Style Analysis Sugar Ray Leonard v.s. Marvin Hagler
By: Sean Kim
The flow of Ray Leonard’s footwork in the face of a highly disciplined power puncher such as Hagler was the perfect instrument for achieving a dominant performance. What Leonard was able to employ brilliantly was a series of flurries to Hagler’s head all the while gaining quick victorious momentum right from the get go, partially thanks to Hagler’s odd choice of using the orthodox stance for the first two rounds.
Leonard did not permit Hagler to engage in a combative boxing match. He refused to stand right in front of Leonard and face his opponent like James Toney. To commit to such a stance in front of someone like Hagler, whose timing and boxer-punching versatility was brilliant when his opponents stood before him, would have been the formula for self-defeat.
Even if some may say Leonard didn’t give Hagler a fight, Leonard geared his tactical contemplations towards objective analyses which were not dominated by emotion or pride but towards the end goal in all boxing matches: victory.
Hagler no doubt was able to give a highly spirited effort. Like Joe Frazier, Hagler refused to step back once. Though for a majority of the rounds he was ineffective in cutting off the ring (as say Gennady Golovkin or
Julio Cesar Chavez), some psychological advantages may have played in Hagler’s favor for the sake of the late rounds as Hagler threw multiple combinations as he pinned Leonard against the ropes.
This was a confrontation between two top-caliber boxer-punchers, but clearly, in such a clash between two masters of the sport, both Leonard and Hagler had to resort to their primary identities as a fighter: boxer and puncher respectively.
Just to bring in another boxer-puncher v.s. boxer-puncher match, this contrasts with the bout between Canelo Alvarez against Miguel Cotto. Though both were primarily aggressive brawlers before anything else, both were able to display great versatility in their choice of footwork angles, counter punching opportunities and timing of combinations.
How come Hagler could not pull off a versatile performance with Leonard?
Because Leonard was just simply the greatest boxer of his generation, whose footwork was unparalleled and the greatest witnessed at that time since perhaps Willie Pep. Leonard was completely comfortable in that ring for a majority of the fight. At one point even, during Round 5, Hagler managed to pressure Leonard to the corner while causing his opponent to momentarily stop his dance around the ring. But Hagler could not capitalize on this opportunity. Hagler threw inaccurately, perhaps psychologically frustrated up to that point by Leonard’s refusal to engage in a brawl while constantly evading him. At that moment in the corner, he also threw multiple southpaw jabs, but Leonard- completely relaxed and confident- was able to dodge them all with his hands down.
Hagler was at his finest during the last three rounds, when Hagler began to overwhelm Leonard with a multitude of combinations and successful jabs to Leonard’s head. The constant pressure paid off for that moment, causing for an incredible ending to what had essentially been a dominant chess match forced upon by Leonard. It was at that point that Leonard at last accepted Hagler’s invitation to a brawl. And did Leonard disappoint?
Not at all.
After all, Leonard wasn’t just a boxer with fanciful footwork. He had a fighter’s instinct who wished to knock out his opponents with overwhelming speed and aggression. Leonard may have been overwhelmed against the ropes strategically, but he was in no way momentarily caught in an inescapably dangerous situation. He basked in the moment and fought back with equivalent willpower and amazing speed.
Even during Hagler’s finest moment, Leonard did not permit him to win any rounds easily.
Leonard employed a masterpiece of footwork, timing, speed, reflexes, psychology and ring generalship while simultaneously displaying will and bravado.
This was perhaps his greatest performance.