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THE RING archive: Hagler-Leonard – War of Words

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LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 1,1986: Marvin Hagler (L) and Sugar Ray Leonard pose during a press conference to promote their upcoming fight on November 1, 1986 in Las Vegas, Nevada.   (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

Hagler (left) and Leonard pose during a press conference to promote their upcoming fight. Photo/ THE RING

Note: This feature originally appeared in the April 1987 issue of THE RING Magazine.

IT WASN’T QUITE “NO MAS, NO MAS,” but Marvelous Marvin Hagler couldn’t go the distance with Sugar Ray Leonard in their projected 12-city media tour to create words and music for the mega-million-dollar showdown at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, April 6. In effect, the 32-year old world middleweight champion told promoting Top Rank, Inc. to “take this job and stuff it” before heading back to the family hearth in Brockton, Massachusetts.

“Marvin called off the remainder of the tour all by himself,” explained Bob Arum, Top Rank board chairman. “We didn’t try to reschedule the other cities because Hagler made it clear he had had it with travelling and wasn’t going to do it.”

Unofficially, Leonard, 30, unretiring world welterweight king and abdicated World Boxing Association junior middleweight champion out of Palmer Park, Maryland, appeared headed for a decision after verbal sparring in such metro precincts as New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and Chicago.

Before Hagler and Leonard, constant studies in sartorial splendor, rose on the dais, their respective connections briefly stokes the fires.


Pat Petronelli, who handles the administrative side of Hagler’s career, “This is the ultimate in the champion’s career. Marvin had always had his doubts it would ever happen, but when it came to reality, he was overjoyed. This could very well be Marvin Hagler’s last fight, so what better way to go out than this fight? I thought I was excited about Thomas Hearns, but this tops everything.”

Goody Petronelli, the ex-Navy brother who trains Marvin, “This is a fight I never thought would develop, but here it is. Ray challenged Marvin, but until then, just the public was talking about two old champions beating each other. Yet it was with resignation that “we’ll never know”. I know that’s the way I felt. Now we have two great fighters, two fine persons who have been all over the world on TV. Not only the fighters, but this fight has Pat and me pumped up too.”

Janks Morton, who conditions Leonard along with Angelo Dundee and Dave Jacobs, “My job is not to talk, but to have Sugar Ray Leonard ready for April 6. So we’ll be ready and see you then.”

Hagler, who has always preferred deeds to verbs, probably had it up to here when he heard the following dialogue repeated again and again and again and again and again:

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 1,1986: Sugar Ray Leonard listens during a press conference to promote the upcoming fight against Marvin Hagler on November 1, 1986 in Las Vegas, Nevada.   (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

The challenger. Photo/ THE RING

LEONARD: “To be in the ring with the Marvelous One here is a great honor because I’ve always analyzed Marvin through the years, watched him totally demolish opponents. He’s been invincible. But Marvin is an excellent speaker, too. Hagler can smile. . . if he wants to smile, he can. But he won’t smile for you (media) here today.”

HAGLER: “It will be fight of skill. . . everything boxing stands for. One that will bring people together, all races and creeds. Arum has been with us (including managers Pat and Goody Petronelli) and now I am helping him earn a big payday too. . .”

LEONARD: “When people ask why I took this fight; I tell them I took it because Hagler is the best. But it’s only for one fight. . . I don’t care about the belt. I’ll give it back to him after I beat Marvin. I’ve been training since last May, but the intensive work started after the holidays.”

HAGLER: “Maybe this won’t be my last fight. If Ray cooperates and goes out early, I might take another. Carlos Monzon’s record (14 title defenses) is still in the back of my mind, but with the magnitude of this fight, I could walk away happy.”

LEONARD: (introducing sparring partner Duane Cooper with a shaven head as a clone of Hagler) “This guy (Hagler) is my buddy. Look at him. Can those chubby cheeks hurt me?”

HAGLER: (shaking hands with Cooper) “I like Ray’s exhibition, but I’m better looking than this guy (Cooper). Ray sounds like he’s on HBO. At least he has a job, and he’ll be there permanently after this fight.”

LEONARD: Hagler’s had some tough fights back-to-back, so he laid back for a year, talking about being an actor and doing some TV commercials. But in one year, you deviate from your beginnings as an athlete and it’s hard to come back.”

HAGLER: “I won’t change my training schedule for this fight, preferring to stay with what has worked for me very successfully. Of course, I’ll change some sparring partners to imitate Leonard’s style as much as possible. I get nervous about a fight in Vegas, the strange judging, I know I can’t take any chances.”

