That was an excellent piece that ran on Grantland last week, an oral history of the 1987 fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard. Then, Rafe Bartholomew posted a video of the entire fight as a follow-up. Having nothing better to do Friday night, I stayed home and watched the fight again on YouTube, with several cans of extra-strong beers and a big bag of faux pork rinds to keep me company.
Now I’ve already mentioned somewhere in this blog that my father is a huge Hagler fan, insisting that he should have won against Leonard. This is where I disagree with my dad. Yes, I’m going to put it on record: I believe Leonard did enough to pull off the win against Hagler.
The first time I watched the fight, I was around seven years old. I watched it on our old Sony Betamax with my dad. Back then, my dad pretty much drilled into my head that Hagler should have won, so through the years I was convinced that Hagler was robbed. But then I watched the fight again several years later, when I was already a teenager and could judge the fight objectively.
“Holy shit,” I thought, “Hagler wasn’t robbed. He lost the fight fair and square.”
Here’s how I scored the fight: I gave rounds 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10 (this round was very close, but I gave it to Leonard), and 11 to Leonard; and I scored rounds 5, 7, 8, 9, and 12 for Hagler. So in my unofficial scorecards, I gave the fight to Leonard, 115–113.
What did Hagler do (or not do) that cost him the fight, in my opinion?
Here are the reasons:
1. Although a natural southpaw, he decided to box orthodox for the first few rounds of the fight. Because of this, Leonard was able to capitalize and steal the first four rounds.
2. Instead of fighting as a brawler and roughing Leonard up, which was Hagler’s strengths, Marvin decided to try to outbox Sugar Ray.
3. Hagler was very, very slow and he was missing a lot of punches. His skills were definitely declining at this point.
4. Hagler acceded to Leonard’s demands for a bigger ring (twenty feet) and a shorter fight (twelve rounds instead of the customary [at that time] fifteen-rounds for a title fight).
What did Leonard do to win, in my opinion?
1. Leonard used the ring well and boxed superbly. He landed the cleaner shots (although it could be argued that Hagler landed the harder punches) and won most of the flurries.
2. He was quicker than Hagler and had the huge advantage in hand and foot speed, which he utilized effectively.
3. Although he was tagged and hurt in the fifth round, he managed to hang on and not get knocked the fuck out. He managed to do this until the end of the fight.
4. Leonard was visibly gassed out in the ninth round, but he was able to get his second wind to finish the fight strong.
Needless to say, Hagler was very disappointed with the decision and even hinted that he couldn’t get a fair shake in Las Vegas. This would be his last fight. Leonard, on the other hand, was vindicated—boxing writers and pundits didn’t expect him, a huge underdog, to even last the distance against Hagler; and he managed to wrest the WBC middleweight crown from the latter in emphatic and impressive fashion.
Yup, after watching the fight again a couple of days ago, I stand by my opinion: Sugar Ray Leonard deserved to win against Marvin Hagler twenty-four years ago.
And no, the Red Horse beer didn’t, in any way, influence my opinion on the outcome of the fight.
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