TODAY is the anniversary of Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler.
“Top Rank promoted that fight, which took place on April 6, 1987,” promoter Bob Arum recalled. “It was a momentous event in the world of boxing. I want to set the scene for that event particularly for the younger people who may not be aware. The scene was very important. ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler had come up the hard way in boxing. He had never been to the Olympics and he fought any fighter that would step in the ring with him. He’d have to go from Boston to Philadelphia and other places to find opponents who would fight him. Through intervention of the Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neil and Senator Ted Kennedy who sent letters to various people, including myself at Top Rank, they forced everyone to give ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler a shot at the middleweight title. His first shot, I thought he clearly won the fight against Vito Antifermo, but the judges scored it a draw. A year later he fought Alan Minter over in London and stopped Minter in the early rounds – bloodying him so much that the fight had to be stopped. Marvin was greeted by the great sportsmen in England by a barrage of bottles and cans so that everybody had to hide under the ring until the police were ready to restore order. But came back to the United States a real hero then he embarked on a streak of defending his middleweight title. His first big fight was in 1983 against Roberto Duran and then in ’85 in a major, major event he and Thomas Hearns fought a great middleweight championship battle and Marvin knocked Tommy out in the third round. Marvin wanted to retire from boxing at that point but his managers and myself as the promoter convinced him to carry on and in 1986 he fought John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi and Mugabi was a tough hard-punching guy – they went toe-to-toe and in the eleventh round, Marvin knocked Mugabi out.
“Ray Leonard had been retired for a number of years and he had been watching that fight and he saw what very few people saw – that Marvin was aging, he was slowing up and Ray, even though he was retired, felt he could come back and take on Hagler. When he announced that he was coming out of retirement, people were incredulous. Hagler went off as a 6:1 or 7:1 favorite in the fight because Leonard was retired and Hagler was this dominant champion – nobody gave Leonard a chance. To put it in perspective, remember the media frenzy when Manny Pacquiao fought Oscar De La Hoya? All of the media people were saying what a mismatch it was and De La Hoya was an overwhelming favorite. We remember, because it was fairly recent, what happened in that fight, Pacquiao dominated and won that fight, but the feeling was the same going into the Hagler-Leonard fight. Ray Leonard was a great fighter, retired, and then coming out of retirement against this dominant middleweight, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler.
“The country was mesmerized. Ray Leonard was extremely popular – he was the poster boy for boxing. I hope that young Shakur Stevenson will follow in the footsteps of Ray Leonard because he has that kind of personality, but Ray was the darling of America and the darling of boxing. Marvin was respected – everybody realized what a workman-like fighter he was. To sell that fight I called it ‘The Yuppie’ being Leonard who came out of the Olympics with a gold medal and had big television exposure from the beginning against the blue collar guy Marvin Hagler who had worked himself up and become the dominant middleweight of his time.
“The closed circuit locations were filled. This was the first fight that really touched/started into pay-per-view in various parts of the country. It was a massive, massive event. The fight was sold out in one day and everyone was gathered for this terrific event. I’ll tell you I haven’t seen that fight in 30 years but I remember it as if it happened yesterday.
“I thought it was a great fight. I thought Ray did a tremendous job, better than anybody expected him to do. I had it 115-113 for ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler. The same score that Lou Felippo – one of the judges had it for Hagler. The other judge from Las Vegas, David Moretti, had it 115-113 for Leonard. Jose Sulaiman’s appointed judge, Jo Jo Guerrero, who never judged another fight, had it eleven rounds to one for Leonard.
“[Stealing rounds with flurries at the end] was not a unique tactic for Sugar Ray and it was modelled after Muhammad Ali. Very often, in close rounds, particularly in the Norton fight, he would flurry at the end so that the impression he left in the judges’ minds was that he won the round. Obviously rounds should be scored for the full three minutes but there is no questions that human beings being human will give more credit for the last part of a round – not that that’s correct, but that’s how it works… He was a brilliant fighter, because physically he couldn’t compare. at that point, to Hagler.
“Marvin could not do a fight unless he got himself into a position where he disliked the opponent. He would put a picture of his opponent up on his bedroom wall so that he would glare back at it. To motivate himself he was the kind of fighter that had to create a dislike for his opponent. Now the guy he really hated, when he fought him, was Hearns. Because when we had them on a tour, Tommy got under Marvin’s skin. But Marvin was disdainful toward Ray because he believed Ray had it so easy in boxing and that he, Marvin, had struggled so hard, but it wasn’t the same kind of hatred that he had for Tommy. I must say that now, many years later, these guys are great friends.
“He wanted to quit after the Hearns fight – and I want fighters to hear this. Then we got him to fight Mugabi, then he didn’t want to go any more – he didn’t want to fight Ray Leonard and what happened was, I remember driving through the night with Pat Petronelli, Hagler’s manager, from Boston to New Hampshire where Hagler had a house. We went through fog and everything. I waited and Pat started talking to him and Marvin was banging his hands on the table and afterwards I asked Pat ‘what was that about?’ He said well, I said to Marvin, my brother Goody, who is Hagler’s trainer, we were getting a third of his purse, and we would cut it down if he would take this fight, and he banged the table, Marvin did and said ‘I don’t know if I’m going to fight this punk, but if I do you better take one third.’ He was a hell of a guy, Marvin – he is a hell of a guy. Ray was great too. Ray, Tommy, Roberto [Duran] – those four guys are examples for all fighters. They were terrific fighters and terrific people.”