About two weeks from now or on April 4, the boxing world will commemorate the 27th anniversary of the fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, which by the time it had been staged was somewhat overdue.
The fight ended with Hagler losing via split decision over 12 rounds, with the judge scoring it 118-110 in favor of Leonard getting sharply criticized. So bitter was Hagler over the result that he announced his retirement immediately after the fight. He was making the 12th defense of his title and had an impressive run before being decisioned by Leonard.
Hagler-Leonard was one of the fights clamored for by boxing fans at a time when the welterweight to middleweight division was having its golden era. With Hagler, Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and even Wilfredo Benitez trying to outdo each other, boxing fans were definitely witnessing one of the best eras of boxing.
The clamor for Hagler and Leonard to get into the ring grew louder after Leonard beat Hearns in 14 rounds on September 16, 1981 and after Hagler stopped Hearns in three rounds on April 21, 1985.
The Leonard-Hearns fight on September 1981 was a classic that pitted two welterweights in their prime. And they were like day and night; Hearns was the power puncher who used his height advantage very well to pulverize his opponents, and Leonard used speed and combinations to befuddle the opposition.
With a height of 6’1’ (against the 5’10” of Leonard) and a 78-inch reach (against Leonard’s 74 inches), Hearns was seen largely as the bout’s possible victor.
Although Hearns dominated the first half of the fight, Leonard fought back and was able to register a dramatic come-from-behind stoppage in the 14th round. However, the beating Leonard got in his left eye from Hearns would cause him a detached retina and a brief retirement.
The Leonard-Hearns fight was judged by The Ring magazine as the Fight of the Year for 1981.
About four years later or on April 5, 1985, Hagler and Hearns would square off to produce one of the best boxing bouts in the fight game. In three action-packed rounds, Hagler and Hearns traded blows as if there was no tomorrow, but Hagler prevailed with a third round knockout.
While Hearns lost to both Leonard and Hagler, credit should be given to him for being a very entertaining fighter who made the fights real hit. No wonder he was also called “The Hitman.”
Looking at the results of Leonard-Hearns and Hagler-Hearns, it would be easy to conclude that Hagler had the big edge over Leonard should they meet. The argument was simple – it took Leonard 14 rounds to finish Hearns, while Hagler only needed three rounds.
But when fight night came, the bout was almost even with neither Leonard or Hagler looking dominated. Up to this day, there are boxing pundits who still believe Hagler won.
There are two lessons that can be learned from Leonard-Hagler: first is mega bouts that are staged rather can still produce a lot of buzz but not thunder, and this can be applied to Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr.; and second is using the analogy of who beat a common opponent easier will win does not hold water much of the time.
On the first lesson, it was obvious that Hagler and Leonard were no longer in their physical peaks when they met on April 1987.
Had they fought three to five years earlier, their fight would have been a slam-bang affair that would have ended in a stoppage or knockout. Some people think that Leonard avoided Hagler, and that he waited for Hagler to “age.” I find no basis for both.
On Pacquiao-Mayweather, the fight definitely has the boxing world abuzz, but I don’t expect fireworks in the order of Hagler-Hearns or even Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier 1 and Wilfredo Gomez-Salvador Sanchez.
On the latter lesson, there are many boxing pundits and fans who believe that Pacquiao can definitely beat Mayweather because the Filipino defeated common opponents Oscar Dela Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto more handily.
Leonard-Hagler flushes that analogy down the drain. To further bolster how flawed that analogy is, it took two rounds for Hearns to dispatch Roberto Duran while Hagler went 15 full rounds with Duran. But Hearns did not last three rounds with Hagler.
Boxing history is so rich it can teach us many lessons.