and a Leonard win by a 115-113 margin was no disgrace, not all all.

A win for Hagler by the same score was also realistic. But Leonard got the win and Hagler walked away from boxing in disgust, never to return. There was talk of a rematch, but it never happened. Hagler is said to have never again put on boxing gloves. Sadly, Marvelous passed away far too young in March of 2021. Today, 67 year old Leonard is recognised by all as a genuine all-time great. As is Hagler.

Together, these two superstars gave us a fight, and an argument, that will never get old.

So, how did YOU have the fight scored, and have you, unlike the three judges who never had the opportunity/privilege to do so, changed your score-card over the years?

For what it’s worth, I scored the fight recently, and came out with a 6-5-1 win for Leonard. Whoever you think won, you must agree that this one was indeed very, very close.

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