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Modern Classics: Leonard-Lalonde

By: Sean Crose

Although the win was controversial, Ray Leonard’s 1987 victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler established the former Olympian as a fighter for the ages. With names like Benitez, Hearns, Duran, and now middleweight king Hagler on his resume, there was no doubt that Leonard had made the leap from boxing star to boxing legend. Where was the man to go from there, though? Leonard was still a relatively young man when he bested Hagler, just 30 years old. After a year long retirement, Leonard decided he still wanted to fight. And so, Leonard had to find someone to face. 

His chosen opponent seemed as if he were the most unlikely foil imaginable. Donnie Lalonde was a tall, handsome, affable fellow from the Great White North. He may have looked like he belonged on a surfboard, but – like so many fighters – the Canadian had suffered through a tough upbringing. Now he was the WBC light heavyweight champion of the world. Leonard wanted that title –and he wanted another one, as well. For the WBC had a brand new Super Middleweight Title in the offering. Both titles, then, were to be on the line. Winning two titles in two weight divisions in a single night would be quite the feat for the already highly decorated Leonard, even if they were won against someone few outside boxing’s fan base had probably heard of. Yet Lalonde was no joke. What’s more, he was fighting for more than a 6 million dollar payday. For besting Leonard would, in a sense, make him a legend in his own right. 

With a height advantage of several inches, Lalonde surprised many by getting the better of Leonard when the two men met on November 7th, 1988 at Caesar’s palace in Vegas. Although he had to drop down to 168 pounds for the fight, the natural light heavyweight was actually able to send Leonard to the mat in the fourth. Leonard, knowing he had his hands full, got up and went to work. Needless to say, the bout had turned into an exciting battle. If Leonard had expected an easy night, he was sadly mistaken. In the ninth, it actually looked like Lalonde was about to close the show. In classic fashion, however, Leonard turned the figurative volume up to eleven, somehow managing to outpunch the bigger man before sending Lalonde to the mat. The brave Canadian got back to his feet, but it was too little, too late. A subsequent Leonard assault put Lalonde down and out. 

It had proven to be a tough night for the man they called “Sugar Ray,” but the fighter had emerged victorious, nonetheless. “Something happens when I get into the ring,” Sports Illustrated quoted Leonard as saying afterward. “That’s all the motivation I need.”

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