Leonard-Hagler: The winner reflects on the 25th anniversary of their clash
“I was 30 when when I fought Hagler. I came back one time before that and beat Kevin Howard. But think about that, you know? People thought I was crazy. At some point, I thought, ‘What in the f__k am I doing?’ It’s this — the heart and the balls — that’s what it took to do that.
“Each round, between rounds, during the Hagler fight, as I walked back to the corner, I would look down at press row and just stare at them and say, ‘I’m still here.’ Because everyone thought that I had no prayer, you know? And, rightfully so, you know, after virtually five years out of the ring.
“But it’s having the ability to reach down because there is nothing else that you can do but to fight, and I had to do that.”
Sugar Ray Leonard, on his taking nearly three years off and defeating Marvin Hagler.
Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Sugar Ray Leonard’s improbable split-decision victory over then-undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Boxing fans still debate about who should have won the fight.
Judge Jo Jo Guerra had a wide 118-110 tally for Leonard, who ended a three-year retirement to take the fight (or 10 rounds to two for the eventual victor). Judges Dave Moretti and Lou Filippo saw a closer bout, scoring it 115-113; Moretti for Leonard, and Filippo for Hagler.
Yahoo!Sports published a story which addressed ongoing arguments and includes varying opinions about the result of Leonard-Hagler, whereas an ESPN.com report rates unbeaten WBC welterweight beltholder, Floyd Mayweather Jr. against Leonard and other all-time greats in the sport.
Below are some of Leonard’s relevant comments culled from interviews conducted by RingTV.com concerning Hagler, Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, among other subjects.
RingTV.com: You’ve often said that one of your most difficult fights was the one with [Wilfred] Benitez. How so?
RL: Well, do you know that I ended up going to the hospital after that fight? I got back to my hotel, and I was dehydrated. I ran out of energy because I was dehydrated.
So that was the closest thing to death for me, you know? It really, really was. I remember that like it was yesterday. My hand speed kind of threw him off.
But he had the confidence of a king. Even when I knocked that son of a b__ch down, he got up and he was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, I just slipped.”
In the corner, when he was headbutted, he just smiled. He was the epitome of what a fighter should be. Wilfred Benitez had that gladiator-like confidence.
RingTV.com: Your thoughts on the action in Hagler’s third-round knockout over Hearns?
RL: Listen, man, if Tommy would have used that jab, he would have won that fight. But the reason that I also knew that Tommy was vulnerable was that he also had a kamikaze mentality. It was a do-or-die situation for Tommy.
So Tommy would go in there without even thinking about, you know, “by the way, I’m 6-foot-2,” or, “by the way, I’m very fast,” or, “by the way, my jab is a thing of beauty and a thing of art.”
Then you have, “my height,” and, “my reach.” It was like he would forget about those things that were so apparent in his skills and his dimensions. If he would have used that jab, then he would have won that fight.
I normally don’t go with the hypothetical, but in that fight, it was so apparent. If Tommy Hearns had boxed Hagler, then he would have beaten Hagler. Fact. Fact. Because of his hand speed, his height.
RingTV.com: Why do you believe that there was there such a contrast in the way that Hearns fought you and the way that he fought Hagler?
RL: Tommy would have beaten Hagler, but he got into this exchange mentality. You can’t win against Hagler if you stand toe-to-toe and go with him punch-for-punch.
Although I thought about fighting Hagler that same way. That was my first fight plan, because I knew that Hagler had been cut a few times and I was going to use that and try to bust him up.
But Tommy would have won that fight if he had resorted to boxing. Looking back also, having seen that fight a thousand times, it looked as though Tommy’s legs were not holding up against Hagler.
Tommy seemed a little off balance as if his legs couldn’t hold him up. I think that Tommy knew something that we didn’t know. But who is to say? His legs, remember, they just kind of folded beneath him.
RingTV.com: Didn’t you say during several interviews before facing Hagler that you were going to steal the rounds and win the crowd?
RL: [Laughs.] You know, I did say that. I meant that. It’s funny, if you go back to some of those interviews, among the last few things that I said was that my plan and my psychological warfare would work.
Because one of the things that Hagler said during one of the final press conferences before the fight was that, “I may surprise all of you, and I may out-box Ray.”
When he said that, I said, “I got him.” I knew that I had him because he was thinking about changing his strategy. Exactly.
I didn’t want him to rush into me and bum-rush me like he did with Tommy. I wanted him to think that he was a better boxer than I was.
RingTV.com: How critical for you was it to go 12 rounds and not 15?
RL: The thing about the 12 versus the 15 rounds, I could have gone 15 rounds and I could train for 15 rounds.
I trained for 15 rounds. But psychologically, [12 rounds] processed better with my comeback, and the time off.
RingTV.com: What do you make of that little dance that Hagler did after your fight ended and before the decision was announced in your favor?
RL: You know, it always bothered me that no one ever mentioned that. The writers that are so observant never mentioned that it was so uncharacteristic of Marvin Hagler to do what he did after our fight.
With the dancing? He has never done that. You know, that is a clear indication that he knew that he lost.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on the constant e-mails I receive asking my opinion as to how Pacquiao and Mayweather would do against guys like yourself, Benitez, Hearns, [Roberto] Duran or Hagler?
SRL: With me or with the other guys?
RingTV.com: How about Mayweather and Pacquiao with each of those guys?
SRL: [Laughs.] Okay, let’s first take, for example…let’s say it’s Tommy Hearns. How could a Pacquiao deal with a Tommy Hearns? I don’t think that he’s ever fought anybody who is 6-foot-2.
I don’t think that he’s ever faced someone with that kind of height and with that power and with that type of speed. With that heart.
So I think that you’ve got to lean toward Tommy without question, I mean, and that’s what I would say with both Pacquiao and Maywether.
RingTV.com: Specifically, what about Mayweather against Hearns?
SRL: [Laughs.] Floyd and Tommy? I would go for Tommy. You see, Tommy was a monster. He really was a monster.
RingTV.com: So when you’re talking about Hearns against Mayweather or Pacquiao, are you saying that he would beat them like he did with the second-round knockout of Duran, or are you saying that he would win by a decision like he did with Benitez?
SRL: More like a Benitez win.
RingTV.com: So you think that Hearns wins by a decision against both of them?
SRL: [Sighs.] I think Tommy Hearns knocks both of those guys out.
RingTV.com: What about you against Mayweather and Pacquiao?
SRL: I think I knock them out too.
RingTV.com: Why do you ultimately believe that?
SRL: Listen, man, its the artillery that we had and the weapons that we had. Tommy and I could box and we could punch and we did that with both hands.
We could set you up and we could break you down. If I hurt you, you’re out. I mean you’re gone. You are gone.
RingTV.com: Where you and Hearns fought in your prime, why do you feel that that type of mentality is less prevalent today?
SRL: Because fighters are asking how much before they say who? They’re asking. They’re like, “I’m not going to fight Joe Schmo for $5 million. Give me $8 million, or, $10 million.” That’s why these fights are not happening.
RingTV.com: From the fight between yourself and Hearns, what elements of your mutual intensity and force of will and skill-level are absent today?
SRL: You know, you don’t see it because most of the fights that we witness, that fighter or that champion doesn’t have to go there. He doesn’t have to reach down as deep. Some of the fights are tough. Mayweather got hurt against Shane Mosley, and he was hurt.
But he wasn’t hurt for long because all of a sudden, Mosley just died out. I don’t know what the hell happened. He just died. Even with Pacquiao, he got hurt by a body shot against Antonio Margarito, but then, Margarito is nowhere near the level of Many Pacquiao.
Photo by Chris Cozzone, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]