It’s anniversary time again for THE most argued about fight in all of boxing history: Sugar Ray Leonard WS12 Marvin Hagler. It was 33 years ago today when Leonard pulled off his miracle win (many saying to this day Sugar’s win ranks as the finest boxing comeback of them all). All these years later and has there ever been a more re-watched or re-scored fight?
Fans, millions of them, some with the sound off, have scored the fight for themselves, many times. Who comes out on top for you – Leonard or Hagler? It was a very close fight, that much seems to be agreed by all. But did Hagler do enough to keep his belt, or did Leonard deserve his split decision win?
The unforgettable fight that took place 33 years ago today, arguably the biggest of the round robin of epic super-fights The Fabulous Four – Leonard, Hagler, Thomas Hears and Roberto Duran – lit up the sporting world with in the 1980s, Leonard-Hagler became even bigger after the final bell. And the fight’s legendary status has continued to grow, thanks mostly to the ongoing arguments fans the world over have engaged in over the deserving winner.
Leonard, inactive and having undergone retinal surgery, had never before boxed as a middleweight. Hagler was unbeaten in 11 long years and he was finally getting the fight he had craved, even obsessed with, for around half that time. What’s more, Hagler had recently crushed the man who had given Leonard his toughest (arguably at least) fight. There could be only one winner on the evening of April 6th, 1987, right? Wrong. Stunning the boxing world, 4-1 underdog Leonard boxed a near masterpiece as he frustrated Hagler, made him lunge and miss and generally wormed his way right into the shaven-skulled southpaw’s head.
Again, this is not to say the fight wasn’t close, as it definitely was. But Leonard, somehow, got into Hagler’s head to the point where the middleweight king didn’t come out blazing the way he had in his second most famous fight, the brutal war with Thomas Hearns. Instead, Hagler came out orthodox and tried to box with the master boxer. Big mistake.
One man who was as surprised as anyone else by Hagler’s approach was Tim Ryan, who, along with Gil Clancy, called the fight live. Kindly speaking with this writer, Ryan recalled the fight and how he himself had it after those 12 scrutinized rounds.
“Myself and everyone who knew Ray, were worried going into the fight,” Ryan said. “We were most concerned about his eye, the detached retina and the surgery, and also his inactivity. It really was a bold move to come back after just one fight in five years and having to go up in weight, to challenge as formidable a fighter as Hagler. Gil Clancy and I, we predicted a Hagler win. But as the fight progressed, I could see what great, fantatsic shape Leonard was in. The early aggression from Hagler had not bothered him at all. Hagler, in losing those early rounds – Gil said on air that by fighting orthodox, Hagler basically gave away the first two, maybe four rounds – he actually put himself in more jeopardy than Leonard in terms of losing the fight.
“The fight had plenty of ebbs and flows. At the end, I had it 6-5-1 in rounds for Hagler. Gil had it the same way but for Leonard. It really was a tremendous performance from Leonard. Whoever you think won the fight.”