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Boxing is not so much a sweet science as a sweet contradiction. Fighters run four to eight miles a day preparing for an event that ropes them off in a 20-foot square. They train for up to half a year for competitions that rarely exhaust an hour. They enter the ring hooded in lavish robes, but must fight nearly naked. They surround themselves with multitudes—managers and trainers, cooks and masseurs, bag-toters and towel-folders and door-holders, and, oddly, bodyguards—all of whom leave them deathly alone at their one hour of danger.
And so it would figure that the most compelling fight in years is also the one we least wanted to materialize: Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 32 going on 35 some say, the bull, a man with a head so fierce hair is afraid to grow there, vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, 30, the matador, with a face so childlike that his decision to put it in front of fists again has caused public outrage. On April 6, they will contest the richest prizefight in history. Naturally it will be held in the backyard of a Las Vegas casino-hotel.
The fight's very appeal is confusion. Leonard, who retired in 1982 after suffering a detached retina in his left eye, has chosen to continue in the sport least suited to keeping the human body intact. Worse, Hagler is the one man stalking the planet that America does not want alone in the ring with Sugar. Yet Hagler is the only fighter great enough to bring Leonard back. The risks will hang so heavily in the desert air that night that we will not want to watch. But, like boxers themselves, we will not be able to help ourselves.
Nobody is going
to want Leonard when I get through with him. He probably won 't talk no more,
might not see no more, and might not even walk no more. I like to mess up
Marvin's a sweet
guy. He really is.
Hagler and Leonard seem to have been born to define each other's opposite. Hagler is the long-suffering, steel-chinned relentless brawler. His face has stopped more leather than Leonard has thrown. He is 62-2-2 and undefeated in the last 10 years, yet he didn't win the middleweight title until his 54th fight. Leonard is, comparatively, a Boy Scout. He is 33-1-0, the former welterweight and junior middleweight champion, twice retired, twice unretired. Hagler is a lefthanded fighter, although sometimes in mid-round he will suddenly switch and begin fighting righthanded. Leonard is strictly a righty. Hagler's body is sculpted, drastic. Leonard's is smooth. Hagler bloodies men. Fighting Mustafa Hamsho in 1981, he opened up gaps in Hamsho's skin that required 55 stitches to close. Leonard rarely chops up men, only frustrates them. Against Roberto Duran in November 1980, he confused and embarrassed the great Panamanian into quitting, the unkindest cut of all.
Leonard's charm transcends race and sex. At his training camp in Hilton Head, S.C., his workouts draw as many women and youngsters as they do men and many more whites than blacks, all of whom are let in free. Hagler's appeal is narrower. He trains before a crowd that is predominantly masculine, men who have willingly paid $5 a head.
Leonard likes camp to be cozy, like home. He often brings in his wife and children. His father is a cook. His brother and father share his suite. When all of them gather at his nightly supper table, he might as well be back at his childhood home in Palmer Park, Md.
Hagler does not allow his wife or children in camp and likes to hear only good news from home. Phone conversations are short. He does not like company. He prefers to think of his Palm Springs hotel as "prison." While the rest of his camp entourage watched the Super Bowl together, Hagler watched it in the next room, by himself. The last six weeks before this fight, Hagler has come to the phone only for the most urgent calls from home.
Leonard is the fighter for the '80s, reputedly the most fiscally fit in history. His home in Potomac is sumptuous, with a wine cellar in the basement and a Rolls-Royce in the garage. In seven years as an active pro, he made half again as much ($48 million) as Hagler in 14 ($31 million). Hagler is the last of the club fighters. He refuses to shake the hand of a man he may have to fight someday. He has been said to be so suspicious as to switch plates at dinner. He incites himself with slogans long on conviction if short on grammar. "Destruction and Destroy" is his favorite. Once, when he fought in Italy, he wrote it on his shirts in Italian. Still wasn't right.