SI Vault
William Nack
April 13, 1987
Idle for almost three years, Sugar Ray Leonard made a spectacular return to the ring by beating Marvin Hagler to win the middleweight title
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 13, 1987

Comeback For The Ages

Idle for almost three years, Sugar Ray Leonard made a spectacular return to the ring by beating Marvin Hagler to win the middleweight title

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4

As part of his psych game, Hagler waited for Leonard to appear first in the ring, and the challenger did so at 8:02 p.m., wearing white trunks with a red stripe, and red tassels on his white shoes. Leonard shadowboxed in the ring, spinning low and twisting quickly, and to that performance the crowd howled. Ray Charles Leonard was back.

"Go get him, Ray!" shouted Dunlap. "You got him!"

Three minutes later Hagler ascended the steps into the ring, dressed in a purple top with a hood pulled over his head. He threw punches at the cool night air. Symbolically, this is the way they fought much of this fight, Leonard with tassels flying freely in the wind as he boxed and Hagler moving robotlike beneath a hood that allowed him only tunnel vision.

Leonard came out dancing and moving and making Hagler lunge and miss. In the early rounds he was the consummate boxer, firing combinations as he kept from harm's way. Leonard put on a show, twisting and turning and popping Hagler—here an uppercut, there a jab, at one point grabbing the rope in his right hand and mugging at the champion, at another point delivering a low-blow bolo punch sure to further inflame an already frustrated opponent. Hagler was having a devil of a time connecting with anything close to a serious blow. Leonard was getting off more quickly, consistently stealing a march on Hagler. Looking off-balance and disoriented, Hagler missed frequently and often wildly.

Leonard won the first four rounds outright, but by the fifth and sixth, Hagler was beginning to find the range and Leonard was no longer moving with his early verve. In the seventh, a Hagler hook rocked Leonard and the challenger briefly sagged. Now, Hagler battled Leonard to the ropes, firing shots up and down. He had Leonard in trouble as the bell sounded.

But the champion was still behind in the scoring, and it was patently clear that, if his legs held up, Leonard would win. In the eighth round, an impatient Hagler snarled to Leonard, "Come on, slug!"

"No chance," said Leonard.

But Hagler was beginning to catch Leonard on the ropes, and the challenger was growing weary. In the ninth, surely the best round of the fight, Hagler pinned Leonard in the latter's corner and was whaling at him ferociously with both hands, rocking the challenger and looking to finish him.

But no, double no! In an instant, Leonard retaliated with a flurry that had Hagler's head snapping left and right. Leonard then spun away and escaped. Hagler pursued, thinking he still had Leonard in trouble. But when Hagler caught up, Leonard flurried again, drawing upon reserves he had no right to have. Throughout the fight, even with Leonard right in front of him, Hagler had problems solving his foe's rich boxing style. He couldn't seem to put combinations together, and whenever he seemed to have Leonard in trouble, he couldn't muster the savvy to put him away.

The 12th round underscored that failing as well as any other, and Leonard's spent condition at the end was testimony to the strength of character it had taken to score this upset of upsets. In the face of his long layoff and the odds against him—five to two in Vegas betting parlors—Leonard had fought magnificently and displayed great courage and resolve.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4