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Leonard finally was face-to-face with Hagler in January, but over a bottle of champagne. Eventually they began musing out loud about what a great fight they could have had. "We were very outspoken and relaxed," Leonard recalls. "We said what was on our minds. We openly discussed exactly what kind of a fight it would have been. We never declared a winner. We talked about it as the fight of the century."
The wheels were surely turning in Leonard's mind. He had seen the last few of Hagler's fights, and after each of them he had brought home to Potomac an edginess that lasted about a month. After watching Hagler stop John Mugabi in March, an 11-round war that was the most testing of Hagler's bouts as middleweight champion, Leonard's edginess would not go away.
In fact, Juanita knew in early April that her husband wanted to get into the ring with Hagler. She did not want him to fight, but she did not resist him when he brought it up. While he was fascinated by the edge of the cliff, she saw only peril. "I don't want to discuss it," Juanita would tell him. She says now, "I stay neutral. I know it's something he wants."
Leonard's announcement to challenge Hagler was not made at a press conference. Rather, it was a decision of the moment, made when a reporter spotted him at a Washington fund-raiser and asked him if he would ever come back to the ring. Leonard said he would, yes, but only to fight Hagler. "Every time I see Marvin, I get the itch," Leonard said. "If he wants to fight, I'll do it."
Word spread like a brush fire. "All hell broke loose," says Trainer. "We were deluged by the media." Pat Petronelli, Hagler's manager, called Trainer to tell him that Hagler was sure to take the fight; however, the 32-year-old champion was on a Caribbean cruise, and there was no way to reach him at that moment. But after Hagler returned to his home in Brockton, Mass., he said nothing and virtually disappeared from public view. Days turned into weeks and still there was no word from him. Unlike Juanita Leonard, who offered little resistance to her man's wishes, Bertha Hagler was actively urging her husband to quit the ring.
At one point, when Petronelli called Trainer with another "no news from Marvin" bulletin, Trainer told him, "Pat, it doesn't matter if this thing happens today, this year, next year. It's only going to work if both guys want to fight. So let's do it this way. Leave Marvin alone. If he makes up his mind and wants to fight, call me. Then we'll go from there. You and I will sit down and see if we can satisfy both principals."
Petronelli replied, "Fine. I'll call you if I ever get any word from Marvin."
Finally, on July 2, two months after Leonard issued his challenge, an obviously emotional Hagler appeared at a press conference in Brockton to say that he was thinking of retiring from the ring. But Hagler would not allow himself to be pinned down to entirely ruling out a fight with Leonard. With that, Hagler went incommunicado for six more weeks. At last, on Aug. 18, Hagler made the announcement through intermediaries that he would fight Leonard next March, for a $10 million guarantee, and that Top Rank would promote the fight. Hagler then vanished again and has remained almost invisible ever since.
What troubled Trainer was that the announcement did not come directly from Hagler but rather through Rich Rose, who was acting as a spokesman for Top Rank. What troubled Trainer even more was that Petronelli had gone off on his own and had apparently made a deal with Top Rank, a firm that has promoted all of Hagler's fights since 1979. To make matters even worse, Trainer and Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank, do not like one another.
"If they're trying to kill this fight before it gets off the ground, they're doing a hell of a job," says Trainer. "For them to be talking about who's going to promote a fight that hasn't even been made doesn't make any sense to me. Ray's an integral part of the equation, and they never consulted with us at all."