SUGAR RAY LEONARD did the expected, hammering challenger Bruce Finch into defeat in the third round at the Centennial Coliseum (Reno, Nevada) to retain his undisputed would welterweight title, and says he wants to defend his championship three more times before the end of the year.
Finch, the NABF champion and ranked No. 3 contender by the WBC, simply proved no match for Sugar Ray. He was down twice in the second round and floored again in the third.
He got up looking dazed after the third knockdown, and referee Mills Lande stopped the fight after 1-50 of the third.
Leonard is now expected to defend against Roger Stafford of Philadelphia in the spring. The bout would be promoted by Main Event Production, Inc. of New Jersey, the organisation which staged the fight in Reno.
No details have been announced, but the Meadowlands Arena and East Rutherford, New Jersey, have been mentioned.
Stafford was at ringside, and promised to put up a much better fight than that provided by Finch. The outspoken Stafford, who rose to prominence by outpointing Pipino Cuevas last November, said: “Finch looked scared to death. He wanted to quit – you could see it in his face.
“I’ll take the fight to Leonard, and it will definitely be a fight.”
Finch, 27, originally from Wisconsin but now fighting out of Las Vegas, had been given not even an outside chance and there seemed a subdued atmosphere in the arena, with little of the electricity that big fights usually generate. The fight was televised over the Home Box Office pay TV network.
Some in the crowd booed their displeasure at the third round ending, but Finch had been caught by heavy punches and had blood coming from inside his mouth.
Finch started promisingly, and for a round and a half was putting up a good show, but then Leonard nailed him with a combination to the chin – a left hook followed by a straight right – in round two and Finch went down for the first knockdown.
It ceased to be a contest from that point, with Finch surviving on borrowed time as the champion picked his punches. About the only real concern in Leonard’s corner came when the fighters appeared to bump heads in the first round.
Leonard said afterwards: “Our heads collided a couple of times and my corner told me to be more careful. Finch was a stiff puncher, but I saw he was vulnerable to a left hook and I went for the body to bring his hands down.
“I was a little cold at the start and it took me a round or two to warm up. I knew he would come out to try to do damage early and I was ready for him.”
Finch landed several solid-looking punches and had Sugar Ray pinned in a neutral corner for a spell in the second, but just when it looked as if Leonard might be in for a tough night, he exploded the punches that shattered the challenger.
Leonard (10st 6lbs) started a shade slowly and Finch (10st 5 1/2lbs) got through with a looping right to the side of the body in the opening moments.
A little later in the first round Finch punched with both hands as Leonard found himself momentarily trapped on the ropes. Leonard blocked most of the punches, but did get caught by a left hook to the chin and a long right to the body.
Sugar Ray began to score sharply in the last minute of the opening round, with crisp lefts and rights to body and head, and a short left uppercut snapped back Finch’s head, but Finch fought back as Leonard seemed content to back off.
It had not been at all a bad opening round for Finch, and feeling around the ringside was that he might have won the round simply because Leonard didn’t throw enough punches.
But Leonard looked supremely composed and unconcerned. Finch pressed forward again in the second and got through with a few punches as Leonard surprisingly let the challenger take the play away.
Leonard backed across the ring and found himself in a neutral corner, back to the ring post, as Finch whaled away at him.
The crowd began to come to life for the first time as Finch got his head on Leonard’s chest and punched busily. Leonard covered up skilfully, but some punches landed to his head and body.
But then Leonard fired back, punching his way clear and whipping in a left hook to the body. The fighters stood toe to toe and exchanged punches, and then the roof fell in on Finch.
Leonard drove in a right uppercut, Finch slammed in a hurtful-looking right to the side of the head, but then Sugar Ray banged in the left hook and following right to the head, smashing blows that buckled Finch’s legs and sent the challenger slowly toppling to the floor.
He got up in nine, looking dazed, and tried to grab. Leonard pulled clear and fired fast punches, his red gloves a blur. Finch didn’t seem to know where he was, and fell to the floor without it seemed, getting hit squarely.
He still seemed in a distressed state from the first knockdown.
Up at eight, Finch somehow managed to struggle through the round, ducking, clutching, nearly falling over but managing to lash back with a couple of wild swings that missed as Leonard sought to finish him off.
Finch still looked shaky in the third, but went forward, although without real purpose. Leonard nailed him with a sharp right and Finch hesitated and seemed about to go down.
Leonard stepped back as if expecting him to fall, but the challenger stayed upright.
Leonard was now moving fluidly and evading Finch’s rather lunging blows. Finch ducked under a big left and right, the punches swishing over his head, but it was to be a brief escape.
Leonard fired again, a right to the head seeming to root Finch to the floor, and then a crunching left uppercut to the chin sending the challenger wobbling backwards on his heals.
Referee Lane moved in as if to stop the fight, but Leonard was already loosing punches. The last two, a left hook and right uppercut, both missed but Finch was falling to the canvas in any case.
Finch pulled himself up on his knees, swayed back for a moment on his haunches, and then lurched to his feet. He looked like a man sleep-walking.
The referee took a good look into his eyes, and then signalled the end.
With Roger Stafford apparently next in line, and possibly Alexis Arguello (the WBC lightweight champion) to follow, Leonard’s schedule shapes up to be a busy one.
The much talked about projected meeting between Leonard and Marvin Hagler, the undisputed world middleweight champion, looks at least a year away, and in any case the question of weights would have to be sorted out.
For the moment, Leonard seems content to clean up the welterweight division, giving everyone a shot at the title and proving to be a true fighting champion.
All Systems Go!
[Only months after Leonard’s victory over Finch it was announced Leonard would move up in weight to take on middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. This is how we reported it.]
THE next of the decade’s Superfights could be on, with Sugar Ray Leonard reported to have agreed in principle to take on undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler at the full championship poundage.
Leonard’s welterweight rival Thomas Hearns fights Hagler for the middleweight titles on May 24 in Canada, and there has always been a real possibility that Leonard will move up a weight for the bonanza payday.
But until now the Leonard camp have indicated that Ray would like to meet Haglar at a catchweight poundage of around 11st 3lbs, rather than at the official middleweight division limit of 11st 6lbs.
Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s official cornerman and armchair strategist, reckoned that Ray had a while to go before he physically developed out of the 10st 7lbs welter class into a true middleweight.
While Leonard could certainly tip the scales at the same arithmetical poundage as Hagler or other middleweights it would not be functional weight. He would effectively be giving away real physical advantages.
Leonard successfully took on and stopped WBA light-middle camp Ayub Kalule, a big man for the 11st poundage, and floored Kalule for the first time in his career.
But Hagler, at 11st 6lbs, was a different proposition.
The last time a welter champ fought a middle champ was when Jose Napoles was stopped by Carlos Monzon.
Napoles suffered a great height and reach disadvantage, being a stocky welter against a very large middleweight. But Leonard stands 5ft 10ins to Hagler’s 5ft 9ins.
Leonard’s old foe Wilfred Benitez is also known to want to tackle Hagler after Hearns and Fully Obel have made their attempts (assuming they are unsuccessful)