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Decades Later: A Fresh Assessment Of Hagler-Leonard. Did The Right Guy Actually Win?

Posted on 12/23/2021

By: Sean Crose

I was fifteen when Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. I was a high school student in Massachusetts at the time, so it’s easy to understand why I was a Hagler fan. Trying my best to be fair, however, I watched his and Leonard’s wildly and understandably hyped fight while struggling to keep an open mind. I ultimately decided that the wrong man, Leonard, had won via insanely controversial split decision. Leonard had done great, I concluded, but Hagler was the man who should have won.

That was then.

What, I wondered after recently coming across people discussing the long ago match on Twitter, would I think of Hagler-Leonard today? I write about boxing now, so much of my time is spent in the current and past fight worlds. In other words, my view is (hopefully) more clear than it was back in 1987. Why not, I asked myself, rewatch Hagler-Leonard and write it up as if it were a fight I was covering live? And so, I decided to do just that.

A quick aside: I had rewatched the fight countless times since it went down, always deciding Hagler was the winner, but I hadn’t seen the match in it’s entirety in 25-30 years before doing so for this articleenough time, I hoped, to provide some clarity.

Here we go:

Round One: Leonard hitting and running – with a bit more running. Hagler has a few moments. Leonard has more. Leonard

Round Two: Leonard is clearly quicker on the draw. Leonard

Round Three: A very close chapter. Hagler landed the better shots. Hagler

Round Four: The famous “bolo blow” (which I think landed low) round. Leonard is faster and sharper, though Hagler has his moments. Leonard

Round Five: Leonard starts off impressively, but Hagler ends up effectively landing on his man numerous times. Hagler

Round Six: Leonard is so fast, smooth, and accurate this round, it’s worth wondering whether or not he considered trying to hurt or drop Hagler. Leonard

Round Seven: Leonard looks good, but Hagler has his moments. His blows are stronger. Hagler

Round Eight: Hagler hit well by Leonard at the end, but still controls round – the first round he’s really controlled. Hagler

Round Nine: War! A truly great round in hindsight. Hagler does more damage. Hagler

Round Ten: Hagler makes it close, but Leonard takes it through greater activity. Leonard

Round Eleven: Leonard’s ability to employ blistering combos tells the tale here. Leonard

Round Twelve: Ray is amazing, but Hagler’s strong blows at the end can’t be ignored. Hagler

Now, before I checked the scores I had the thrill of anticipation because I had lost track of who had won how many rounds about midway through the fight. In other words, I had no idea who I had picked as the winner. The truth, though, was that I hadn’t picked a winner at all.

Decision: A draw.

That’s right, I ended up with the most unsatisfying, though perhaps most truthful of all results. Having said that, I have to admit that my scoring for round three bothered me at the time. I ultimately went with Hagler but it could easily have gone either way. Perhaps that’s the truth of this bout, that the decision would have been controversial nonmatter what.

A few parting thoughts:

One: This was a terrific fight. At the time it was seen as somewhat boring. That was probably due to the fact that this was the Tyson era, and people expected to see a Hagler fight end in a knockout at that point.

Two: People are going to get mad here, but the fact is that Leonard was the greater of the two fighters overall. Yes, the two men fought to a draw in my book, but Leonard had spent years out of the ring and had to go up in weight for this fight. Hagler certainly wasn’t at his best on the night in question, but Leonard had gone out of his way to try to climb Mount Everest.

Three: This fight is VERY hard to score. Most times, punch output and quality tell the tale. Not so here. Questions of effective aggression, ring generalship, and an effective defense permeate the mind.

Four: This fight is controversial because it SHOULD be controversial. Those who feel one fighter won should try to see things through the eyes of those who feel the other fighter won.

One thing that perhaps everyone can agree on:

While some fights fade from the collective memory as time moves on, this one isn’t going anywhere.

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