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.
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.
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.
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.