LAS VEGAS - NOVEMBER 1,1986: Marvin Hagler looks on during a press conference to promote the upcoming fight against Sugar Ray Leonard on November 1, 1986 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

The champion. Photo/ THE RING

LEONARD: “People are so opinionated about this fight. Hagler feels it gives him immortality. But this fight means a lot to me, more than it does to Hagler. And I give him every respect because he is one of the few champions that really loves that (championship) belt.”

HAGLER: “This fight is the height not only of my career, but also in the Petronelli’s career. As for the layoff, my mind needed to rest as much as my body. But I’m ready now. Ray says he’ll use strategy, but I’ll do the punching.”

LEONARD: “My family supports me. They are with me 100 percent.”

HAGLER: “My wife Bertha, my mother, my grandmother are 100 percent for me because they know Leonard will create no threat for me.”

LEONARD: “As for the purse negotiations, I said ‘Give me what I ask for’. I feel I’ll make more than Hagler when all the receipts are in.”

HAGLER: “This is nothing personal against Leonard. I want him to keep hoping . . . that’s why I let him talk. The layoff will be a factor, but not that much. Ray’s trying to kill me with that friendship stuff. But I’d enjoy hurting him . . . I’d like to stop his showboating. You must be calculating every second in the ring. If Ray thinks it’s going to be fun, he’ll wish he’d never thought about this fight.”

LEONARD: “As far as the media tour is concerned, it’s part of the business. I like to be on time for conferences, sometimes Marvin is late. When he was late in Boston, I took him aside and said, ‘Let’s be practical, get in and get out, get it over with and go on our way.’ Hagler apologized and he hasn’t been late since.”

HAGLER: “Leonard has his weaknesses, I won’t go into them all here, but when the crowd is not on his side, he gets a little nervous.”

LEONARD: (reacting to the WBC’s 12-round limit) “Hagler’s getting all the money, so I said, ‘Give me something.’ I wanted 12 rounds for psychological reasons. The Roberto Duran fight (with Hagler) was an example. It didn’t look close, but the way the judges saw it, Hagler had to win the 14th and 15th rounds to keep his title.”

HAGLER: “I’m not worried about the rounds because this fight is definitely not going the distance.”

Ring Magazine Cover - Ray Leonard and Marvin HaglerLEONARD: (reflecting on his two wins with Duran in 1980 in Montreal and New Orleans) “As an American out of the Olympics, I was the hero. Duran pretty much the villain. But I was subjected to an asshole (Duran), and it was a lesson that made me a better fighter. He insulted me, my wife (Juanita), he gave me the finger. When I got into the ring (June 20, 1980) I wanted to beat him at his own game, meaning to out macho him. It ruined my game plan in a close fight. Down in New Orleans, it was a different fight. I had his mind, but someday I’d like to know why he quit in the eighth round. Maybe Duran doesn’t know himself.”

HAGLER: “I’m not concerned about Leonard’s left eye (where a detached retina was corrected in May of 1982, prompting his retirement six months later) because once Ray signed for this fight, the possible injury responsibility was no longer on my shoulders. If I can knock him out, I’m sure as hell going to do it.”

LEONARD: “I wasn’t up for the Kevin Howard fight and I could feel it going down the aisle . . . there was no adrenaline, no drive. I wasn’t hurt by that flash knockdown in the fourth round, just surprised. But when I looked at the tapes later, I realized I was too critical of myself.”

HAGLER: “I’m ready and waiting for anything when the bell rings. Sitting at ringside and thinking what he’d do to me will not be the same for Leonard as being in the ring with me. It doesn’t bother me that Leonard’s coming out of retirement unranked because in preparing for this fight, I’m putting Ray Leonard on top just like he’s the No. 1 contender.”

LEONARD: “Hagler will be a physical fight, but it will also be psychological. The key is not to let him get off early like John Mugabi did. You have to take the advantage, winning round by round. Age won’t be a factor, but when I see the Petronelli’s shaking their hands, I know I’ll have Marvin frustrated. And I’ll do that by making him miss. Hagler can box and he might want to dance with me.”

HAGLER: “I didn’t get to Las Vegas in time to see Duane Thomas knock out Mugabi in the third round to win the vacant WBC super welterweight title. I was a little shocked because I thought Mugabi could be a champion against somebody else. It’s clear I took more out of him than they’ll give me credit for.”

LEONARD: “I’ve worked on an and off since May, 1986 and I weighed 163 before Christmas. I’ll probably be 158 by fight time.”

HAGLER: “It’s hard getting into shape once you’ve been out of the ring for any length of time, but I’ve maintained my weight. Don’t forget Leonard’s not a natural middleweight.”