1. ON November 30, 1979, Wilfred Benitez – the youngest world champion in the history of boxing – entered the Caesars Palace ring in Las Vegas as WBC welterweight king but could not leave with the title, as the brilliance of young “Sugar” Ray Leonard triumphed in the 15th and final round.
2. THE bout was broadcast by ABC in the USA and also featured Vito Antuofermo controversially retaining his world middleweight title against Marvin Hagler via a draw, and Marvin Johnson stopping Victor Galindez to claim the WBA light-heavyweight belt.
3. LEONARD, unbeaten in 25 outings, entered as a 3-1 favourite against Benitez, who was making his second defence, and was three-and-a-half years removed from claiming the light-welterweight title at the age of just 17.
4. BENITEZ, a glorious technician and defensive wizard, earned $1.2 million compared to the 1976 Olympic champion’s $1 million, making it the then-richest non-heavyweight contest in history.
5. THE champion was floored in round three from a timely jab, and was left nursing a gash in his forehead following a head clash in the sixth.
6. RAY decked Benitez again in the final round with a left hook but many felt the stoppage – made with just six seconds remaining – was premature. Some suggested referee Carlos Padilla’s decision may have been influenced by the death of Willie Classen, who died two days earlier as a result of injuries sustained in his fight with Wilford Scypion.
7. THE contest was not a thriller but was nonetheless crammed with quality. “From a technical standpoint, there was more done in this fight than I’ve seen done for a long time,” said Leonard’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. “You saw two smart, scientific fighters—two champions in the ring at the same time. They brought the best out of each other.”
8. “NO one, I mean no one, can make me miss punches like that,” Leonard said about Benitez afterwards.
9. “SUGAR RAY is the best in the world now,” commented Benitez. “I was happy to get a fight with him. He was a great challenger and will prove to be a good champion.”
10. LEONARD was vain about his looks and the first thing he would do after a fight was examine his face for damage. After the Benitez fight, he did not like what he saw. “I looked in the mirror and turned off the light,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it. ‘Is that me’?”
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