Billed as ‘The Superfight’, on April 6, 1987, Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard battled it out for the WBC Middleweight Championship, in front of 15,000 fans at a packed outdoor arena at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Among those fans were celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Gene Hackman, Bo Derek, Joan Collins, Whoopie Goldberg and Billy Crystal.
Hagler was the reigning middleweight champion, and was expected to win easily. Sugar Ray, on the other hand had only had one fight in the preceding five years, and at the age of 30, it was believed he was beyond his prime, and would not have the strength and stamina to keep up with his younger opponent.
As the fight started, Sugar Ray came out dancing and boxing, circling his opponent. Hagler was unable to catch him. Further confusing matters, Hagler started fight in an orthodox stance (right handed), rather than his natural southpaw (left-handed) style. All through the first three rounds, Hagler switched back and forth between fighting right and left handed, and this possibly cost him the first two rounds.
However, by the fifth round, Sugar Ray was slowing down a bit, and Hagler began to find his length, and his punches started landing. But even then, Ray’s counter-punching from the odd occasion, when he was trapped on the ropes was effective.
By the ninth, both men were exhausted, but not willing to give up. The exchanges were still coming often and ferociously. At the end of the twelfth, both men returned to their corners believing they had won the fight. The result was a split decision. Two judges awarded the fight to Leonard, while the third said Hagler.
Boxing is a sport, and much like football, soccer, or rugby, when you follow a team, watching and barracking, it is easy to become one-eyed, seeing only your teams strengths, and the weaknesses often shrugged off as poor refereeing or umpiring. I think it is the same in boxing. I admit, I wanted Sugar Ray to win, so when I watched the fight, I see pretty much a clear victory for Sugar Ray. Ray’s body language, and showboating could have a bit to do with my perception too. To me, everything he did, said I am winning. But if you see it differently, I can understand that too. I don’t think Hagler lost the fight, I simply believe Sugar Ray won, if that makes sense.
The result was controversial, but I think Hagler himself, after the fight, suggested where he went wrong. He said, ‘I won. I took everything he had.’ Even though Hagler was suggesting that he had won, he had also inadvertently admitted how many times, Leonard’s gloves found their target.
Even though, to this day, the result is still disputed, there is no disputing that this was a great fight, and certainly lived up to the hype that accompanied the event.
As an adjunct, I remember how excited I was when, two years later, Sugar Ray took on Roberto Duran, in a fight that was called ‘Uno Mas’ – One More – as Leonard and Duran had fought some epic battles previously. I was working at a screenprinting company at the time, and a colleague and I were so gee’d-up about the fight, we copied the newspaper adverts, and turned it into T-Shirts which we printed ourselves for the event.
Suitably attired, on the day of the fight, we left work early (I believe it was on a Friday), and went to a hotel that was screening the fight. This was before the days of Pay TV in Australia, so if you wanted to see a special event like this, you had to find a hotel, or sportsclub that was screening the bout. The tiny bar was packed, shoulder to shoulder, as we stared up at the tiny screen and watched the fight. Unfortunately, in the history of boxing, that particular bout was possibly one of the most overhyped and boring presentation of the fistic arts I have ever witnessed.
But the Hagler v Leonard match up is one of the great bouts, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out. It is readily available on DVD, and I haven’t checked, but I’d guess somebody would have uploaded it to Youtube.
May sees the launch of King of the Outback, the sixth book in the popular Fightcard series – and my literary debut (writing as Jack Tunney). Accordingly, in a month long celebration, Permission to Kill will be looking back and some of the highlights – and lowlights – of boxing in film and literature – and in music too.